As we noted in our last post, political parties and citizens alike remain deeply divided on what might be done to reduce gun violence. There is however growing support for reducing that violence. Doing so will require more substantive and civil dialogue that is sustained over time.
In February we were selected by the National Institute for Civil Discourse to write an essay on how to navigate this difficult dialogue. A review of why dialogue on this issue is so difficult can be found in our last post. Below are some of our recommendations on how to plan for dialogue on gun violence.
- At its base level “civility” means communicating in ways that reflect mutual respect, care and concern, and that support joint action and effort. Leaders can model communication patterns that respect rather than attack those with whom they disagree. Leaders can also demonstrate an understanding of (or make an effort to understand) views that differ from their own. What we need is less partisanship and more listening and reflection. You can read more about the dangers of extreme partisanship and the role of civility in navigating difficult policy issues here.
- Those seeking dialogue need to frame issues in ways that invite and allow the underlying fears, distrust, and differences in values, information and experience that derail most discussions on gun violence to be addressed. This means starting at a level other than positional debate on, or evaluation of, specific policy proposals.
- Transparency regarding information development and evaluation is another key element in building trust in a dialogue process. Although dialogue participants need access to clear, consistent, understandable and honest data, they also need to be invited to discuss what makes data understandable and honest.
- When dialogue is difficult, leaders need to allow the necessary time and space for reflection and also provide participants with choices on how and when to engage as they proceed to work through the issue.
- Starting dialogues on gun violence at the local and regional levels around questions that reflect a common concern – such as “how do we want our communities to be?” – can also help to mitigate fear and distrust and set a good foundation for a broader national dialogue.
- Leaders can further promote civil discourse by using “stories of wisdom.“ These are narratives that emphasize the common good, accept the fact that differences exist, and reflect the hope that a path forward will be found. Stories of wisdom help dialogue participants to navigate differences in experience, interests, values, and information.
You can download our complete essay, “Aim Higher, Dig Deeper” as a pdf here. This essay was prepared for and with funding by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, as part of a collection of essays on supporting a national conversation about gun violence. The collection has also been posted on the NICD blog.
Posted in Dialogue, In The Field, Online, Our Work, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged civil discourse, civility, Conflict, Dialogue, Difficult Dialogues, guns, violence, wisdom
After the mass shooting in Newtown, communities around the nation began dialogues on what steps might be taken to reduce gun violence. Some states have adopted new laws, and in others no resolution has been forthcoming. As Congress returns next week to to take up the issue, political parties and citizens alike remain deeply divided on how to proceed. Simple discussion of the issue can raise strong emotions.
What makes dialogue on this issue so difficult? We were asked by the National Institute for Civil Discourse in February to write an essay on this issue. Some of the reasons why dialogue on this issue is so difficult are:
- All of the primary sources of conflict are present in this one issue. These include differences in values, interests, and information, as well as other differences.
- Instead of identifying and exploring these differences, discussions relating to gun violence too often focus prematurely on action items and are posed in “either/or”, “us v. them” terms.
- This then inflames regional and other differences, and reinforces suspicion and distrust of those who don’t “share the same way of life”.
- Fear, alienation and anger make it difficult for individuals to process new information, and in many cases leads to the automatic rejection of new ideas and approaches.
It is, however, possible to plan for and promote civil, productive dialogue. This kind of dialogue is crucial if we as a country are going to find ways to reduce gun violence in our communities. How leaders and citizens might promote that kind of dialogue will be discussed more in our next post.
You can download a complete copy of our essay “Aim Higher, Dig Deeper”, as a pdf here. The essay links up to additional resources through endnotes. You can click on the endnote number to access the related text. This essay was prepared for and with funding by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, as part of a collection of essays on supporting a national conversation about gun violence. The collection has also been posted on the NICD blog.
Posted in Case Studies, Dialogue, In The Field, Online, Our Work, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged Conflict, Dialogue, Difficult Dialogues, guns, violence
Welcome to the official blog of The Communications Center, Inc.
Read about our new workbook!
Read about how to approach dialogues on gun violence and download our article funded by the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
On this blog we link you up with stories and resources to help you navigate difficult issues and plan for effective dialogue. You can find answers to frequently asked questions like:
- What is dialogue and why use it?
- Where and how do I start?
- What do I do if the public is not interested?
- What else can I do to build trust in the process?
- How can I manage the media?
- How do you start a dialogue when people hate each other?
- Do you have any guidelines for effective public engagement?
And there is more. You can also find
Finally, here are 5 of the most popular posts on our blog.
We are here to help you. If you have questions, would like to discuss resources, or need help working through problems in your own dialogues, send us an email at email@example.com.
Welcome to ABA Mediation Week 2012! You are invited to join us at a celebration of mediation and civil public discourse at the University Missouri law school on Friday October 19 at 5:30 p.m. The ABA’s Mediation Week Tool-kit features several resources on civic engagement, including this blog.
We have been busy over the past few months promoting civil public discourse. Just last week Dave was in Seattle, Washington presenting our paper “Conflict Clues That Help You Navigate To Resolution” at the Civil Discourse to Resolve Governmental Crises conference that was co-sponsored by the Evergreen Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration and the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs of the University of Washington.
Sarah was a chapter moderator for the NCCD’s first-ever book club, helping lead the discussion on the Aristotelian model of public deliberation. Sarah also spoke again on managing conflict at the Missouri Municipal League’s Elected Officials Training in June and recruited some members there for a pilot project we are running with our new workbook, “The Civic Health Diagnostic Workbook”. You can order copies of our workbook ($80.00) by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several post series from this blog continue to be actively accessed resources. Most popular series currently include the series on working through hate, structuring engagement, and using evaluation to strengthen dialogue efforts. We welcome your ongoing review and comment and thank you for your work!
Posted in Announcements, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Our Tools, Our Work, Working With Conflict
Tagged civil discourse, civility, Dialogue, mediation, political discourse, politics, research, working with conflict
Some conflict is like a latent staph infection in a body that otherwise seems healthy – waiting to flare up and dangerous when it does. Well-meaning efforts to engage the public can founder in the face of such a flare-up. We have seen this happen to public officials who proudly announce a new economic development effort expecting to be praised for working to create jobs, and are instead attacked for hiding information, playing favorites, and engaging in conspiracies. We have seen this happen to public officials who schedule “town hall meetings” and are surprised with angry venting and personal attacks. And we have seen many times when the underlying conflict is so deeply rooted that no one shows up to scheduled meetings, dismissing them as mere “window dressing” intended to manipulate a gullible public into believing they actually matter. How can you know whether your effort is at risk before you begin?
You can start to assess this risk by analyzing issues or arguments that arise repeatedly within your community. Group these into broad areas, like development, law enforcement, resource allocation, etc. Then analyze whether certain themes are repeated in how these issues are framed, and what groups tend to appear within each area. Do those themes suggest the conflict involves deeper differences than differences over interests or information? For example, is there a clash of values, or arguments regarding the “justice” or “fairness” of governance systems? How intense are the conflicts? One measure of intensity is the inflammatory nature of the language used and the tendency to characterize others as “enemies” or “fools”. Efforts to engage on issues related to areas where conflicts are recurrent, deeply rooted, and intense are more likely to see flare-ups and require careful planning on when, how, or even whether to engage.
If you are interested in systematically assessing your community’s resilience in the face of conflict and its readiness for productive collaboration, we have developed a workbook that will help you do so. For more information, contact us at email@example.com.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Our Tools, Working With Conflict
Tagged collaboration, Conflict, dialogue skills, opposition, politics, Trust, wisdom