Solving public problems is a challenging task, since members of the same community sometimes have very different solutions to shared problems. Lack of supportive ways to talk about those challenges can lead to misunderstandings, which in turn may create hostility across competing views. North Country Listens works with local and regional partners to bring people together for productive conversations that augment traditional forms of government, like town meeting or school board meetings.  Our vision is to support the North Country as a region of engaged communities that build on local knowledge and resources to get ‘unstuck’ and solve public problems.How-It-Works-Revised-Dec-2013


 The public conversations (sometimes referred to as deliberations) that North Country Listens supports, begins with community-based organizing, and defining or clarifying the issues. Below is an outline of the basic steps and achievements that occur in the process. This is only a general example; individual situations may call for some variations.

Identify an issue that needs your community’s engagement

Start by asking…

  1. What is happening that concerns us?
  2. What are we trying to accomplish or change?
  3. Would identifying common ground help us make progress on the issue?
  4. Is there a mix of individuals or groups that share the sense that this issue should be addressed?
  5. Do people need more information on the topic?

This is what it looks like…

  1. Local leaders, civic organizations, businesses, and members of the general community are recognizing and feeling the tensions of a complex issue.
  2. A decision needs to be made that requires some formal action by elected officials or community members.
  3. Traditional forms of addressing the issue have failed.
  4. Patterns of divisiveness are growing and have the potential to impede progress.

Organize a community conversation with participants, facilitators, and decision makers

Start by asking…

  1. How can we describe the situation so that it will interest all kinds of people?
  2. Who are the stakeholders and can we gather an initial working group of people who represent a mix of perspectives?
  3. Who are the decision makers and can we get them on board to seriously consider the input that can result from a fair and open process?
  4. Can our working group recruit broad based participation?

What is happening? Or What does it look like?

  1. A few people who represent different sides of the issue meet to talk about the value of bringing people together to be able to move forward.
  2. Establishing a working group helps build the foundation for broad based participation – a goal which must be kept in mind from the beginning.
  3. Initial conversations are had with decision makers to get their endorsement (fair and nuanced input about a tough decision is often appreciated by elected officials).
  4. NH Listens helps the working group plan a fair and open process. This can include surveys, listening sessions or public art to gather initial input, online and face to face deliberations, and prioritizing recommendations for action.

The community conversation occurs over an evening, a full day, or a few weeks

Start by asking…

  1. Did we get the word out to everyone?
  2. Does the media understand what we are trying to do?
  3. Are we ready to let people know what happened when the conversations are over?

What is happening?

  1. People attend one or multiple events to understand the process and get started.
  2. Facilitated small groups meet in mixed clusters (mixed in lots of ways – from views on the topic, to age and gender, to how long you have lived in the community and more)
  3. Participants explore the issue including personal knowledge, expert knowledge and sharing priorities and values.
  4. Several small groups identify actions and insights.
  5. All group information is compiled and shared.

Decision makers and community members then work together to enact the recommendations

Start by asking…

  1. Was the process fair?
  2. Did participants identify common ground and/or agree on core recommendations for action?
  3. What can we share with decision makers that show many sides of the issue and illustrate disagreement beyond a simple for-or-against stance?
  4. Are there groups of participants who want to report out to decision makers?
  5. Are there participants who wish to continue this process, either by supporting more public conversations or forming working groups to help implement the recommendations that resulted from the process?

What happens next?

  1. Results are shared among small groups.
  2. Participants respond to the results and plan to share the results with decision makers.
  3. Results are reported out to the public (e-mail, op-ed, report to local boards, etc.)
  4. Participants track the actions taken by decision makers.
  5. Participants form ongoing task and working groups for action going forward.
  6. Steering Committee remains in place in anticipation of the next conversation.

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