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How to Run a Community Dialog

There are three phases of organizing a Community Dialog:

  1. planning,
  2. the event itself, and
  3. follow-up.

All three are important! So please help us out by using these guidelines, and contact (insert web and/or email addresses here) if you have questions or concerns.

Planning

As the local organizer, you are responsible for arranging the logistics of your event. That includes choosing a time and place, inviting participants and finding a facilitator if needed.

Early on you will need to establish who your audience is. Our hope is that different Dialogs will attract different kinds of people: those who live in intentional community and those who don't; more mainstream and more "alternative"; American and Canadian or other international participants; and variations across income, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. How many attendees are you aiming for? The Fellowship can provide contact information for people on our mailing list who live in your area; please send us zipcodes if you'd like a list. There is also a sample invitation and outreach flyer enclosed with this Organizing Kit.

Pick a date and time when the people you want are available, trying to avoid conflict with other local events that might draw a similar crowd. Expect the session to run for 2-3 hours total including arrivals and introductions, discussion, wrap-up and goodbyes.

In choosing a place, think about who's coming. Is this a community group that you feel comfortable inviting to your home or that of a friend? Would people feel more at ease at a local arts center or community space? Or perhaps you are arranging the session as part of a larger conference or event? Is there a host you need to coordinate with? Can someone provide drinks and snacks or dessert?

You also need to select a facilitator. If you are skilled in this area you might take this task on yourself. If you don't feel confident, ask someone in your area for assistance or let us know and we'll try to match you up with someone. A good facilitator will keep track of time, keep the conversation on track, ensure everyone gets a chance to participate as fully as possible, and provide leadership to help inspire the group to move forward. If it appears that your group will be larger than eight, you might consider having multiple facilitators, so that you can break down into smaller discussion groups.

We suggest that you contact people to confirm their participation a week or two ahead of time.

The Event


What to Bring

  • This Organizing Kit, including plenty of FIC literature
  • Communities Directory for display
  • Samples of Communities magazine
  • Paper and pens for taking notes as needed
  • Large-size paper and markers for scribing in front of the group, if desired
  • Refreshments, if appropriate

Sample Agenda

A. Opening
B. Introductions & Check-ins
C. Frame the Dialog
D. Discussion
E. Wrap-up

A. Opening. Host welcomes people to the gathering and shares informal agenda. Give a few minutes (5 or less) of opening about the Fellowship and the goals of the Community Dialog. Below is a sample statement that could help you get started:

"Hello! Welcome to our Community Dialog. I thank all of you who traveled from near and far to be with us this evening. This event is sponsored by the Fellowship for Intentional Community, a continental networking organization for people who are interested in community living. You are probably most familiar with the Fellowship through its publications, the Communities Directory and Communities magazine, or possibly through the well-known intentional community web site. FIC also hosts regional conferences, operates a loan fund, and assists groups with consensus and other processes.

"Volunteers involved in FIC share a devotion to community as a movement that we believe has the power to radically transform society. They may or may not live in a residential community, and none act as official representatives from particular groups. We meet twice a year to check in about projects and to make decisions about where to focus our energies. The Fellowship wants to build relationships and stay in touch with what people need to create community.

"Our goal tonight is to have a conversation about the meaning and values of community, and to discover together what it might take for each of us to find or create our vision of community in our own lives."

B. Introductions and BRIEF Check-ins. Have each person say their name and one sentence about their relationship to the concept of community or to community in their lives (e.g., living in one, looking for one, etc.), along with one or two sentences about what they would like to get out of the session. The facilitator should keep it snappy so that the focus stays on the main discussion to come.

C. Frame the Dialog. There are three basic questions, which you may want to post in front of the group:

1. What does community mean to you?
When you hear the word "community", what do you think of?
What is valuable to you about community?
2. What is your experience of or with community?
When have you felt community most in your life?
What is powerful about community for you personally—powerful enough for you to come to this gathering to talk about it?
3. What gets in the way of having as much community in your life as you want?
What kind of support would help you create more community in your life?

If the group is familiar with intentional communities or composed of people who formerly or presently live in them, then it may feel appropriate to extend the conversation into the following areas:

1. What do you think communities need help with?
How do you think those needs can best be served?
2. What do you think intentional communities can offer the wider culture?

D. Discussion. If there are more than about eight people present, breaking into smaller groups (4-8 participants in each) for discussion will allow much more participation. We recommend each group have a facilitator, who can open the dialog using the first question. If folks are hesitant to speak at first, you can set an example by responding to the first question, modeling clear and succinct communication.

  • Tips for maintaining the dialog:
  • Encourage full participation and model active listening.
  • Reframe the question when the dialog loses focus or needs stoking.
  • Clarify and reflect back individual contributions.
  • Summarize major themes, inspire conversation toward open issues.
  • Follow the flow of the conversation and introduce new questions as appropriate to manage time and keep people engaged.

E. Wrap-up. Find a way to bring the discussion to a natural ending point. If the gathering has broken into small groups, this is the time to come back together. Take a few minutes to capture key themes, using questions like:

  • What did you learn?
  • What stood out for you?
  • What's more clear for you now after this dialog?

This would be an ideal time to use a notetaker or scribe if you have one. If energy is running high at the end of the gathering, it may feel appropriate to inquire as you wrap up the evening with questions like these:

  • Would anyone be interested in extending this dialog on community further, either within this group or with others?
  • Would you be willing to host a similar gathering?
  • Are there aspects of developing and sustaining community that you would be willing to devote your time and energy to?
  • Do you know of any other people that we/I should contact?

If people want to support the FIC or get more involved, we would be delighted to have a representative from our Inreach committee contact them about what is needed and how to fit in. There is a handout enclosed that folks can take home with them. There are many, many possibilities, such as:

  • donate a gift subscription to Communities magazine
  • work on the next Directory
  • join any committee, almost all would benefit from more help
e.g., membership, personnel, finance
  • write articles for Communities magazine
  • intern at the office at Sandhill Farm in Missouri
  • help get Directories & Communities magazine into bookstores and libraries
  • attend an organizational meeting, happens twice a year at rotating locations
  • buy a case of Directories at a discount and re-sell at a profit
  • fundraising
  • put out flyers at cafes, co-ops, libraries and other places
  • offer a workshop at a conference
  • donate money, either for a particular project or toward general expenses
  • volunteer to help work on the web site

Ask everyone who is willing to fill out the Participant Form. For those who have an interest in becoming more involved in FIC work, someone from FIC will be contacting them.

Invite all to the next FIC organizational meeting, which will be held (insert date/place). Thank everyone for their participation and the host or other support people. This ends the formal full group meeting. Allow time for informal networking and milling.

Follow-up

It is really important that the learning and relationships created during the Dialog aren't lost through lack of communication afterward. A Report Form is enclosed with this Kit, or you can reply via email if that's easier. The Organizer or another FIC representative present needs to answer the questions and get it in to (who?), the overall coordinator. The Participant Forms also need to be returned to (who?). Remember, the easiest way to remember all this is to DO IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER THE DIALOG.

A Few Points to Keep in Mind

We are presenting this template for how to organize a Community Dialog as a supportive structure, not a restrictive one! Depending on who will be attending your event, it may make sense to vary the guidelines provided here. Please don't hesitate to contact the Coordinator if further support or ideas are needed.

While ideally there would be an active FIC person present at every session, it is not a requirement. We ask folks who will be organizing events without FIC personnel to be particularly careful to avoid representing yourselves as the Fellowship. We appreciate your willingness to participate in the Fellowship's efforts and invite you to become more actively involved with FIC if you sense an alignment with us.

Thank you! As a Community Dialog Organizer, you are the one really making this happen. Please accept our appreciation for your organizing work, and again, let us know if there's anything we can do to help.

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