Thank yo u for hosting a Co mmunity Conversation!

Community Conversations provides an opportunity for people come together for thoughtful discussion and dialogue about their shared values as Americans— past, present, and future. Focused on central themes in American life such as service, freedom and democracy, Community Conversations allows New Yorkers to join in discussions that offer an alternative to received wisdom and provide the chance to take part in a shared national dialogue.
O ve rvi ew Community Conversations are stand-alone, text-based discussions led by a facilitator from the local community. Each toolkit includes a text that tackles an important aspect of American life and encourages community dialogue. Your Community Conversation should last between 60 and 90 minutes without interruption. Discussions should be guided by a facilitator and focused on the text and the theme. Hold your conversation in a room where a group of 10-30 participants can hear each other clearly. Use the tips sheets for host sites and facilitators included in this toolkit for ideas about how to encourage everyone to participate in the discussion. Faci litato r A good facilitator is the key to making a Community Conversation successful. The facilitator should be someone in your community who enjoys working with people, is interested in what others have to say, and believes in the merit of conversationbased programs. The facilitator does not need to be someone with an advanced degree in the humanities, but rather someone who has some experience leading open conversations and who is enthusiastic about learning how to facilitate. We encourage all prospective facilitators to attend one of the Council’s free facilitation webinars* to learn more about best practices for guiding successful and meaningful discussions. *Facilitators at featured sites must attend a facilitation webinar. Creative Democracy by John Dewey Discussion Questions for Creative Democracy Tips for Facilitating Tips for Hosting Sample Schedule Participant Evaluation Keep the Conversation Going Partners page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7 page 8 page 9 page 10

Struc ture

In clu d ed in th is to ol ki t:

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Creative Demo cracy by Jo hn Dewey
An excerp t fro m Cr eative D emo cracy

…We now have to re-create by deliberate and determined endeavor the kind of democracy which in its origin one hundred and fifty years ago was largely the product of a fortunate combination of men and circumstances. We have lived a long time upon the heritage that came to us from the happy conjunction of men and events in an earlier day. The present state of the world is more than a reminder that we have now to put forth every energy of our own to prove worthy of our heritage… ...[For] a long period we acted as if our democracy were something that perpetuated itself automatically… We acted as if democracy were something that took place mainly at Washington and Albany—or some other state capital—under the impetus of what happened when men and women went to the polls once a year or so—which is a somewhat extreme way of saying that we have had the habit of thinking of democracy as a kind of political mechanism that will work as long as citizens were reasonably faithful in performing political duties. Of late years we have heard more and more frequently that this is not enough; that democracy is a way of life… Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature… as that nature is exhibited in every human being irrespective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cultural wealth. This faith may be enacted in statutes, but it is only on paper unless it is put in force in the attitudes that human beings display to one another in all the incidents and relations of daily life… Democracy is a way of personal life controlled not merely by faith in human nature in general but by faith in the capacity of human beings for intelligent judgment and action if proper conditions are furnished. I have been accused more than once and from opposed quarters of an undue, a utopian, faith in the possibilities of intelligence and in education as a correlate of intelligence. At all events, I did not invent this faith. I acquired it from my surroundings as far as those surroundings were animated by the democratic spirit [that of] consultation, of conference, of persuasion, of discussion, in the formation of public opinion, which in the long run is selfcorrective… Finally…democracy as a way of life is controlled by personal faith in personal day-by-day working together with others. Democracy is the belief that even when needs and ends or consequences are different for each individual, the habit of amicable cooperation—which may include, as in sport, rivalry and competition—is itself a priceless addition to life…. A genuinely democratic faith in peace is faith in the possibility of conducting disputes, controversies and conflicts as cooperative undertakings in which both parties learn by giving the other a chance to express itself, instead of having one party conquer by forceful suppression of the other… To cooperate by giving differences a chance to show themselves because of the belief that the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one’s own life-experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life… [The] task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute.

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Discussio n Questions for Creative Demo cracy by Jo hn Dewey

What do you think Dewey means when he says our democracy is “largely the product of a fortunate combination of men and circumstances”? What is Dewey getting at when he says we act “as if our democracy were something that perpetuated itself automatically”? Do you agree? Dewey mentions faith several times in the essay. What kind of faith is Dewey talking about? Do you think this kind of faith and democracy are linked? Dewey says he has “faith in the capacity of human beings for intelligent judgment and action if proper conditions are furnished”? Who’s responsible for providing the “proper conditions”? In this essay about democracy, Dewey says he has faith in the “possibilities of intelligence and in education.” What’s the relationship between education and democracy? Does education empower democracy? Do you have faith in the “intelligent judgment and action” of others? Why or why not? Do you agree with Dewey that persuasion and discussion are essential to democracy? If so, what role do they play? Do you think Dewey is right when he says that in the long run, public opinion is “self-corrective”? Dewey says that “the habit of amicable cooperation” is a “priceless addition to life.” Do you agree? Dewey says that even in “amicable cooperation” there may be “rivalry and competition.” Should we expect rivalry and cooperation in our democratic process or would we be better off without them? Do you think it’s possible to conduct “disputes, controversies and conflicts as cooperative undertakings”? Why or why not? What does it take to do so? Dewey says that for democracy to work, we have to have faith in “personal day-by-day working together with others.” What are the barriers to doing this? How do we overcome those challenges? What does Dewey mean when he says “democracy is a way of life”? Besides voting, what would Dewey say are our “political duties” in a democracy? Would you add anything to that list? Why do you think Dewey called his essay “Creative Democracy”? What’s creative about democracy?

• •

• • •

• •

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Tips for Facilitating a Co mmunity Conversation

Community Conversations are simple gatherings that encourage thoughtful, engaged dialogue using a short reading to foster discussion. The goal is a comfortable, lively discussion free of bias and judgment. We hope the following suggestions will help you create an inviting environment for you and your community. Pl an ni ng fo r th e Co nv e rsatio n
• • • • • • Expect a healthy conversation to last between 60 and 90 minutes. Read the text several times, paying attention to the parts that were difficult or that made you pause. These will be the places that generate the most conversation. Use the sample questions in this toolkit as a starting point for writing questions that will resonate with your group. Decide how you will begin the conversation. The first few questions will set the tone for the discussion, so think about what themes in the text you would like to explore. Prepare about three times as many questions as you think you’ll cover with the group. You won’t get to everything, but extra planning will help you follow the natural progression of the conversation. Plan a closing question or exercise that signals the end of the formal discussion, but encourages the group to keep the conversation going at home or among friends.

Ge ttin g Starte d
• • • • • Arrange chairs in a circle or semi-circle so that participants can easily see one another and be heard by all. Start by establishing some basic guidelines with the group. For example, “be respectful,” “make sure that everyone has a turn to speak,” and “focus your comments on the reading.” Introduce yourself at the beginning of the session and ask each participant to do the same. Keep introductions short. Begin by reading the whole text aloud together. This allows everyone to have the opportunity to hear a fluent reader and invites people with lower levels of literacy to actively participate. Plan an opening activity to help participants get comfortable: ask a discussion question and encourage participants to share their thoughts in pairs and report back to the group.

Aski ng Go o d Q u e stio ns
• • • • • • • Ask short, open-ended questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer. Invite the participants to interpret the text in their own ways. Focus on places where opinions may differ (not on facts that cannot be disputed). Look for ways to connect the subject matter to everyday life. Encourage participants to form their own questions. Prioritize keeping the conversation going over getting to all of your questions. Use the text as a neutral place if the conversation gets heated.

Li sten an d Le arn
• • • • • Focus on listening, not teaching. Be flexible and let your questions follow the natural course of conversation. Don’t feel that you need to ask every question you’ve prepared or in the order you planned. When the conversation in flowing, share your opinion last or not at all. Avoid answering your own questions. If there is a lull in the conversation, let people think about their answers before you move on. Look at the person speaking, and try not to cross your arms or legs. Address group members by their first names.

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Tips for Hosting a Co mmunity Conversation

Fin d in g a Facil itato r
• Find a facilitator who is a good fit for your group. (The host-site coordinator and the facilitator can be the same person.) The success of your conversation is highly dependent on the skill of your facilitator. o Look for someone who is open, friendly, and enjoys working with people. Your facilitator should believe in the program and share your enthusiasm for doing it! o Look for someone who is interested in what others have to say. Keep in mind, the facilitator is not there to teach the text or lecture on the topic, but rather to ask questions and let the group do the talking. o Look for someone who is willing to learn how to be a facilitator and can commit to doing the training webinar (if you are a featured site).

Re crui tmen t
• • Plan to begin publicizing your discussion at least three weeks in advance. The Council provides templates for press releases, fliers, and Community Conversation logos on our website (link). For public conversations, make fliers and post them at local libraries, community enters, coffee houses, school campuses, churches, veterans or union halls, and store bulletin boards. Be sure to get permission to leave or post fliers. Make every effort to draw a diverse audience to your program so that a variety of perspectives are represented in the discussion. If your conversation is for a closed group (staff, club, etc.), consider including the discussion at a time when you already meet, such as at a staff meeting. You may consider including the conversation on the day of a planned service project, either to start or conclude the project. Consider making fliers with the time, date, and location on one side and the text on the other.

Ro om Set-U p
• • • Be sure to choose a room with good acoustics so that everyone, including people who may be hard of hearing, can hear each other. Choose a room that is free of other distractions. Seat participants in a circle or semi-circle so everyone can make eye contact with each other. Create a welcome table with copies of the text near the entrance to the room. Provide nametags and ask participants to use their first names. You may also want to include other literature or pamphlets from your organization related to the theme of the discussion. Make more than enough copies of the text so that everyone has a copy. Invite participants to take an extra copy after the discussion and share it with a friend or family member. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going! Test any audiovisual equipment ahead of time to make sure that the volume is loud enough for everyone to hear. Don’t play off of built-in computer speakers—it’s difficult to hear in large groups and people may feel uncomfortable saying so. Provide light refreshments like juice, coffee or tea, and cookies. You can use the stipend to cover the cost of drinks and snacks. Make sure the facilitator has a view of a clock or other time-keeping device. If you are not the facilitator, seat yourself across from him or her so that you can easily make eye-contact.

• •

• •

Wrap -U p
• Decide whether you will ask participants to fill out an evaluation form. Have copies on hand to distribute after the discussion has concluded. The Council has included a short evaluation form in this toolkit that you can use, or you can design your own. Be sure to share participant feedback, formal and informal, on the host-site coordinator evaluation form (provide link). Keep accurate attendance data for your own records to report back to the Council. The Council does not require you to share names or contact information of attendees. If you are a featured site, complete the online evaluation for host-site coordinators within two weeks of the event.  
New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 | 6

Sample Schedule for a Co mmunity Conversation

Planning Guidelines for Community Conversations

Introduce yourselves briefly -­‐ 10 minutes

• •

Use first names. What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word “democracy”? (Limit participants to one word answers.)

Read the text aloud -­‐ 10 minutes

• •

Ask one fluent reader to read the entire text. Suggest participants underline or make notes about parts of the text that surprise or intrigue them.

Check comprehension -­‐ 5 minutes

• •

Did everyone understand the vocabulary? Are there any phrases that need further clarification?

Discuss -­‐ 50 minutes

Focus on interpretive and evaluative questions: • Interpretive: What does Dewey mean when he says X? • Evaluative: Do you agree with Dewey when he says X? Why or why not?

Wrap-Up -­‐ 15 minutes

• •

How do we practice democracy in our own communities? How can we encourage others to practice democracy?

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Participant Evaluatio n

Name: ________________________________ Email: ________________________________
Di d this co nv ersa ti on h e lp yo u to thi nk abo ut th is top ic i n ne w ways? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

Di d yo u le arn f rom yo u r pe e rs du rin g the co n ve rsatio n? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

We re you e n cou rage d to sh are yo u r re actio ns to th e to pi c an d tex t? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

We re o th e rs e nc ou rage d to sh are th ei r re actio ns to th e to pi c an d tex t? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

Di d the f acil itato r ask re le van t an d in tere stin g qu e stio ns abo u t the te xt an d top ic? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

Ho w v alu ab le was it to you to p arti cip ate in thi s pro gram? Not at all valuable Not very valuable Somewhat valuable Valuable Very valuable

Ho w i mpo rtant is i t to hav e pro grams like th is o n e in you r co mmu n ity? Not at all important Not very important
Somewhat important


Very important

Do yo u pl an to tal k to frie n ds and f amil y abo u t the i de as rai sed i n th is pro gram? No Possibly Yes

Wo u ld you pa rti cip ate in thi s kin d of pro gram agai n? No Possibly Yes

Pl e ase add an y add iti on al com men ts ab ou t to day’ s Co mmu nity Co nve rsatio n.

Would you like to receive the Council’s e-newsletter?



New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |

Keep the Conversation Going with Support from the New York Council for the Humanities

Explore more of what the Council has to offer! These grants and programs support conversation-based programming.

Conversations Bureau Discuss ideas based on a short text, led by a scholar-facilitator

• • •

90-minute discussion guided by a scholar-facilitator. Centered on a short text, focused on American identity. Talk more about democracy with some of these Conversations: -­‐ Clear and Present Danger: Free Speech and the Constitution -­‐ American Dreamer: Immigration Politics of Hyphenation -­‐ The Need for Civility in Contentious Times  

Rea ding & Discussion Progra ms for Adults Read and talk about books and ideas in a group setting

• • •

Series of thematically linked texts over the course of four, five, or six sessions. Themes include: Serving, Working, Making Sense of the Civil War, and Lincoln on the Civil War. Healing, Muslim Journeys, and Growing & Aging coming in 2013.

Tog ether a nd Unidos Family reading and discussion program for parents and kids

• • •

A forum for parents and their 9- to 11-year old children to come together to talk about books and ideas. Six 90-minute sessions is co-facilitated by a librarian and a humanities scholar from the local community. Explore key themes in American life such as courage, freedom, and being American.

Project Gra nts Funding for projects using humanities to engage the public

• •

Organizations may design their own series of conversation-based programming about important humanities ideas or texts. Grants of $300 – $10,000 may be awarded.

Speakers in the Humanities and Spea kers in the Schools Lectures on humanities topics

• •

Over 200 humanities-based lectures on a wide variety of topics. Bring a lecture on democracy to your organization or school: -­‐ Matilda Joslyn Gage: Bringing Her Into History -­‐ Leadership in America -­‐ North Star Shining: New York State’s Freedom Trail – An Illustrated Journey Along the Underground Railroad

Visit us at for all program information, guidelines, and application forms. Any not-for-profit organization in New York State is eligible to apply for Council grants and programs.

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Co mmunity Conversations Partners


New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful