Deliberative Process and Dialogue

The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter

Upper Arlington, Ohio 
Contact: Emma Speight, Deputy City Manager - Community Affairs,, 614-583-5045 or Ruth McNeil, Community Relations Manager, 614-486-9621 x252
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The Art of Hosting in Upper Arlington

Frequently, community conversations and public meetings are debates that begin after people have already chosen sides around an issue. In early 2009, the City of Upper Arlington and the Upper Arlington Public Library brought together a diverse group of about 35 individuals from the city, the schools, churches, library, business leaders, the chamber of commerce, community service groups and community activists for a three-day retreat with the calling question: How can we nurture a shift in public discourse to a place where all voices are encouraged, heard with respect and kindness and have our passions and visions meet in shared responsibility for our community's future?

The Art of Hosting focuses time and attention on creating a welcoming space for meetings to occur and where everyone has a voice in creating the outcomes. Instead of the leaders being the "hero," sharing the solutions to an issue, they become the "host" of a conversation where citizens explore and find the answers together.

This particular effort utilized trainers from Denmark to facilitate the retreat, however a variety of other options are available for training, such as through the International Association of Public Participation.

The outcome of the retreat was a group of diverse individuals united in changing the tenor of community conversations in Upper Arlington. The group continued to meet regularly and formed a Community of Practice with guiding principles, as well as an "Art of Hosting in a Box" briefcase filled with tools that enabled trained facilitators to work more easily. Periodically, an email goes out to the group with a calling question and a request for help in hosting issues. Community members volunteer to facilitate based on their availability.

Using Art of Hosing techniques, the city has organized many conversations, including:

  • Conversations of the Upper Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce's Retail Committee around creating a joint marketing campaign to help recover from the recession;
  • Conversations surrounding Volunteer UA to support community volunteers;
  • Conversations around the creation of a strategic plan for a church;
  • Visioning for an update of the city's master plan to include facilities and services;
  • Conversations between school and business leaders to integrate 21st century workforce skills into school curricula;
  • Conversations about the need for diverse housing options; and
  • Conversations around engaging youth in planning and implementing drug-free activities.

Upper Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce's Retail Committee. In April 2010, the Upper Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce's Retail Committee engaged the help of several community members trained in Art of Hosting techniques to help the Committee host a brainstorming meeting with representatives of the community's retailers. Goals were to help educate retailers about the Committee and its purpose of supporting the retail and service community, to identify shared challenges and opportunities, to establish a roadmap for the committee and to begin to frame the long-term goal of growing the committee's network and recruitment of active members.

Participants developed ideas for committee member development, effective networking opportunities, building community partnerships, building customer bases and developing an over-arching Upper Arlington marketing experience. Discussions of challenges and opportunities helped participants find common ground and share tips. As the discussions narrowed their focus, three groups were formed for in-depth brainstorming on branding, external influences and communication.

Building upon the ideas and energies created from this meeting, the Committee successfully launched its first "Top 100 Gift Ideas" holiday program in 2010, and an expanded and enhanced program was launched the following year.

Volunteer UA. Volunteer UA is a partnership project of several community organizations, including the City of Upper Arlington, the Upper Arlington Public Library, the Upper Arlington Commission on Aging, TriVillage Mentor League and Northwest Kiwanis. The project fosters volunteer match opportunities and provides support for community organizations needing volunteers. The two signature events of the project are an annual volunteer match Expo and a "Lunch and Learn" gathering for Expo participants.

In the spring of 2010, the core planning team engaged Art of Hosting techniques to ask Expo participants, both volunteers and community organizations, about the value of Volunteer UA. They were charged with determining whether there was still a need for a Volunteer UA awareness effort and how the project could be most helpful to potential volunteers and to community service organizations.

Two observations were made as a result, and they were turned into action steps. The first observation was that the time and place of the Expo was not convenient, and it did not provide sufficient exposure. As a result, subsequent Expos will be hosted in the spring during National Volunteer Week, rather than in the fall. The second observation was that there was an opportunity to partner with the local high school around the Senior Capstone Community Service Project that each senior had to complete. Volunteer UA hosted a "Lunch and Learn" for participating organizations to learn more about the Capstone project and to brainstorm on how to make the most of their participation.

The Volunteer UA core planning team improved the quality of its efforts by engaging Art of Hosting techniques. It has assisted community service organizations with finding volunteers, and it has resulted in a shift in how volunteer match opportunities are offered to the community.

What's Next California Deliberative Polling® Project

The State of California 
Contact: Dr. Alice Siu, Associate Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy, Stanford University,

California held its first statewide Deliberative Poll in July, 2011. A sample of residents was taken by targeting neighborhoods that were geographically and demographically representative of the population and randomly selecting participants from these neighborhoods. This sample of more than 400 residents participated in the two-day event, which utilized the Deliberative Poll® methodology developed by Dr. James Fishkin of Stanford University. The Deliberative Poll process involves the selection and participation of a representative population sample in a series of small and large group discussions around policy issues. 

In the 2011 California session, participants looked at reform proposals in the legislative process, initiatives, state/local relations and taxation. 

Prior to the discussion, participants completed a survey on each issue. Also as part of the small group discussions, questions were developed for a panel of experts on each issue. At the end of the session, participants completed another survey. The citizens' changes of opinion from before and after their deliberation are analyzed. These results will be shared with the larger public and with opinion-leaders and policy makers. 

An initial analysis of the surveys found:

  • Strong demand for greater transparency and accountability;
  • Clear lack of trust in the current system;
  • Strong desire for solutions; and
  • Unwillingness to abdicate control to the legislature, but a recognition that the legislature needs tools to solve problems.

What's Next California partners also include the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, California Common Cause, The Nicolas Berggruen Institute, The Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University and MacNeil/Lehrer Production's By the People, which filmed the proceedings for a television special.

We the People - 21st Century Town Meeting

Owensboro-Daviess County, Kentucky 
Population: 96,000 
Contact: Shelly Nichols, Executive Director, "We the People" Initiative, (270) 685-2652, 

In late 2007, more than 600 residents of Owensboro-Daviess County participated in the locality's largest-ever public meeting. The goals of the 21st Century event were to identify the community's priorities and help formulate plans to achieve them. 

America Speaks, a national non-profit that specializes in organizing and facilitating large public meetings, was hired to manage the process. Members of the public were brought together to discuss the region's education, environment, health care, economic development and local government. Participants worked together in small groups to review materials and to develop ideas about the topics. More than 20 recommendations were formulated as a result of this meeting. Priorities were determined using keypad polling and groupware computers. Five resident-led groups were formed to address each priority that emerged (Education Committee, Community and Downtown Development Committee, Environmental Impact Council, Healthy and Caring Community Committee and Citizens for Good Environment Committee). At a series of follow-up meetings, two priorities were identified to be completed within 90 days.

In 2008, the local government hired an executive director to coordinate the implementation of the recommendations. In addition, participants formed a Leadership Council to oversee the activities of the director and local authorities. To date, each group has developed successful programs in the community. The Education Committee formed a "Generations United" program to involve senior residents in helping local schools and communities educate children and youth. The committee partnered with Junior Achievement, an international non-profit that mentors children in local schools and focuses on educating students about workforce readiness. 

The city, in cooperation with the Community and Downtown Development Committee, developed a new Downtown Master Plan. The most significant projects so far are the development of a new riverfront events center and a downtown hotel. Also, as a result of a community survey, the Farmer's Market was moved to the downtown area. 

The Environmental Impact Council researched curbside recycling, after 75 percent of town hall participants voted to increase recycling. Members from the group met with representatives of recycling services and visited programs in other communities. The group has organized a number of educational activities related to recycling programs for the residents. 

The Healthy and Caring Community Committee partnered with Community Solutions for Substance Abuse, a local non-profit, to implement techniques that reduce substance abuse among youth. They provided information through the web, social media, retailer education cards and public meetings. Both entities organized trainings for families and school teachers, and several campaigns against substance abuse were formed at local schools and youth organizations. This committee also organizes Volunteer Fairs, which are held quarterly in an effort to connect interested citizens with community organizations that need volunteers. Also, in 2009 the committee sponsored Love for Children - Operation KCHIP (Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program, a low- to no-cost health, dental and vision insurance that covers children from medium- and low-income families). The initiative provided sites and volunteers throughout Daviess County to help families complete KCHIP applications. The United Way, an international non-profit, provided further support for the initiative. 

The Citizens for Good Government Committee sponsored public forums on the structure of local government and taxation. The focus was to improve openness and transparency in government. Owensboro and Daviess County leaders adopted an Openness and Transparency Pledge as one of the outcomes from the forums.

Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER)

Takoma Park and Long Branch, Maryland 
Population: 17,000 
Contact: Bruce Baker, Director of Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER), (301) 589-3633,  
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Small group discussion at a Community 
Conversations event (Photo: CHEER)

In early 2011, about 20 Takoma Park and Long Branch residents representing the diversity in the community attended a community conversation where they exchanged their opinions on potential quality of life improvements in the city. Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER) organized the discussion. CHEER is a regional non-profit that identifies communities' visions and goals, and gathers the information and resources needed to measure and fulfill them. Its mission is to provide people with the knowledge and ability to create healthy, thriving communities. 

Residents were asked to select their priorities from a list of quality of life topics for improvement. Some of the topics included care and support for senior residents, education, housing (affordability, quality), and medical, dental and mental health care. Small group deliberations took place. Participants as a whole agreed that housing and job training stood out as trends. The results of the discussion on health improvement planning process with residents were used by health and human service providers in Montgomery County, Maryland.