What is it? A dialogue session brings community members together to purposefully talk about a community issue. Unlike some meetings, a dialogue session is usually not focused on analyzing or debating differing perspectives. Instead, each participant is encouraged to present their own viewpoint and listen to others. Analysis of these perspectives is done at some other time. Dialogue sessions are also different because they are designed to be more flexible and to shift in focus to allow for new directions that emerge in the conversation. However, balancing the need to maintain some degree of focus with the need for the conversation to include all perspectives is a difficult task. Productive dialogue sessions are often well received, and aim to impart participants with a better understanding of the myriad viewpoints represented, while deepening individuals’ appreciation for each other and for the chance to share their own views. A dialogue session can be a good starting point for any kind of collaborative work because its focus is listening rather than debating.
How has it been used? Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities needed local input in British Columbia, Canada on how residents thought forests should be managed. In order to capture public opinion, the organization began a program called A Conversation on BC Forests. The program started with 20 dialogue sessions, in which people voiced their opinions about the forests. Information from these sessions was used to help set goals for forest management operations. As different kinds of stakeholders presented their opinions, several common interests became apparent, including more local control of the process and better sharing of information. These basic shared aspirations were used to help design a second round of meetings, led by experts trying to draw out more specific suggestions as to how to reach the desired outcomes. (Source: A Conversation on BC Forests)