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Public Conversations Project

What does it take to strengthen democracy on academic campuses? Bringing together diverse constituents—faculty members, staff, administration and students?  Focusing on issues that matter to those living and working on campus?  Deliberation – coming to conclusions and decisions about those issues?

Yes. Yes. Yes. But the way people engage, and the relationships that grow from that engagement, can either foster or destroy the deliberative process.

Adding a focus on relationships and communication to the focus on the issues can transform stagnant, frustrating, or fruitless conversations into engaging, productive, and community-building ones.

For more than twenty years, the Public Conversations Project has addressed the communication and relational dynamics of potentially fractious deliberative conversations. It does so using a specific and carefully honed style of dialogue. By asking questions that will open up ways of thinking and by preparing participants to reflect and respond thoughtfully to one another, the Public Conversations Project aims to create environments that are conducive to shedding stereotypes, enhancing mutual understanding, and improving relationships by shifting patterns of conversation.

In the higher education arena, the Public Conversations Project’s approach has been useful in training student/faculty/staff dialogue facilitation teams, adding to faculty skills, improving students’ in-class engagement of divisive issues, enhancing diversity initiatives, improving tenure hearings, engaging on-campus divisions and polarizing issues, designing intra- and inter-departmental meetings, and facilitating better relationships between boards, faculty, staff and administration.

The Public Conversations Project has brought dialogue to numerous diverse conflicts and situations including Southwestern University’s struggle with how to address racism on Facebook and Randolph Macon Woman’s College strife among faculty, students, and administration around opening its doors to men.

At three community colleges across the United States, the Public Conversations Project, together with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, is piloting programs that use various dialogic approaches to address unplanned pregnancies. And the organization has continued to consult with Clark University as it has expanded its Ford-funded program, creating an extensive dialogue program on campus.

In all of these examples, universities, colleges, and community colleges—private, public, large, and small—are finding dialogue a valuable addition to their curriculum, community, and campus.  Invite dialogue onto your campus and see what can happen!

For more information about the Public Conversations Project, please contact Susan Countryman at or visit the Public Conversations Website:

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