Opening Space for Community Dialogue

Peter Jones Dialogic Design, Wu Wei

In Dayton, Toronto, and everywhere I’m seeing increased passion for people creating opportunities for community dialogue to enable people facing local concerns in common to exchange and cooperate. In most cases, we see the co-emergence of the need to facilitate occasions for real face-to-face dialogues and to sustain efforts and action by online social networking. Both of these applications of social technology are practices of collaborative sensemaking, ways of working together for all participants to progressively understand a situation and its range of options for action. As GK van Patter suggests in NextD Journal articles, sensemaking by all stakeholders is necessary before changemaking, before what we think of as “designing.”

Our Designing with Dialogue group facilitated a community dialogue at The Storefront Community, a literal storefront community center in the Bloorcourt neighborhood in Toronto. The purpose of the session was to enable community members and other stakeholders in the Storefront project to engage dialogues of their own choosing, adapting the Open Space method, framed by the question:

How do you envision The Storefront’s role in your community (how might it support local life, culture, and economy)?

Dan Rose, the graphic facilitator at the easel, explains (here at Omakase) how he’s seeing an increasing interest in employing social organizing strategies as smart mixes of F2F and online resources. (See photos and videos on this event.)

Dan notes 3 conversations in one week in Toronto, and I’m here to post that I’ve returned to Dayton to find requests for advising on social innovation and engagement strategies here. There is keen interest in adopting new design strategies to large-scale community-level issues. In Dayton, a new social innovation organization is underway with aims toward a community-wide transformation project, involving neighborhoods, education, community service, community gardens, and communications strategies. Dialogic design strategies will be vital to their success.

And then there are international projects such as the Millennium Development Goal 5 on Maternal and Newborn Health using multiple social engagement and dialogue technologues (Canadian Tim Merry’s Art of Hosting). The photos of this parliament-level event engagement reveal cutting edge hybrids of F2F, virtual dialogue, and software-assisted presentation.

What kind of world would we have if everyone dared to think this big?