Dialogue as a Process for Catalyzing Community Change

Engaging Through Dialogue

Effective community engagement processes are critical to ensuring residents and community partners are able to share ideas, input, and solutions. Authentic dialogue is a simple and powerful place to start. It is a communication process in which people share their perspectives and experiences and seek to understand others. 

When we're in dialogue we're...
  • Listening for what’s true for others
  • Sharing what’s true for you
  • Discovering what we have in common

When we listen, share, and discover the stories of our community, we are able to create meaning together and are better positioned to act as stewards in our organizations, communities, and regions. Dialogue creates an environment that builds trust and respect by honoring diverse values and perspectives and by seeking a deeper level of understanding that makes collaborative action possible. When we are able to harness our collective experience and best thinking, we are better able to create solutions that meet the needs of all community members.

Screen capture of Community Dialogues blog webpage
Community Dialogues
Resource - Blog
Screen capture of Dialogue to Change webpage
Dialogue to Change
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen grab of What is Dialogue?
What is Dialogue?
Resource - Blog

Dialogue is Countercultural


Dialogue creates an environment that builds trust and respect by honoring diverse values and perspectives—and by seeking a deeper level of understanding that makes collaborative action possible. The connections developed through dialogue help to build our civic muscle, making it easier to take action together. Dialogue is the art of thinking together. It is different from focus groups or other community input formats because it generates deeper understanding and new possibilities.

Dialogue as Catalyst to Change

There are regions, community groups, and individuals across the country who are engaging in dialogue to build connections and lift up what we have in common.  There are also places where community leaders and members are using dialogue to discover a vision for a shared future. Fox Cities is a region where they adopted a four-phase strategy for listening deeply through dialogue, discerning and reflecting what had been heard, sharing the findings back with the community, and moving into action together.

Fox Cities' listening process used multiple approaches and was conducted over a six-month span. They conducted a well-being survey with nearly 3,000 community members that reflected their community demographics and, with the help of 28 facilitators, convened 81 small group conversations. Then, fourteen community members used the Appleton Public Library as a central, public space to display and align thousands of comments from the conversations and surveys, place them on sticky notes, and combine them to find key themes that would be the foundation for their living vision. Learn more about Imagine Fox Cities and additional organizations hosting community conversations.

Hosting Community Dialogues


Creating communities, regions, and states that work towards all people and places thriving with no exceptions requires authentic dialogue. The following tips and tools will help you get started.

  1. Determine Goals for Your Dialogue: 

    What do you (as a convener) hope will come from a dialogue(s)? To build relationships with influential organizations and community residents? To better understand perceived challenges and opportunities? To co-create actual strategies and solutions to specific focus areas? No doubt, there will be different goals for different stages of change.

  2. Engage Diverse Perspectives (Emphasis on Lived Experience):

    The critical ingredient for a meaningful dialogue is to bring together a diverse group of people. Clarity of goals will help you hone in on the best blend of perspectives to meet those goals. Reach out to people and groups who are most affected by poverty, often marginalized, and carry the greatest burdens of structural inequities. Engaging individuals and groups with lived experience requires real intention to set up - timing, location, and the right facilitator.

  3. Combine Generative Questions and Light Facilitation: 

    Good questions are the lifeblood of a productive dialogue and reduce the need for facilitative interventions. It is helpful to have a facilitator who is a good listener, can set context, inspire conversation, and redirect if necessary. It is important to have someone the whole group sees as credible and welcoming. Generative questions will surface personal stories, are provocative,  spark creative thinking, and can lead to new ideas and innovation.

  4. Anticipate and Support Next Steps: 

    Make sure your fellow conveners have thought about how to use dialogue 
    results, how to share results, and opportunities for deeper engagement efforts. Productive dialogues often generate unexpected ideas and outcomes. Be prepared to be surprised.

Dialogue Topic Guides and Tools

Screen capture of 1:1 Conversations webpage
1:1 Conversations
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen shot of the Living Room Guides homepage
Living Room Conversations
Resource - Guide/handbook
Screen capture of AI-Assisted Sensemaking webpage
AI-Assisted Sensemaking
Story - Written
PDF Cover: Recovery to Renewal: Dialogue Guide
Recovery to Renewal: Dialogue Guide
Resource - Guide/handbook

Additional Resources

Screen capture of Building Trust in Dialogue blog post
Building Trust in Dialogue
Resource - Blog
Screen capture of What is Listening? webpage
What is Listening?
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen capture of What Are Dialogue and Deliberation? webpage
What Are Dialogue and Deliberation?
Resource - Website/webpage

 Related Topics

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Community Engagement

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Belonging and Civic Muscle