Public Agenda
Public Engagement

Community Conversations

Public Agenda’s Model for Successful Public Dialogue

For communities dealing with difficult issues, for public officials wrestling with tough challenges, or for businesses or institutions facing skepticism, Public Agenda's Community Conversation model is the antidote to traditional community forums that are often unproductive at best and polarizing at worst.

Community Conversations are carefully constructed problem-solving dialogues that bring diverse stakeholders together to discuss an important and pressing public issue. Community Conversations provide government officials and community leaders an opportunity to engage a broad cross section of a community in productive, action-oriented deliberation.

Key Principles of Community Conversations

Public Agenda’s model for Community Conversations encompasses several key principles, including:

  • Local Nonpartisan Sponsoring Coalition: A coalition of local organizations and institutions to sponsor and organize the Community Conversation.
  • Diverse Participants: Participation that represents a cross section of the community—not just the “usual suspects”—to ensure that all groups and stakeholders are represented and heard from.
  • Dialogue in Small, Diverse Groups: Small group discussions facilitated by well-trained and objective moderators and recorders who document the proceedings for effective follow-up.
  • The Power of Choicework: Well-prepared discussion material designed to give people alternative ways of thinking about a complicated issue, or what Public Agenda refers to as “Choicework.”
  • Forum follow-up: Follow-up activity to connect the Community Conversation dialogue outcomes to ongoing or new action.

Rather than lectures by experts, or gripe sessions by angry constituents, well-designed Community Conversations create a frank, productive problem-solving process in which diverse ideas are put on the table, diverse participants sit at the table, and people work to find common ground and solutions. Trained moderators from the community help all participants contribute, while trained recorders capture the ideas and actions steps generated during the discussion.

Impacts and Outcomes

Community Conversations can have concrete impacts in various ways, from informing district practices and government policies, to catalyzing collaborations across existing community organizations and programs, and creating new citizen-led initiatives.

For more information about Community Conversations, please contact Michelle Currie at Public Agenda at (212) 686-6610 or mcurrie@publicagenda.org.


Watch Community Conversations in Action

We invite you to watch the video below to see how the Community Conversation unfolds, the positive responses people have to this approach and the results it can achieve.


This video was produced as part of our work with Achieving the Dream.