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Civic dialogues:

an introduction


the civics research co-operative
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Practical norms of civility

In order to ensure that these dialogues remain a welcoming and civil space for everyone who participates, we would like to avoid personal affront - since dialogue becomes near impossible in these circumstances. Such an expectation does not mean that participants can not disagree in a spirited, even heated manner.

There are varied interpretations of civility and the dynamic interactions of a diverse community will present subjective and challenging circumstances. In this light, we ask that even the practical norms of civility, which themselves are subject to debate be revised only after discourse and deliberation on what they might be.

These dialogues are facilitated discussions. They may be facilitated by novices or seasoned practitioners. The facilitation aims at free-spirited civil discussion in an atmosphere of inquiry, respect and wonder. We hope that these dialogues reflect a sincerity of spirit, cordial dispute and constructive humor. While there may as many aims in participating as there are participants, we hope they offer an opportunity for a different consciousness from the one we have all grown accustomed to - our own.

A few addition comments

Just about any question can be grist for meaningful dialogue - except those that appear to violate that sense of civility and good manners alluded to above.

Air absolutely any question that is on your mind during our meeting. Questions do not have to reflect your expertise - entertain those which feel least familiar and are perplexing.

This is not a free-for-all confab without any underlying method, but an examination of assumption and belief, embedded concepts, differences of kind and degree in assertions, and a search for consistencies and inconsistencies. They may be compelling objections and alternative viewpoints to consider as the evening proceeds.

Responses and viewpoints are unlikely to be predictable. We might all be surprised by just how diverse and eye-opening some will be. In dialogue, participants will reveal and articulate philosophies and basic concepts they might take for granted, but others do not. This is what makes for discussion.

Consider specific examples that back up what they take to be a universally accepted view. Cogent, well-constructed, reasoned views matter.

Offer your own perspective and encourage participants to offer their perspective, without becoming preoccupied with winning some argument by exposing consistencies or connections, or inconsistencies and contradictions expressed by others, even while inconsistency, connection, consistency and contradictions are food for thought. The collective goal might be that everyone who would like to speak, speak.

We hope that these dialogues do not become a one-on-one, or back-and-forth between participants.

Do be open and receptive to unexpected and unfamiliar responses, rather than (heaven forbid!) steer the dialogue in any direction, as if you know better than others what the answers, or questions, should be.

Do not browbeat a fellow participant or put someone on the spot in a way that makes him or her uncomfortable.

Do not strive for consensus. It doesn't matter if everyone begins and ends a dialogue with disparate perspectives. There's never any need to try to force any sort of agreement.

Do not try to bring the discussion to any sort of artificial closure. Success might just as well be measured by the questions that arise during and after the evening has ended.