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Hosting Your Community Dialogue

Staffing

To host your Community Dialogue, you’ll need to recruit a facilitator, note-taker, and assistants. The roles of each are described below. You can look to library staff, volunteers, or other community members with an interest in the topic to fill these roles. When possible, you should include these individuals (especially facilitators and note-takers) in planning conversations so they understand the goals and bigger picture of the dialogue.

  • Facilitators introduce and guide the Community Dialogue. Effective facilitators are good listeners who are curious about what people think and able to remain neutral about the topic being discussed. The facilitator does NOT need to be an expert on the issues being discussed. Ideally, the facilitator would be the library director or other library staff member in order to help bring forward the library as a go-to place for STEM learning in the community.
  • Note-takers record important points discussed during the dialogue. Effective note-takers are observant and able to capture the essence of a conversation without inserting their own thoughts or ideas. They do NOT need to record every word that was said, but be able to identify important details and relate them to the larger goals. Some exact quotes are helpful, however, when analyzing what was discussed after the meeting.
  • Assistants: to help with set-up, welcoming people, etc.
  • Translators: someone who can provide translation services in various languages (e.g., Spanish) might be very useful and could be seen as culturally sensitive.

Section Menu

Ground Rules

1. Have a “kitchen table” conversation. Everyone participates; no one dominates.
2. There are no “right answers.” Draw on your own experiences, views and beliefs. You do not need to be an expert.
3. Keep an open mind. Listen carefully and try hard to understand the views of those who disagree with you.
4. Help keep the discussion on track. Stick to the questions; try not to ramble.
5. It is okay to disagree, but don’t be disagreeable. Respond to others how you want to be responded to.
6. Have fun

Setting Up the Venue

A comfortable setting will go a long way in promoting good conversation!

  • Ensure the space is well lit and free of distractions
  • Set up a screen and projector for PowerPoint slides (recommended if they are visually appealing, e.g., not too many words)
  • Set up chairs in a circle, or semi-circle if using a projector
  • Provide printouts of the discussion questions and ground rules for attendees (click here for a list of ground rules)
  • Set up a laptop with a copy of the discussion questions for the note taker to use
  • Provide refreshments
  • Provide name tags for staff and participants
  • Have a sign-in sheet to gather names, place of business/affiliation, mailing addresses, and email addresses in order to be able to contact people after the event

Library Quote

“Participants took off running-I was barely able to get questions in, but it was all good because by themselves they covered most of the questions”
Charles Diede, Fontana Library

Outline of the Event

The following information, adapted from Libraries Transforming Communities, provides an outline of the Community Dialogue and sample script for you to adapt for your individual needs.

  1. Facilitator introduces themselves, thanks any organizations or individuals involved in organizing the dialogue, and thanks participants for attending.

    “Hi everyone, my name is and I am at . I want to thank for helping us organize this dialogue. I also want to thank all of you for taking the time to join us today.”

  2. Describe what a Community Dialogue is, its purpose, and your goals for this dialogue. Provide definitions for any terms that may need clarification. You may need to define the terms STEM and underserved audiences.

    “A Community Dialogue is a chance for us to come together and discuss issues affecting our community. is interested in offering more STEM programming, that is, programming about science, technology, engineering, and math. We are also interested in exploring ways to reach underserved audiences, specifically, rural and geographically isolated areas as well as individuals underrepresented in STEM fields. This would include Hispanics and Latinos, African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, the economically disadvantaged, people with disabilities, women and girls. Our goals for this dialogue are to learn more from you about our community’s thoughts and needs around STEM and reaching underserved audiences.”

  3. Review the ground rules and confirm that everyone is ok with them (click here for a list of ground rules)

    “Before we begin, we have provided you with some ground rules for this dialogue. Please take a few moments to read through them. (Pause.) Do these rules work for everyone?”

  4. Explain your role as a facilitator.

    “My role is to ask questions to help us have a good conversation. Since we want to learn your thoughts, I won’t be offering my views although I may ask some follow-up questions to make sure I understand what you meant or to keep the conversation going. To make sure we hear from everyone, I may also ask you to hold off on comments at times.”

  5. Introduce the note-taker

    “ (point to note taker) will be taking notes tonight to help us follow-up on what we discuss. The notes won’t include anyone’s name or be made public; we just want to make sure we catch what you’re saying.”

  6. Have participants introduce themselves

    “Before we begin, I’d like to have everyone share their name, organization, and reason for attending.”

  7. Go through the Discussion Questions (see next section for tips)
  8. Wrap up: Thanks everyone for attending. State some of the take-away messages that you heard during the meeting. Don’t provide any solutions at this time, but ensure that you will be following-up on what was discussed.

    “Thanks so much for attending and sharing your thoughts with us. It seems like people are interested in finding out ways to connect economically disadvantaged youth who live outside of the city to more STEM opportunities. Over the next few months we’ll be working to follow-up up on this and other points that were discussed.”

Library Quote

“Community Dialogue attendees have shown strong support for library STEM programs and would like to meet again. We have plans to meet again next year, which allows for enough time to implement new strategies and reflect upon impacts.”
Dianna Leighton, Fort Fairfield Public Library

Tips for Facilitators

If you’ve never facilitated a discussion before, never fear! Here are some tips for addressing potential challenges you might face. You can find additional tips for facilitating dialogues in the resources listed at the end of this guide.

To get maximum participation and avoid a few voices dominating the conversation

  • Make sure everyone has a chance to say something early on
  • Ask: “Does anyone else have something to add?
  • Say: “We seem to be hearing from the same people. Let’s give others a chance to talk.”
  • Call on people by name (make sure they have nametags!) if it looks like they’re trying to jump in (“Susan, did you have something you wanted to say?”)
  • Remember: the conversation should be between the attendees, not an attendee and the facilitator. Speak only if needed to clarify something or keep the conversation moving forward.

If the conversation goes off topic for too long

  • Relate it back to the main question (“We started off by asking (question). How does what you’re talking about relate to
    this question?”)
  • If they continue to go off-topic say, “I hear what you are saying,
  • but we need to focus on this question now.”
  • Set the idea aside in a “parking lot” for future consideration

If people are reluctant to talk

  • Remind them that there are no right or wrong answers.
  • Pause. It may feel uncomfortable, but people need time to gather their thoughts
  • Reword the question

If people argue or the conversation gets heated

  • As long as it’s not mean-spirited, know that this is normal. This is an indication that the topic is interesting to attendees and that they are engaged (even though they may not agree on solutions, for example)
  • Say, “There seem to be different views about this. Why do you think that is?”
  • Set ground rules in advance and refer back to them.
  • Take a break (“Let’s take a 5 minute break and then revisit this”)

Also, keep in mind that these dialogues are meant to be an informal way for people to get to know and learn from one another; not a formal presentation. Give it a shot! The more sessions you run the more comfortable you’ll become. Visit the STAR Net Resources Section for additional resources for facilitating Community Dialogues.

Library Quote

“When the facilitator set the tone for a fluid conversation among attendees, they seemed to be more willing to jump in a provide insight and opinions. Participants were encouraged to gather close together (even though the room we were in was quite large) so that it was easier to hear one another and to participate in the discussion”
Atlas Logan, Gwinnett County Public Library
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