Planning Your Community Dialogue

Who to Invite

The focus should be on bringing in new partners and more voices to the conversation and connecting with groups not normally represented at the library. In order to keep the audience size manageable, try to focus on a few groups for each dialogue. You can schedule more Community Dialogues in the future to gain additional insight.

Invitees could include stakeholders and individuals from groups such as:

  • Education (e.g., universities, colleges, community colleges, local school districts, teachers, PTA/PTO, homeschool representatives, afterschool providers, etc.)
  • Local government agencies and government labs
  • The Chamber of Commerce and business organizations (e.g., tech companies, engineering firms, advertising agencies)
  • Representatives from traditionally underserved/underrepresented groups (e.g., tribal elders/leaders, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, immigration and naturalization services staff, cultural centers, refugee centers)
  • Local chapters of professional STEM societies (e.g., AAAS, American Astronomical Society, Society of Women Engineers, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, National Society of Black Engineers, Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science)
  • STEM engagement groups (e.g., science museums, zoos, children’s museums, NASA Solar System Ambassadors, Space Grant program, amateur astronomy clubs)
  • Clubs, groups (e.g., Kiwanis Club, Scouts, 4-H) and places of worship
  • Neighborhood associations, parenting groups
  • Social service groups (e.g., YMCA, Rotary, literacy groups, local food pantry, homeless shelters)
  • Local media (e.g., local newspaper, radio and TV)
  • Friends of the library, members of the library board

Section Menu

Library Quote

“It made sense to us to hold two Community Dialogues, one in the afternoon and one in the evening on the same day. The afternoon event was held for local educators, homeschool parents, 4H groups, etc. People working directly with the kids who would benefit from our efforts. The evening group was held for elected officials, members of local groups such as Optimists, PTO, school administrators, clergy, other area librarians, etc. People who are still connected with the community’s needs, but do so on a more administrative level. Both dialogues featured good discussion and I think it was a good way to focus the conversation for each group.”
Kathy Condon-Boettcher, Director, Festus Public Library, Festus, MO

How to Invite

According to Libraries Transforming Communities, the ideal size for a Community Dialogue is 8-15 people to ensure that you gain enough input while allowing everyone’s voice to be heard. You also want a variety of people in the room so that a varied and rich conversation can take place about STEM in your community. If your final number of attendees is more or less than this target, don’t worry. You’ll still get valuable information! The following tips can also help you reach your target number of participants.

A personalized approach will help increase your chances of recruiting participants. Try to personally invite people and utilize existing partners, library staff, and volunteers. Make sure to provide information about why you are having a dialogue and explain that it’s not an information session, meeting, or focus group, but rather a chance for the community to come together and learn from one another. You can also have informal conversations with individuals to gauge interest and find out when they would be able to attend. Be sure to provide potential invitees with information about your library goals and the need for the Community Dialogue so they understand what they are being invited to. A sample STAR Net Program Summary is included in Appendix A, which you can modify to suit your specific needs.

Directed invitations can also help control numbers and ensure your group is not too large. If you are interested in reaching many stakeholder groups, you should also consider holding multiple dialogues to keep numbers manageable.

Follow-up any initial conversations with formal invitations at least four weeks before the dialogue and send a reminder a day or two before the event. A sample invitation can be found in Appendix B, which you can send along with the Program Summary in Appendix A.

Popular Quote

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.”
Andrew Carnegie

Suggested Timeline

6 months before

  • Make a list of potential stakeholder groups that you want to engage
  • Determine the best way to reach out to them. Do you have any staff, volunteers, or partners who can make an introduction?
  • Make a plan for reaching out to these groups
  • Book a venue (ideally your library, but consider a more neutral ground if there a reasons to do so such as logistics or you want to hold the meeting at a partner location)

3-4 months before

  • Start contacting potential invitees to gauge their interest and availability. Include the STAR Net summary in Appendix A along with your initial contact so that they understand the project and the need for a Community Dialogue.
  • Begin brainstorming discussion questions.
  • Identify your facilitator, note takers, and assistants. If possible, include them in conversations about discussion questions so they understand the goals of the dialogue.

2-3 months before

  • Send out formal invitations and the project summary. If refreshments will be served (which is highly recommended!), be sure to include this in your invitation.
  • Request potential discussion questions in the invitations (make sure you share with them your draft questions!)

4-6 weeks before

  • Finalize discussion questions.

1 week before

  • Briefing session with facilitators, note takers, and assistants.
  • Reminder invitations either via email or phone.

Popular Quote

“We are witnessing huge shifts in the public’s expectations of public institutions like libraries and museums.”
John Falk

Where to Hold the Dialogue

Your library can be a great place to hold a Community Dialogue event, but other venues should be considered as well, especially if your goal is to reach groups or individuals who do not normally frequent the library. Libraries Transforming Communities suggests looking for a venue that:

  • People are familiar with and use frequently
  • Is considered to be part of the community. Usually this excludes government or “official” places
  • Is available in the evenings and/or on weekends
  • Offers a comfortable environment
  • Is not too noisy or full of distractions
  • Is easily accessible to all participants: plenty of parking (free is best!), centrally located, safe, near public transportation, accessible to those with disabilities
  • Is affordable given project resources

Some suggested venues (other than your library) include:

  • Community centers
  • Community organizations (e.g., YMCA)
  • Recreation centers
  • Wherever your community already is! –Consider asking leaders of underserved or underrepresented communities where the Dialogue should be held before you even begin planning

Popular Quote

“Public libraries are poised to play a leading role in helping individuals and communities adapt to our fast changing world.”
Rising to the Challenge

When and How Long

A typical dialogue will last 90 minutes to 2 hours (although some have gone all day), so you should consider the audience you wish to attract, the time of day, and when they may be available for this length of time. More people may be available during evening and weekends. Also check your community calendar for events that target the same audience as your dialogue and schedule it for a  different time so that they don’t conflict. You may also wish to hold a series of dialogues at different times to reach more stakeholders.

What to Ask

In general, the discussion questions for Community Dialogues that are focused on increasing STEM programming and/or increasing service to underserved and underrepresented groups should address the following three themes. Sample questions related to each theme are provided for reference, but feel free to add or adapt questions for your specific audience or community.

Connections to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

  • In what ways are STEM fields relevant to our community?
  • How would you describe our community’s view of the importance of STEM?
  • What extra-curricular options are provided to support STEM related skills? Is there interest in collaborative efforts?
  • What STEM organizations (with resources and connections) are already in our community? Are these organizations represented at our Dialogue? If not, ow do we engage them?

Underserved and Underrepresented Groups

  • What populations from our community are not participating in library programs? What is the best way to invite them to a future dlalogue? (This question should be asked at all Community Dialogues)
  • What’s your perception about why these underserved audience(s) don’t frequent the library as often (e.g., other activities/resources in the community meet their needs, difficulties getting to the library, aren’t aware of library resources, don’t feel welcomed, library rules unfamiliar, etc.)?
  • Do you notice any difference in participation in library programming/activities between different groups of people?
  • Are there certain events/programming that certain population segments avoid, or come to at higher numbers?
  • What types of STEM-related activities/programs would be most welcoming to the groups who aren’t currently attending programs at our library?
  • How can STEM events like science/engineering festivals, or Family STEM Days help attract underserved audiences to our library?

Community Needs around STEM

  • How can you and the community help our library build on its strengths and bring STEM learning to all audiences?
  • How interested do you think various parts of our community would be in having activities and events at the library and in the community related to STEM?
  • What gaps or challenges do you see children struggling with in STEM-related classes? How can the library help?
  • Is there a better reframing of STEM that would attract diverse audiences? (e.g., Maker Spaces, Lego Club, family events, etc.)
  • Who are the other leaders in the community who aren’t with us today? How do we bring them into the conversation?

Media Quote

“On May 7, 2018 a group of educators, STEM professionals and community leaders gathered for a roundtable discussion at the Macron County Public Library in an effort to get a better picture of what MCPL’s NASA program could bring to the county and what sorts of needs exist in STEM education here. One of the primary focuses of the discussion was improving access and engagement for STEM, by offering programs that are relevant to the people living in Western North Carolina.”
The Franklin Press