Archive for the ‘Central Texas D&D’ Category

One of the objectives of the Central Texas D&D Summit held on April 19 at the LBJ Library was to:

a) Identify specific local D&D efforts that could be used as examples of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation’s (NCDD) ‘Seven Challenges Facing the D&D Community’;
b) Members of the NCDD_CenTX team (to be determined) will then document these examples (according to a format yet to be determined) for presentation at the conference.

While we made great headway toward our other objectives to build a Central Texas Network, we didn’t specifically tie our practices and learning back to the seven challenges. NCDD and Civic Evolution have been hosting an online dialogue about these seven challenges, but that doesn’t satisfy our objective to draw on the expertise of the Central Texas region.

If you are a Central Texas D&D practitioner or scholar and have struggled with these issues, please let us know what you are learning and how we can pool our resources to tackle these challenges.

Here are the challenges:

Bringing D&D skills and perspectives into mainstream society and institutions

Challenge A: Embedding D&D in Systems

Embedding D&D in systems (governance, schools, organizations, etc.) – as opposed to just putting our energy into isolated D&D events and programs.

Challenge B: Framing this Work in an Accessible Way

Articulating the importance of this work to those beyond our immediate community (making D&D compelling to people of all income levels, education levels, and political perspectives, etc.) – and helping equip members of the D&D community to talk about this work in an accessible, effective way.

Challenge C: Proving This Stuff Works

Proving to power-holders (public officials, funders, CEOs) that D&D really does work, and creating/propagating quality evaluation tools for practitioners to use that can feed into research. In the private sector, demonstrating how D&D contributes to the bottom line.

Challenge D: D&D to Action and Policy Change

Strengthening the link between D&D and community action and policy change.

Strengthening the D&D community

Challenge E: Walking Our Talk

Addressing issues of oppression and bias within the D&D community.

Challenge F: Regional D&D Networks

Fostering the development of regional D&D networks and gatherings.

Challenge G: International Connections

Finding ways to readily learn from what D&D innovators outside of the U.S. are doing.

So what have we learned about these important challenges?

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The loose-knit, recently formed network of D&D practitioners in Central Texas now have a group in Facebook. It’s not actually a group yet since I’m the only member so far, but it’s only been five minutes. I’m sure the other thirty people who gathered at the LBJ Library last April 19 will want to join so that we can maintain the energy and momentum from that meeting.

If you are in Central Texas and interested in dialogue and deliberation, community engagement, civic discourse, public leadership and civic entrepreneurship, join our Central Texas D&D Network Facebook Group to stay apprised of upcoming events and activities.

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The Central Texas Planning Team for the NCDD2008 Conference is smokin’. I mean they are all over the place! They are canvasing Austin to promote the conference, solicit sponsorships, enlist volunteer support, encourage workshop leaders, attract bookstores, solicit donations, recruit media partners, and whatever else it will take to make the NCDD conference in Austin this October, the very best one EVER!

Here are some details:

NCDD Austin will take place October 3rd through 5th, 2008 – with pre-conference workshops on the 2nd and a 2-day training opportunity on the 6th and 7th!

Update: Registration and workshop applications are now live! Look over the opportunities to lead workshops, innovation sessions and networking topics and consider what you might want to contribute to the conference. And register now, while the early bird rate of only $300 (!) is in effect.

If you have never been to an NCDD Conference (they only happen every two years, so you don’t want to miss this one!) check out this video:

OK, so are you convinced that this is the place to be October 3-5? Then register here and do it soon so you’ll get that early registration rate of $300 good until May 16.

And if you are really sold and want to tell your friends about the conference, here is a sample invitation you can use! Copy text from below of our invitations – light and fun or generic – and paste it into your e-mail, blog, or web site. (If you twitter, you can reference the NCDD Conference web site using this tiny url: http://tinyurl.com/28778j

Light and Fun Invitation

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

The National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation Conference is coming to Austin, October 3-5 and I’m on the Central Texas Planning Team for this exciting event. I’m volunteering my time because I deeply believe that helping people change the way they talk about difficult issues is one of the most powerful ways to create change in our society.

People who have attended this conference say it’s the most engaging, meaningful conference they’ve ever attended.

I hope I’ve sparked your curiosity and you’ll want to learn more about the conference at the NCDD Website: http://www.thataway.org

I also invite you to contact me directly for more information.

I hope you will join us at this event!

Generic Invitation

Save the Date
October 3-5, 2008
National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation Conference
Renaissance Hotel, Austin

Do you want to…
… put your hope for democracy into action?
… learn practical approaches to engage tough issues and conflicts?
… stretch your perspectives and network with others who value the same?

If I’ve sparked your curiosity, click on the link below to learn more about the conference we’ll all be talking about for years to come! (

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation Web Site: http://www.thataway.org

Come join hundreds of people who believe that solutions to our world’s toughest problems CAN be found by talking and working together.

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The participants in the small groups at the Central Texas D&D Summit had almost forty-five minutes to share the lessons and insights they have gained during the course of their dialogue and deliberation work.

Steven Fearing set up the groups with the following comments.

  • This meeting is not a workshop on dialogue and deliberation techniques. Instead it is an opportunity for us to get to know each other and to document what we have done and learned. More importantly, we want to build relationships and find out how we can work together in the future.
  • You will be working in small groups at five tables
  • Each table has a facilitator
  • You have a template prepared by Sunni where you can capture in words and pictures from your group’s dialogue.
  • You will have 45 minutes for this portion and should feel free to take breaks as needed
  • Goal for our time in these small groups is to share and capture key learning, insights, and challenges related to dialogue and deliberation in community work.
  • After 45 minutes, we will come together to capture common themes – such as assets and resources, challenges and opportunities. Sunni will help us integrate all of the ideas we discuss in our groups and chart on our templates into a graphic narrative.

Each group had a beautiful graphic map drawn by Sunni Brown where they could capture their insights. The groups were lightly facilitated by Rod Reyna, Susan Schultz, Tobin Quereau, and Mary Thompson. The facilitators charged the participants:

  • Think of a time when you brought people together to work on an issue or community problem. What lessons have you learned about using dialogue and deliberation for helping people work together? These may be lessons you learned from your successes or things you learned that you would do differently.
  • Think also about challenges you have faced and what you would like to do better, and
  • What else do you need to be more effective in using dialogue and deliberation in your work with communities?

Here are the results of their small group dialogue:

Yellow Group

yellow group

Susan Schultz, Neil Meili, Stephanie Nestlerode, Steve Swanson, Lindsay LeBlanc

Blue Group


Mary Thompson, Ed Sharpe, Margaret Valenti, Robyn Emerson, Oliver Markley, Patricia Wilson

Red Group


Tobin Quereau, Ann Brudno, Jenny Meigs, Tom Moran, Landon Shultz, Mike Aaron, Leilani Rose

Green Group


Rod Reyna, Sherry Lowry, Robena Jackson, Cathey Capers, Juli Fellows, Steven Fearing

As the participants described their templates, Sunni captured their themes:


Prior to the reporting out and reflection, Erin Kreeger and Taylor Willingham had a charge for the group:

As you listen to the groups’ posting their templates, listen for assets and opportunities. Think about the opportunities that you identified in this room that will help you in your work. Perhaps you identified asset or opportunities that involve:

  • Connecting with someone else in this room or someone who needs to be part of this community
  • Participation in an event or activity
  • Contributing your expertise or resources

Make note of the ideas as they come to you. After every group describes their template we will have time for collective reflection that Sunni will capture for us in graphic form.

Here are some of the opportunities the group identified to connect:


In keeping with our spirit of reflection and “continuous improvement” (that term is here for Charles’ benefit!) Charles Knickerbocker led us in a period of reflection on the meeting. He asked them what worked and what did we need more of. Here’s what the group had to say:

what worked

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Following the welcome from Dr. Flowers and a recognition of the planning partners for the Central Texas D&D Summit by Taylor Willingham, Patricia Wilson and Diane Miller set up the goals for the day and gave a quick overview of the objectives.

While the NCDD 2008 conference was an incentive to convene this group, the ultimate desire is to build a learning community in Central Texas that can build on the wisdom of so many creative people dedicated to D&D and community engagement.

Specifically, we want to build a community of practice where we can share our insights, apply what we have learned and deepen the conversation.

Diane Miller then led the group in a quick round of introductions – name and association only – with the understanding that we would spend quality time in the next phase of the agenda sharing more about ourselves.

Participating in this day were:

  • Cathey Capers, Partner Wellspring Resources
  • Robyn Emerson, UT Student
  • Steven Fearing, Management Analyst Center for Program Coordination, DADS
  • Juli Fellows, Independent Consultant
  • Robena Jackson, Pricipla with Group Solutions RJW
  • Charles Knickerbocker, Principal Knickerbocker & Associates
  • Erin Kreeger, Founder Inviting Change
  • Sherry Lowry, Professional Mentor, Business Coach
  • Oliver Markley, Principal Inward Bound
  • Jenny Meigs, M.P.Aff Candidate 2008 University of Texas at Austin, LBJ School
  • Neil Meili, Poet
  • Diane Miller, Assistant Director Envision Central Texas
  • Tom Moran, Program & Outreach Manager Austin Public Library
  • Stephanie Nestlerode, President Omega Point International, Inc.
  • Norma Perales, Coalition Coordinator The Georgetown Project
  • Tobin Quereau, Professor of Human Development Austin Community College
  • Rod Reyna, Public Innovator/Coach Community Solutions
  • Leilani Rose, Partner Wellspring Resources
  • Susan Schultz, Program Director, Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution
  • Ed Sharpe, Clinical Professor University of Texas at Austin
  • Landon Shultz, Minister Bluebonnet Hills Christian Church
  • Steve Swanson
  • Mary Thompson, Partner Corder/Thompson & Associates
  • Margaret Valenti, Neighborhood Planner City of Austin
  • Taylor Willingham, Coordinator for Texas Forums LBJ Presidential Library
  • Patricia Wilson, Director Civic Engagement Initiative of the UT Center for Sustainable Development
  • Lindsay LeBlanc, Student University of Texas

JennUT student Jenny Meigs then asked the 30 participants to reflect on something new and good happening in their work that they could share with the rest of the group.

Possible ways people could think about this question were:
o What is a new and good practice that you have learned? or
o What new and good things are happening in this community? or
o What is new and exciting about the work that you are doing? or
o What is new and good about your practice?

The participants took about twenty minutes to share with each other in their small groups.

Jenny then called upon people to share what came up for them in telling their own story and listening to other stories about what is new and good. in their practice.

Sunni captured their reflections graphically. We even had one report come in the form of a poem! Here’s what poet Neil Meili shared:

Each snowflake is fragile and unique
You can freeze to death
Ten feet from you door in a blizzard.
Every child is beautiful
This is difficult to remember
When they have gathered into swirling armies
Neil Meili

whats new

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On April 19, 2008, thirty advocates for dialogue, deliberation and community engagement in the Central Texas region gathered at the LBJ Library for a “learning summit.”

participantsParticipants represented a range of sectors – civic, government, business, non-profit/NGO, education – with a myriad of expertise and knowledge both on issues and approaches, from smaller-scale group dialogues to large, multi-stakeholder initiatives.

There was no magic or mystery to how participants were selected. The planning team simply brainstormed until we had 50 potential invitees with the understanding that 1) we could physically and design-wise handle 30-40 and 2) this was only the first gathering of what we hope will become a sustainable network.

The initiative for this gathering came from the growing number of people in Central Texas dedicated to engaging citizens in dialogue about deep-seated community problems and finding opportunities for people to meaningfully engage with each other in building relationships. Momentum has been building for five years and dozens of informal networks were already engaging with each other.

dianeBut the upcoming National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation 2008 conference in Austin; the resources of Patricia Wilson and students in the courses she teaches on participatory planning, civic engagement, facilitation, conflict resolution, and group process design; the leadership of the LBJ Presidential Library; and the persistent and gentle persuasion of Diane Miller (gentle? Diane? she may look it, but who are we kidding here?) ultimately led to a formal gathering of these amazing D&D practitioners. This unique gathering of regional practitioners even drew the attention of NCDD.

NCDD posting

The summit was organized and sponsored by:

We identified four outcomes for the day and Charles Knickerbocker (who is our much-appreciated “accountability guru”) provided potential metrics for measuring our movement toward those outcomes:

Inform: Acquaint participants with National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) and the upcoming conference in Austin.

Metric: Track with NCDD and record the number of participants that register for the conference.

Learn: Share and capture key learning, insights, and challenges related to dialogue and deliberation in community work.

a) Identify specific local D&D efforts that could be used as examples of NCDD’s ‘Seven Challenges Facing the D&D Community’;
b) Members of the NCDD_CenTX team (to be determined) will then document these examples (according to a format yet to be determined) for presentation at the conference.

Build: Strengthen professional connections and personal relationships.

Metric: All participants will have complete contact information for each other and will spend quality time in dialogue in small groups and with individuals from other small groups.
Provide the time and format for participants to identify opportunities for their continued collaboration

Sustain: Understand the assets within the Central Texas D&D network, ways to support each other, and possible next steps.

Metric: Document in report, refer to CentTex D&D Development committee for recommendations

The agenda for the day drew upon the best thinking of several experienced facilitators and meeting agenda designers. Consolidating the best thinking of so many talented, passionate individuals involved negotiation and compromise carried out through multiple phone conversations and face-to-face meetings. But the planning team recognized the huge potential of this meeting and remained committed to a collaborative process.

  • We “walked our talk”.
  • We left ego at the door, challenged our own assumptions, and put personal agendas aside for the larger common good.
  • Knowing that no agenda would ever be perfect, we were at least confident that we had integrated our best ideas.
  • We also agreed that magic was possible no matter what the agenda given the talents and expertise of the invitees.

Steven Fearing, Jenny Meigs and Charles Knickerbocker did the heavy lifting, creating extensive, thoughtful and comprehensive pathways to our proposed outcomes. If I could remember the quote or process, I could sound brilliant here, but I can only recollect that there is a process where the dialogue continues until the answer emerges. I think it is from a Native American culture, perhaps the talking circle describe below by wikipedia and amended with my reflections bracketed [ ] and italicized:

A large circle [that sounds like us!] may continue over successive days [goodness! That’s definitely us!]. Discussion continues until consensus is reached, that is, no one objects to the proposed decision (it may be obvious that consensus has been reached [or they may be worn out!]; or the speaker may say that they are “testing for consensus”, silence denotes agreement), or until the stick has been passed around the whole circle once in silence. [not sure we were ever silent, but we did agree to move forward.]

But the NAME of the process that we followed is NOT important. What IS important is the level of trust in our relationships that emerged, the learning we have shared, AND the fact that we successfully created a process for a powerful, creative day with talented individuals we want to include in our growing network of D&D practitioners!

We prepared an agenda for the facilitators that provided more extensive scripting and background information. We enlisted the support of Sunni Brown, founder of BrightSpot Information Design to provide graphic facilitation and to design templates to guide the small group work. We also asked Rod Reyna, Mary Thompson, Susan Schultz and Tobin Quereau to assist with facilitating the small group work.

Participants were invited via a personal e-mail from Diane Miller followed by an e-vite and a reminder one week before the event.

Prior to the meeting, participants received an agenda and a document, Emerging Themes prepared by UT student Jenny Meigs. This document was based on a dozen interviews with local D&D practitioners. A handful of people met over breakfast at Casa de Luz, (the only organic, vegan, macrobiotic restaurant in Austin) to identify recurring themes in the interviews. (Pretty tough on us coffee drinkers to meet that early in such a healthy place, but we’re confident with the quality of the work we did!)

The emergent themes were:

  • Designing Processes from a Systems Perspective
  • Moving from Dialogue to Action
  • Meeting Public Expectations and Changing Perceptions
  • Getting Real about Power and Diversity
  • Creating Safety to Allow Vulnerability
  • Going Deeper Towards Wholeness

While these themes did not drive the agenda, our hope was that we could replicate, on a larger scale and WITH caffeine, the experience several of us had at Casa de Luz.

So we gathered 30 participants on the 19th at the LBJ Library. We provided EXTRA strong coffee from Jason’s Deli (the difference between an event organized by caffeine-addicted Taylor vs. healthful-minded Patricia who is determined to poison us all with her good habits!) as well as fresh fruit (Patricia has had SOME impact on me), morning breads and orange juice. (Apologies to Oliver Markley for the lack of decaf. I haven’t gone THAT far to the healthful side, yet.)

Long-time Texas Forums member Mike Aaron served as the greeter welcoming participants, passing out name tags, providing introductions and confirming contact information.

room set up

The room was arranged such that we could accommodate up to five tables of eight people, but we consolidated our configuration to four tables of seven people, leaving the middle table open for the myriad of facilitators we called into action.

(“How many facilitators does it take to screw in a light bulb? We don’t know, they’re still designing the process!)

Within minutes of our scheduled start time of 9:00, LBJ Library Director Dr. Betty Sue Flowers welcomed the participants and invited them to enjoy the current museum display, Bills, Bills, Bills. Then everyone went to work sharing their stories and the lessons they were learning while Sunni worked her magic on the white chart paper posted along the glass wall of the LBJ Library’s Brown Room.

[note: this chart is this author’s chicken scratch layout of the room set up provided to the UT maintenance crew and should not be confused with the artistic charts prepared by Ms. Brown and posted in future blog updates!

The opening discussion of our session along with the really artistic recording of Ms. Brown will be covered in the next blog posting.

Stay tuned!

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