Originally developed in 2005 by Sandy Heierbacher, the Engagement Streams Framework is an influential and widely used resource produced by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), a nonprofit organization that maintains a network of professionals and groups working to “bring people together across divides to discuss, decide, and act together on today’s toughest challenges.” The most recent version of the Engagement Streams Framework was revised and updated in 2014.
“These techniques strengthen the traditionally distant relationship between citizens and policymakers, and between workers and CEOs. They tap into community assets and citizen potential. They increase the quality of and buy-in for decisions. They mitigate long-standing conflicts between groups. They increase people’s knowledge and understanding of complex issues. And they enhance people’s sense of connection and commitment to their communities and the people in them.”Engagement Streams Framework, National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation
The Engagement Streams Framework is designed to help local leaders select the most appropriate and effective engagement strategies for any given context, problem, or goal. According to the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, “No method works in all situations, though all of these techniques can seem like revelations and appear almost magical to those accustomed to ‘business as usual’ approaches to making decisions and addressing conflicting views. Our goals for this framework are to help you feel more confident in moving forward with your engagement efforts, and to give you a simple, useful tool for teaching others about these approaches.”
To help users of the Engagement Streams Framework better understand the purpose of dialogue and deliberation, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation provides the following useful definitions:
- Dialogue increases understanding, builds trust, and enables people to be open to listening to perspectives that are very different from their own.
- Deliberation enables people to discuss the consequences, costs, and trade-offs of various policy options or actions, and to work through the competing values that tough decisions require us to grapple with. Deliberation often follows dialogue.
The resource also describes some of the fundamental features of effective dialogue and deliberation techniques:
- Utilizing facilitators and ground rules to create a safe atmosphere for honest, productive discussion.
- Framing the issue, questions, and background info in an impartial and accurate manner.
- Having people on all sides of the issue talk to each other face-to-face in small groups.
- Using the input and outcomes generated to shape decisions and action.
The Engagement Streams Framework
The Engagement Streams Framework consists of two detailed charts, which makes the model particularly useful for those who are new to dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work. The first chart is a matrix of four engagement “streams”—or general categories describing the primary purpose of an engagement activity—that have been aligned with six short descriptions of the main methodologies of dialogic and deliberative engagement. A second detailed chart catalogs 22 widely used dialogue and deliberation process, and it includes relevant information about participant-selection strategies, optimal group size, and other features.
In addition to articulating the primary purpose of the four engagement streams and which issues and problems each stream is best suited to address, the Engagement Streams Framework describes the characteristic features of the engagement approach, representative examples of issues or problems, recommended organizer strategies, standard dialogue and deliberation processes, and essential questions for organizers and facilitators.
The four engagement streams:
The primary purpose of an exploratory engagement process is “to encourage people and groups to learn more about themselves, their community, or an issue, and possibly discover innovative solutions.” Exploratory strategies will be most useful to local leaders when “a group or community seems stuck or muddled and needs to reflect on their circumstance in depth and gain collective insight.”
2. Conflict Transformation
The primary purpose of a conflict-transformation engagement process is “to resolve conflicts, to foster personal healing and growth, and to improve relations among groups.” Conflict-transformation strategies will be most useful to local leaders when “relationships among participants are poor or not yet established yet need to be,” and when issues “can only be resolved when people change their behavior or attitude, expand their perspective, or take time to reflect and heal.”
3. Decision Making
The primary purpose of a decision-making engagement process is “to influence public decisions and public policy and improve public knowledge.” Decision-making strategies will be most useful to local leaders when the issue or problem can be resolved or influenced by the agency, institution, organization, or group organizing the process.
4. Collaborative Action
The primary purpose of a collaborative-action engagement process is “to empower people and groups to solve complicated problems and take responsibility for the solution.” Collaborative-actions strategies will be most useful to local leaders when “the issue/dispute requires intervention across multiple public and private entities” or “anytime community action is important.”
Organizing Engagement thanks Keiva Hummel for her contributions to improving this introduction, and the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation for permission to reproduce excerpts and images from their website and publications.
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