Living Room Conversation

Overview
The Living Room Conversation process is designed to be a simple and sociable living room conversation in which a small group of people comes together to get to know one another, in a more meaningful way than usual, by talking about their sense of personal purpose in their lives and about the issues that are of personal priority and concern. When it comes to the subject of Energy/Climate Change the goal is for everyone to be open and curious about all perspectives and see what we learn from one another, rather than to debate any topic or issue.

Original Scope of Work and Proposal

Living Room Conversation- Energy/Climate Change

The Situation:

Many Americans are increasingly concerned and alarmed by negative social, civic, economic and environmental trends that do not bode well for a brighter future.  Many are also disheartened and frustrated with the divisive and combative tone that dominates our politics, the news media, and all the way down to the unfriendly conversations at the dining room table.  Many share a frustration about gridlock and failure to make headway on important issues in a responsible, sensible, timely and cooperative manner.

The Issue:

One subject of growing concern and divide is climate change.  Many feel/believe strongly that climate change is the most important and urgent issue of our times, that there is sufficient risk or evidence that it is happening, and that human activity is a contributing cause.  At the same time a growing number of people have come to an opposing perspective and feel/believe that climate change is not happening, that human activity is not the cause and/or have serious reservations about a heavy-handed government response.  These differences are fomenting divisive political, media and public discourse.  The debate distracts from addressing issues related to our national security, economic vitality, technology and social innovation, water and food quality, environmental health and social wellbeing.

The Question:

With climate change as the primary subject for half the participants, what is required to have a 2.5 hour, small group, living-room conversation between an equal number of people with opposing beliefs that is respectful, overcomes defensiveness, reveals common ground, generates a heartfelt connection (based on shared values, concerns and interest) and leaves participants willing to talk further about climate change and quite possibly some other issues as well.

The Conversation/Experiment Construct:

• How can the topic and purpose of the conversation be framed and themed in a neutral (not perceived as hyperbolic) and common sense way to provide a strong foundation for the invitation and for conducting the conversation?

• What are the essential ground-rules for the conversation to support listening, openness, curiosity, etc.?

• What are the essential questions that will guide the conversation and provide an effective vehicle for most of the people in the small group to get connected to their own, and to one another’s, deep heartfelt concerns/commitments about what is happening now and the legacy the current generation is leaving for our children and grandchildren?  For half the group climate change is established and reiterated as a priority concern.  For the other half of the group the top issues of concern will be shared and learned at the time of the conversation.

• What are the sub issues/areas/aspects (related to climate change) where an opportunity for further conversation and even action would be welcomed? (Examples might include; oil dependency and national security or smart grid and reducing inefficiency.)

• What is the process for returning to a respectful and productive interaction if one or more people become upset, belligerent or even enraged?• What are the various “next steps” that groups might invent and agree to based on finding common ground/concern and passion? (To be learned.)

Preparation:

• Research and design a framing, definitions and key distinctions “issue document” about climate change and sub issues with attention to the various realms of discourse (political, scientific, media, and public) participants may be informed and influenced by.

• Research and design the “bridging divides” conversation/process construct.   Identify, innovate and integrate the best possible ground-rules, questions and conversational constructs that are politically, ideologically and agenda neutral (acceptable to conservatives and progressives, men and women, young and old….. not offensive to anyone). The Experiment:

• Identify hosts (an individual or teams of two or three) who are willing to convene and be part of a group of six (total) of which 3 people are firm in their belief and opinion that climate change must be addressed and three who have serious doubts about climate change, the role of human activity and/or the magnitude of the response. Again, the experiment seeks to understand how reasonable people with opposing views on climate change and who all care about contributing to a better future come to understand, be persuaded, and find common ground on values and opportunities for cooperative action.

• Conduct six gatherings; two in Oregon, two in Colorado and two in California.  Groups will be configured intentionally based on gender, age, rural/urban perspective, political affiliation and more.

• Three different moderators will produce two sessions each in each of the three states.  They will support the host, provide only light facilitation (set the stage and timekeeping) and refrain from heavy facilitation/mediation except in the event of a significant breakdown or opportunity.  As much as possible we want the group to be self-facilitating, self-correcting and self-generating of insights and next steps.

• The project moderators will provide hosts with encouragement, guidance and the necessary materials (above) to make invitations set the stage and help guide the conversations.

After the Living-room Conversations:

• Conduct a paper/electronic follow-up survey of all participants

• The moderator team of three will conduct phone interviews with 18 of the participants; 6 from each state, 8 from the differing perspectives with attention to a diverse and balanced representative selection (gender, age, affiliation, etc.).

• Compile notes, transcriptions and produce a findings report on key learning, how they can be applied, and possible next steps.

COVER LETTER and a DRAFT INVITATION / FRAMING from Joan Blades

From: Joan Blades <joan@momsrising.org>

Dear Friends:

It is a good time to explore how we might create different dynamics  around addressing climate change in this country.  Progress on  responding to climate change has bogged down in the political sphere.  Leadership is polarized and has become calcified in its views.  What  avenues are there for bumping us out of this hole?   There is reason  to hope real constructive conversation could still happen locally in  communities.  We want to understand just what average citizens who  oppose addressing the risk of climate change are thinking, and we want  to see if there is a way to shift their view of the challenge.

We are prepared to gather 6 small groups of people, 1/2 who don’t  believe we have to address the issue of climate change and 1/2 who do,  individuals who are able so speak from their hearts as well as their  heads, plus one low profile facilitator/observer, in an informal, safe  environment.   We are hoping to discover new paths to common ground or  affirm paths that are already recognized.  We hope to give those of us  who believe addressing climate change is a priority additional insight  about how to proceed.  If a mixed group doesn’t work well, maybe a  group of women or moms will be more productive.  We will do both.   There is data suggesting that leading with women might be key. Talking  about the climate story in an environment where the conservatives are  not part of a political team dynamic that has taken a hard position  against believing climate change is a risk that must be addressed  could result in finding common ground.  And in the process of  listening to their top concerns we may find even more common ground in  other areas.  We are proposing an experiment to explore what is  possible.

Optimal outcome- If small group dynamics do work well, minds are  changed and the desire to address climate change becomes shared, best  practices could be refined and improved, including eliminating the  need for a facilitator.  The goal would be to create a set of  materials that make it possible to replicate the process in local  communities nation wide.  Grassroots organizations for whom climate  change is a priority could then lead fostering these conversations.   Ultimately we would hope to empower the grassroots to lead the  leaders.  Working to change the polarized dynamics locally and  ultimately nationally

Other likely helpful outcomes-

1.  We benefit from the advice and help  of people that up until recently believed climate change was a hoax or  unimportant, learning how to better persuade others who continue to  oppose addressing climate change.
2. Conversations confirm or identify opportunities to work on  solutions that don’t require supporters to believe in climate change  to agree that a given investment is of mutual interest- smart grid,  efficiency, local solar, etc.

We would like to fund a brief and efficient test to see if this is a  valuable exploration to pursue further.  The proposal is  attached.

Thank you!

Joan BladesCo-founder MoveOn.org and MomsRising.orgConcerned Citizen

Potential invitation to talk language-

Dear Potential Participant:

I live in a community of people that I’m sure want this country to be  a great place to live both now and in the future for our children and  grandchildren.  Yet when I watch our leaders and media focus seems  to be primarily on our differences and little more.  Some of us  believe that the risks of climate change make it the most urgent issue  that we must address together.  Others believe it is our economy or  big government that are the urgent issue to address.  I find myself  disheartened and doubting that our leaders have any idea of how to  change the polarized game of politics that they are submerged in to  make meaningful progress in any direction.

While watching this sad game played on the national and local stages I  wonder if just maybe, common sense respectful conversation within a  community might be able to result in some constructive understanding  of our diverse perspectives and a more healthy approach to achieving  the big goal that we all desire- a bright future for our children.   Perhaps we could help lead the leaders out of this sad bickering we  find ourselves engaged in again and again despite the ernest desire  many have to collaborate and find common ground.  Perhaps here in our  local communities with 6 people of good will but different view points  we can begin to discover how we can have a meaningful conversation  that will suggest how to exit this hall of mirrors.

One doesn’t need  to believe that global warming is a threat to agree that the U.S.  needs a new modern energy grid.  Everyone wants government to be more  efficient and regulations that make the playing field fair without  creating undue burdens.  Clean water and air are a common good.   Together we could make good things happen. Locked in perpetual  distrust and competitive bickering we render ourselves ineffective and  fail to create that future we all desire.

Please joining me in an experiment in respectful conversation this  coming….

Joan Blades is a co-founder and President of MomsRising.org as well as co-founder of MoveOn.org.  She is the co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace published for Labor Day 2010, as well as The Motherhood Manifesto which won the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize in 2007. She has been engaged in transpartisan dialog on both a formal and informal basis since 2004. Last century she co-founded Berkeley Systems best known for the flying toaster screen saver “After Dark” and taught mediation at Golden Gate Law School.

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