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Designing Tools for Urgent Community Conversations

Conversation starters to engage with Police Accountability Task Force report at #onthetable2016 Tweet This

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E pluribus unum: One out of many.

Our unofficial national motto until the mid-1950’s, it still appears on the Great Seal of the United States. And it was a conversation about this idea—that all of us make up the greater good, as well as the greater whole—that inspired the host tool kits for this year’s On the Table.

From the motto’s original meaning, in reference to the American states uniting as a nation, it has evolved into our contemporary vision of ourselves: a culture made up of diverse individuals, and their personal meanings of society, community, religion and place.

On the Table focuses on finding unified solutions from many voices. Too often, public conversations about complicated issues like education and violence focus on the problems, and reinforce our divisions.

And, in the first year of On the Table conversations, we learned that to find common solutions, we must first consider the larger questions about sustaining community. So when building On the Table’s tool kits, we start with discussion prompts that help groups wrestle with those profound questions.

Each year, in the On the Table impact report, we compile the overarching themes that people say they want to discuss further in their communities. We look at these themes and ask ourselves how we can adapt them into discussion prompts, for use in future On the Table events.

The prompts we generate are then tested in practice sessions, where they are further shaped through suggestions from past hosts and Trust staff. The focus is on fostering more conversations, not excluding any topics—so these prompts are suggestions, rather than restrictions.

Too often, public conversations about complicated issues like education and violence focus on the problems, and reinforce our divisions. On the Table focuses on finding unified solutions from many voices.

As our community evolves to confront new and pressing challenges, On the Table must remain nimble and respond to those urgent community conversations.

The release of the 2016 Police Accountability Task Force report “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities They Serve” is just such a moment. We hear our communities working to come to terms with the relationships between the Chicago Police Department and the communities that they serve.

To make space for these conversations at On the Table, we have developed a set of prompts for guiding hosts and guests toward honest, open, solutions-focused discussion of justice and policing.

  1. What is your assessment of the state of your community today? Where do you see need for positive change?
  2. Think ahead one year. Five years. What do you see as the ideal relationship between law enforcement and the residents they serve in Chicago?
  3. What concrete steps do we need to take now to achieve our desired outcome in the next year? The next 10 years?
  4. Where do we see examples of this happening already in our communities, and what can we do to support or spread them?

You can also download these prompts as a PDF, for use at your On the Table conversation.

For the past two years, On the Table has shown us the best of Chicago: people coming together for a moment of clarity, to reconnect and move forward as a united whole.

As the event’s organizers, we constantly consider the best practices for civic engagement events, the best tools we can provide for hosts, and the best ways to remain nimble and respond to our community’s deepest wounds—and its most inspiring possibilities.

Our direction will always lead toward establishing a place where people are able to create solutions.