While most Canadians were enjoying their turkey dinners and beautiful autumnal colours over the recent Thanksgiving Day weekend, I was hard at work in Washington, D.C. for the first in-person session of a 6-month course on Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement (DDPE). The professional-practitioner distance education program is offered through Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, and works with program participants to shape them into masters in the field. I am honoured to be the fourth Ascentum team member to participate in the program.
The 2010-2011 session is being facilitated by Dr. Anita Perez, who brings a wealth of experience in DDPE as Past President of the (U.S.) National Women’s Political Caucus, Lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, and Transportation Department liaison in the White House. The bulk of our time (1.5 days) was spent working collaboratively with our facilitator and seven co-learners from across North America on our ‘capstone projects’, practical applications of course content in our home communities. The project proposals and ideas around the table were energizing – projects include a dialogue in Arizona on Senate Bill 1070 on immigration, a civic engagement project in Ottawa to bring citizens and newly elected municipal officials together to set priorities, an evaluative process in Florida to bring together stakeholders of a migrant workers community outreach centre, and a study on communicating the importance of DDPE through social media to residents of the San Francisco Bay area. My own capstone project will see me designing and facilitating a generative dialogue at the Youth Leaders Forum in Laos as Canada’s youth delegate to the First Meeting of State Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
The highlight of the in-person session was a series of field visits, beginning with a conversation with Robert Marshak of the National Training Laboratories Institute on organizational development, a stop at the Library of Congress to examine rare books and documents on the origins of town hall meetings and political dialogue in the United States, and a conversation with Janet Fiero and Carolyn Lukensmeyer of AmericaSpeaks on Twenty-First Century Town Halls. These visits allowed me to learn first-hand from and engage with some of the leading thinkers in DDPE, providing rich context to my work at Ascentum.
In the coming weeks, our bi-weekly teleconference calls will continue as preparations for our capstone projects continue. In January we will gather in Santa Barbara for our second in-person session to share our projects and learn from one another. Keep posted to learn more about how my capstone project in Laos at the start of November unfolds!