Format for Dialogue Groups

What would a Public Dialogue about our Public Schools Look Like?

When asked about the format of a public dialogue about San Francisco’s public schools, many respondents gave answers around a few key themes. Below are those themes, and some selected quotes. Download a full list of responses.

  • Small groups leading up to a large conversation
    “We used a model to have small community conversations, with groups no bigger than 10. You go to where people are – existing convenings, living rooms, churches, rec centers. You always ask aspirational questions. What I love is that people are already in their comfort zone – it’s easier in a way to be in a reflective space when there are smaller numbers. The challenge is how do you bring everyone back to pull it all together for something bigger. We sent a postcard that invited them to look at the report – we’re still using the information we gleaned from that. Loved doing that. Much more human process than town hall meetings, if what you want to do is get a sense of vastness – if everyone is in a small place, going into small groups that would be important, for the value of being listened to.”
  • Small conversations only
    We’ve had many conversations using the small conversation process. People are in a room where they’re comfortable with small numbers so they can interact. All of that information gets captured. You get the what or why with these small conversations. You get a sense of why. You can use them to compare and contrast. You can distill what’s the same and what’s different in different communities. Our own experience has shown us that with small conversations you get a lot out of people.
  • Big conversation only
    “I would be bold – just bring us all together all at once. If we weren’t doing this, it would be a bit nefarious – to bring everybody together at once. But given the fact that we’re all going through this process, we’re already to some extent buying in. Bringing us together is really the next step of the process. Let’s bring everybody together.”
  • Big conversation that branches into small groups
    “Having breakout groups into smaller groups. It breaks up the showboating that happens in front of large crowds but not smaller groups. Also the people who try to make the meeting about something else.”
  • Use technology
    “You’ve got to make people feel they’re involved with this without coming to one meeting. We have the technology to make people feel involved. If meetings are crisp and short, you can put it on the website.”
  • Ongoing dialogue groups: institutionalized
    “I would hope it wouldn’t end with one. That maybe it’s an ongoing community engagement tool to take the pulse of how people feel about public schools. That people get engaged and once it gets in their heads, they tell one person who tells another.”
  • Humanized, focused on building relationships
    “I really don’t know, but I do think it has to be humanized. People need to be able to develop relationships. Part of what keeps the dialogue the same is people aren’t connecting on a human level… The human connection is critical.”
  • Being realistic about resources
    “My vision is more about tools at our disposal, than the numbers and kinds of faces. Come into the room with what’s available to us. The conversation is not about pie in the sky – it’s about what do we actually have and how do we leverage those items in the most powerful way.”
  • Focus on Positives
    “You need to bring some kids to the meetings, who are very diverse and they need to talk about their hopes and dreams: “I want to be a doctor or…”; It was a group with a different way to get people to give to underperforming schools. There were videos of kids with talent and brains, and promise. Look at the talent that is in this building. It was a super positive message. The negative message is overwhelming in its size and difficulty. Most people are going to walk away from that. “These are great kids, let’s give them a break.”
  • Be clear on goals
    “When we talk about education, it’s so huge, not narrowed. A facilitator needs to know the goals, we need to focus. What is it really we’re trying to extract.”
  • Create our own model for dialogue
    “This is all, you all know, a really politically charged environment in San Francisco. Having the opportunity to disagree… When it comes to our kids, it isn’t okay to disagree. People say the Union is the problem, teachers are the problem. You want everyone to bring some of their emotional baggage to the room and they need to leave some of it.”
  • Neutral Facilitator/Good Facilitation
    “Facilitation is key. Facilitation has to be very robust, it’s facilitating a conversation, not facilitating grandstanding.”
  • Informed by good data/good information
    “We should make sure the conversation is based in reality. We need to acknowledge what isn’t going well.”
  • Tours of Schools
    “Since this should be a bridging experience, it could bridge the gap between the reality of the situation and its portrayal in the media.”