Elected Officials Rate Discussion Groups Effective

By Dredge, Polly; Reichler, Patricia | Nation's Cities Weekly, September 28, 1998 | Go to article overview

Elected Officials Rate Discussion Groups Effective


Dredge, Polly, Reichler, Patricia, Nation's Cities Weekly


This article, the first in a new series about how cities are, working to improve racial and ethnic understanding, offers an update on the use of study circle discussion groups to engage citizens and elected officials in productive conversations about diversity issues.

Imagine meeting with a large group of constituents for a thoughtful and productive conversation about immigration and ethnic relations without the discussion degenerating into a shouting match or a "gripe" session. With the help of the Study Circles Resource Center (SCRC) and its sister project, Congressional Exchange (CX), elected officials are successfully joining these discussions.

"Authentic give-and-take on these issues between citizens and officeholders is rare," said Patrick Scully, CX's executive director during a recent telephone interview.

"We felt the greatest gap in communication and understanding was in connecting citizens with elected representatives at the federal level," Scully said. But early experiences showed there was also a need session. With the help of the Study Circles Resouficials at the local, regional, and state levels.

"When you're figuring out how to engage citizens on complex issues like race or immigration, people usually connect first with what's happening at the local level," he explained. "Immigration is a good example of a federal issue that has a critical impact at the local level g out how to engage citizens on complex issues like race or immigration, people usually connect first with what's happening at the local level," he explained. "Immigration is a good exa

One of the tools used to facilitate discussion groups is SCRC's newest discussion guide, "Changing Faces, Changing Communities: Immigration & race, jobs, schools, and language differences," which includes a session for meeting with public officials and provides tips for organizers on how to include public officials in the dialogue process.

Other discussion sessions outlined in the guide include:

"Who are we? The many faces of our community"

"How are jobs and the economy changing in our community?"

"What should we do about immigration and community change?"

"Making a difference: What can we do in our community?"

The guide was developed and tested in Miami, Fla., where a community-wide dialogue about immigration and community change was launched in November 1997. More than 700 people participated in 4.5 discussion groups throughout the city which, in recent years, has become divided on issues ranging from educational and economic opportunity to language differences and inter-ethnic relations.

Although many residents were talking about immigration and community change, few opportunities existed for groups to work together across racial and ethnic boundaries. …

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