We enjoy working with other organizations doing great work promoting connections across differences. Our partner Jacob Hess introduced Village Square forums to communities in Utah. We soon realized that the two practices were wonderfully complementary.
Living Room Conversations are intimate six person conversations co-hosted by friends with different views that create space for people to talk about significant topics and truly listen to each other. They build relationships, often reveal unrealized common ground and also clarify differences. They are a powerful way to begin the work of reconnecting communities, healing relationships and setting the stage for collaborative problem solving.
The Village Square is a public forum where citizens gather to hear about a topic from a panel of experts with different viewpoints while enjoying a meal. Everyone on the panel has committed to civil engagement - with a particular aim of modeling thoughtful conversation for those who gather at the event.
The Living Room Conversations/Village Square hybrid takes the virtues of both practices and has them enhance the experience of each. The first full Living Room Conversations/Village Square hybrid was conducted in Utah on the topic of immigration. If this sounds like an idea you'd like to try, here are the basic steps:
Step 1 - A Living Room Conversation involving folks that would be on the Village Square panel is held allowing panelists to hear a variety of concerns and opportunities surrounding the topic - as well as deepening their own relationships before the larger event.
Step 2- A Village Square event is held for 100-200 attendees. Ideally, tables are small enough that a limited number of people can sit at a table. This way, attendees are able to go through rounds 1 and 2 of the Living Room Conversation prior to the panel speaking (Living Room Conversation rounds of the particular conversation are provided at each table.) The diverse set of panelists then speak sixty minutes using standard Village Square protocol of civility (including 'civility bells'). The conversation returns to the table where attendees are able to share their response in round 4 of the Living Room Conversations and then close.
Step 3- Everyone is encouraged to co-host their own Living Room Conversation when they return home.
Ideally, emails of the participants will be captured for all attendees so that organizers can follow up and support ongoing Living Room Conversations. The advantage of blending Living Room Conversations and Village Square was particularly evident at the recent immigration event. Combining active engagement from fellow attendees with listening to the