Dialogue-to-change is not simply a buzzword—it’s an active and real process that sees the bigger picture. The picture that says we can never have an energetic and authentic democracy without being connected to local communities and helping connect the dots to a national movement for change.
In 2010, with the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Everyday Democracy arrived in Albuquerque as part of the Strong Starts initiative. We partnered with five local coalitions in finding ways to dialogue and take action together on issues related to the success of all children from birth to eight. We also partnered with our national colleague, Viewpoint Learning, who held listening sessions across the state and developed materials on the early-childhood policy choices facing New Mexico.
Instantly we found a wealth of people and organizations already committed to helping families and found a niche where we could build on what communities were already doing, by providing resources and tools. We honed in on ways to sustain the kind of public participation leading to equitable problem solving, policy change, and improved conditions in children’s lives, particularly those who are most marginalized.
Our experience was a dynamically equitable exchange producing amazing stories and models for change. Coalitions organized neighbors into small-group conversations beginning in fall 2010 to create a vision for their communities.
Our New Mexico partners included: All Indian Pueblo Council, Cuidando los Niños (on behalf of the New Mexico Campaign to End Child Homelessness), The University of New Mexico Family Development Program (in collaboration with Decade of the Child), Native American Professional Parent Resources, Inc., Pajarito Mesa (through Youth Development, Inc.), and Zia Pueblo. We have also partnered with i2i, a New Mexico-based evaluation firm, iRoots (a Native American public relations firm), and Generation Justice (a youth media firm that has created videos to tell the stories of all the Strong Starts efforts).
At the end of the dialogues, each coalition developed an “action forum,” in which participants developed action plans ranging from creating a community center for children and families to a proposed family engagement policy for the Albuquerque Public Schools.
Coalitions also joined legislators and others across the state at a 2011 policy forum in Santa Fe. Participants had a chance to connect their community dialogue to state-level change, using a version of Viewpoint Learning’s materials. The forum also helped create stronger bonds among grass-roots participants, advocates and policymakers. The forum included simultaneous translation in Spanish, Spanish-only dialogue groups, and lots of fun and good food!
Some coalitions are continuing their efforts to engage communities in dialogues and/or carrying out their action plans. The Strong Starts for Children initiative can point to a number of concrete changes, such as community gardens where children are learning to garden and to cook what they have grown, new public safety programs for children, and a youth film festival on childhood homelessness.
Other results include:
- Strengthened connections and increased shared leadership across the early childhood development community.
- Organizations expanding and embedding their dialogue and problem solving.
- Overall sense of empowerment and responsibility for early childhood conditions in their communities.
- Increased leadership at all levels, among dialogue organizers, participants and facilitators.
At the beginning of the project, Everyday Democracy created a guide for dialogue and problem solving, with input from our local and national partners. The first edition of Strong Starts for Children was created specifically for New Mexico, and we then created a national edition. Both are available in English and Spanish.
This five-session discussion guide looks at how we are connected to the lives of children in our communities and the “invisible” effects of structural inequities and poverty. It also guides people in creating a vision of a better life for all our children and in developing plans for action. PDF versions of the guides are available online.
We have learned a lot in this process, and continue to do so, with the help of our local partners. In particular, we have been learning about the equity dimensions of coming into a state from the outside at the request of a funder. Kellogg is learning about this, also. We have deepened our understanding of the myriad of cultures and ethnic communities in New Mexico, many of whom possess traditional ways of deliberation, dialogue and thinking. We have learned as much as we have taught.
The coalitions are now beginning to share their stories with others across New Mexico. Please go to our website to watch the powerful Strong Starts videos created by Generation Justice. Maria Brock, who helped organize the dialogue-to-change project for Native American Parent Professional Resources, will be telling her story along with Everyday Democracy senior associate Barbara Yasui at the NCDD conference, in a session called Reexamining the Indigenous Deliberative Democracy Practice — Past & Present.
Also, you can listen to featured stories of the New Mexico Strong Starts efforts, which were created by Generation Justice and aired last weekend on 89.9 KUNM FM. You can find get a copy of the shows, listen or find out more online at www.generationjustice.org/radio/listen-live/ or GenerationJustice.org under Archived Shows.
This work continues to grow, and we are excited about our partners in New Mexico and what they are accomplishing for the young children of their state. We hope that people from other communities and states will be interested in using these resources and in working with us.
NCDD is proud to have Everyday Democracy as a partner in our conference next week in Seattle. Maria Brock and Barbara Yasui from Everyday Democracy will be participating in the workshop “Reexamining the Indigenous Deliberative Democracy Practice — Past & Present” on Saturday morning. Please stop by their table, where you can pick up a free copy of the above guide in English or Spanish.