Remembering 10 years of NCDD-ing

I’m getting ready to “celebrate” my 40th birthday tomorrow. We launched the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation when I was 30, so this is a big birthday year for both me and NCDD. Now that NCDD is ten years old, and we’re about to hold our 5th national conference this fall, Andy and I thought we’d invite all of you to remember the past ten years with us.

Andy put together a wonderful page on the “WEB history of NCDD,” which shows the various iterations of the website over the years and includes a little text about what we were doing and striving for at those times.

Remember when the website looked like this?

The was our first comprehensive website for NCDD, and even then, with just 80 pages of resources (our current Resource Center indexes nearly 2500 resources), people were always telling us how much they appreciated having access to so many resources on dialogue and deliberation.

Those of you at the very first National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation in 2002 will remember the big binders we handed out at the conference, full of resources many attendees were so excited to learn about. The info in those binders became our first resource section on the new NCDD site. If you remember those binders — and especially, if you still have yours — it’s likely you’re one of our founding members. Thank you for sticking with us for the past ten years!

In those early days, I had to use a painfully slow-loading program on my PC that allowed me to add news to the Community Page in html. I would often mess up the code or have the program freeze on me when I was loading the new page, and Andy (my husband — NCDD’s Co-Founder and Creative Director) would have to run over and save the website. Having those memories makes me appreciate WordPress all the more!

Andy actually launched NCDD’s first blog in 2004 — back when we always had to explain “it’s short for ‘web log’ so it’s like an online journal, but we’re using it to organize news from the community.” And it was in 2004/2005 that we experimented with the NCDD Wiki, creating hundreds of pages of content on various methods and tools practitioners can use, though not having much success getting many of our community members participating in adding content (you’ll find most of these tools here now).

Over the years, we experimented with a number of other tools as well to help our members engage with each other — such as our “Thataway Forum” (phpBB forum or bulletin board platform) and our Learning Exchange resource database. We moved our listservs from the EdGateway platform, which at the time didn’t offer moderation and let too much spam and out-of-office reply loops through, to L-Soft, which we’re still using to this day. Our listservs have long been our most effective and most appreciated tool for enabling our community members to tap into each other’s knowledge and support.

I could keep going on and on, but remember also some of the projects we’ve worked on over the years together… Trying to make sense of our field and the many processes out there by creating new tools like the Engagement Streams Framework. Our struggles to respond as a community to tragedies like Katrina and moments of political chaos like the health care town halls in 2009. Our coming together to participate in Obama’s Open Government Directive and our amazing collaborative effort to create the Core Principles for Public Engagement and get them endorsed by over 80 leading organizations in our field. Our large, collaborative (and always too rushed) planning teams for the 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008 national conferences that truly bring this community together — and the largely self-organized teams that came together to pull off 5 amazing regional events in 2010 when we realized localized events would serve our community better in that very tough economic time. And many other projects, large and small.

Over the years, our membership has grown from our 50 founding organizations to 1,600 organizational and individual members. My personal contacts in this field (I’ve always been diligent about keeping track of people I talk to or hear about who do this work) grew from the 2,500 people I invited to fill out a needs assessment for a “possible conference on dialogue” to the 25,000 people who are subscribed to our monthly updates today. We’ve grown as an organization, too, transitioning from having a Board that was largely hands-off and advisory while we were technically a project of a fiscal agent, to finally becoming an official 501(c)3 and establishing a highly active Board of Directors.

It’s been a busy 10 years — trying to coordinate and serve the people who do this important work can be stressful, overwhelming, and of course is underfunded. Often it seems like people want NCDD to do much more than we have the capacity to do, and to move in many very different directions at once. And then one of the tools is hacked, and immediate priorities shift to just keeping this space open for our community.

But this work can also be amazing and magical, and I know I’m dedicating my time to something that has deep meaning to me and many others. This is a field that brings people together across divides, transforms long-standing conflicts, improves how we govern ourselves, inspires smart collective action, brings people to new levels of awareness about their issues and communities. What could be better than that? It’s important work and I’m proud to be doing it, as best as I’m able to.

Thanks, everyone, for the past ten years!

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