Once our Project Discussions have produced a published Discussion Guide, that guide then becomes the starting point for Public Discussions about that topic. Currently, there are 32 Discussion Guides available for Public Discussion. See All IF Discussion Projects for a complete listing of all discussion topics (listing them alphabetically by topic). While these Public Discussions, which we sometimes refer to as “Citizen Discussions,” differ in certain respects from our Project Discussions, both types of discussion are interrelated. They share certain discussion techniques, they may overlap in time, and they are certainly interactive with each other.
Our Public Discussions are similar to our Project Discussions in that they also use an active facilitator to conduct small group (5-8 participants) discussions that explore contrasting possibilities for public policy. As in a Project Discussion, there is a commitment to open and civil participation for all, a focus on broad or “conceptual” possibilities for the future rather than on solving specific, narrow, or near-term issues, and an opportunity for civic engagement and personal growth.
Public Discussions differ from Project Discussions, however, because rather than creating the policy possibilities from scratch, they begin with the possibilities presented in the Discussion Report. They are also of variable and shorter duration–often 2-4 sessions. Finally, while the primary goal of a Project Discussion is to develop the policy possibilities and produce a Discussion Report describing them, the goals for our Public Discussions are—
- First, to provide participants with a model of—and some direct experience with—a more meaningful and hopefully more civil discussion process that can enrich all our public conversations and ultimately help to strengthen our democracy, and
- Second—and through that discussion process—to help citizens more fully consider and confidently make their own, individual choices about the long-term direction of our public policies.
Public Discussions are conducted by IF Fellows, by a few of our associated faculty, and more frequently by selected and trained contract (or “guest”) facilitators. Beginning in 2008, we recruited and trained guest facilitators first in south-central Wisconsin, and we currently we have five guest facilitators working on Public Discussions there (see Wisconsin Public Discussions for more information). And, beginning in 2012, we recruited and trained another group of guest facilitators to conduct public discussions in other–and generally more urban–areas, mostly on the east coast.