Sustained Discussions Program (SDP) 2024/2025 Overview

June 14, 2024

The Sustained Discussions Program (SDP) brings together a select group of Visiting Fellows to lead independent, exploratory discussion projects focused on under-examined areas of concern. Each project produces new discussion tools to help others have meaningful conversations. The next Sustained Discussion Fellowship Cohort begins September 1st, 2024 and concludes in June, 2025.

SDP Goals

  1. Highlighting Emerging Issues. SDP Visiting Fellows will help to identify and bring attention to emerging topics of public concern that are currently under-discussed.
  2. Innovating Discussion Tools. SDP Visiting Fellows will pioneer the development of new tools and help create new standards in the field of dialogue and deliberation.
  3. Promoting Exploratory Process. SDP Visiting Fellows will promote exploratory discussion methods that help to expand thinking and understanding.

What is a Sustained Discussion?

Exploration is at the core of IF Sustained Discussion Projects. Our projects are designed to expand understanding of an emerging area of concern. Projects are not designed for the purpose of reaching consensus, proposing immediate solutions, or advocating for a single course of action. Projects are designed to intentionally seek out divergent perspectives, expand collective imagination, and open up a range of possibilities for action. Our facilitators help to guide discussants to explore new possibilities, not lead them to a predetermined solution.

After decades of experimentation and dozens of sustained discussions projects, we have developed an exploratory method that supports facilitators to lead discussion groups through an intentional discussion design. Please see our guidelines listed below for a more logistical understanding of what it means to facilitate and participate in a sustained discussions project.

All discussion projects also invite participants to work together to create a public facilitation plan and craft innovative discussion tools to help future groups talk about the emerging issue of public concern.

Logistical Guidelines for Sustained Discussions

  • What is the ideal size of a discussion group? Each discussion group should include at least six, but no more than ten, participants recruited by the SDP Visiting Fellow. It is important to have the same discussion participants throughout the entire project.
  • How often do discussion groups meet? Discussion groups meet for approximately ten sessions, with time scheduled in between sessions for individual reflection. We generally recommend at least a week in between group discussions to allow ideas to develop.
  • How long is each discussion? Each group discussion should meet for a minimum of 1.5 hours. We recommend 2 to 3 hours, depending on the discussion format and group dynamics. For this project, we require a minimum of 20 hours of discussion.
  • What is the format of the discussions? Facilitators have some flexibility to decide how best to organize their discussions. They may choose from in-person, online, or some sort of combination.
  • What is expected to come from these sustained discussions? All discussion projects produce a public facilitation plan. More ambitious groups may also create additional discussion tools.

What will a SDP Visiting Fellow do?

  • Select a topic that is an emerging area of public interest or concern.
  • Recruit participants to join a discussion group designed to explore this emerging topic of public concern.
  • Manage and facilitate small-group discussion projects using the IF Exploratory Method.
  • Collaborate with other SDP Visiting Fellows in monthly cohort meetings.
  • Develop a public facilitation plan and other discussion tools to help others discuss the topic.

Important Dates

  • July 15, 2024: Applications open
  • July 31, 2024: Information Session (12 pm – 1 pm ET via Zoom)
  • August 23, 2024: Applications close
  • August 30, 2024: Notification of acceptance
  • September, 2024: Onboarding
  • October – May: Monthly Visiting Fellows Cohort Meetings (12 pm ET on the first Friday of each month)
  • January – May, 2025: Small Group Discussions & Tool Development
  • June, 2025: Showcase of new facilitation plans and discussion tools

Who Should Apply?

  • Someone who is enthusiastic about engaging in meaningful discussions and creating impactful discussion tools.
  • Someone who is interested in organizing and facilitating small-group discussions.
  • Someone who values collaboration with others and wants to learn with others through monthly cohort gatherings.
  • Someone who is authentically interested in exploring a wide range of possibilities with others and capable of not advocating for a predetermined course of action.
  • Someone who can commit to the monthly cohort meeting schedule and facilitate their exploratory discussion group.
  • Someone who can write up discussion summaries and regularly share with their cohort in a timely manner.

Compensation & Support

  • Visiting Fellows receive $5,000, which they can use to support their discussion projects or as remuneration for their time.
  • Visiting Fellows are supported through monthly cohort meetings and regular IF team consultation.

How do I become a SDP Visiting Fellow?

Apply! Applications open July 15th, 2024.

Join an information session on July 31st to learn more. Register here.

Interested in working with us to bring better discussions to your classroom, community or workplace?

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