The Lasting Impact of Sustained Discussions

May 29, 2024

The Interactivity Foundation’s Sustained Discussions Program (SDP) brings together a select group of Visiting Fellows to lead independent, exploratory discussion projects focused on topics of public concern that are currently under-examined or not in the mainstream consciousness, yet. This program builds upon decades of sustained discussion methods developed by the Interactivity Foundation. In 2001, IF’s founder, Jay Stern, brought together a small group of Fellows to manage sanctuary discussion projects that explored various areas of public concern. Together, they developed a process for facilitating discussion panels of specialists and generalists to explore an area of concern and develop contrasting policy possibilities for further public discussion. After at least a year of sustained panel discussions, each Fellow produced and published an in-depth discussion guide on their chosen topic. 

These “Sanctuary Projects” – so called because they provided a safe sanctuary in which to look over the horizon at emergent, future-focused issues – allowed both experts and generalists to explore different dimensions and concerns of topics of public interest together. From fresh water to K-12 education, from agri-culture to the future of media, these discussions brought together engaged participants across more than 40 states to use exploratory discussion to envision possible ways of addressing their concerns. Over the past twenty years, IF has hosted over 50 discussion projects and produced dozens of discussion guides. We are proud to offer free access to our library of discussion guides, which have been used to help facilitate hundreds of discussions.

We honor the history of this program while also experimenting with adapting our methods to create new tools to help others talk about important public concerns. The Sustained Discussions Program serves three primary goals:

  • Highlight Emerging Public Issues. SDP Visiting Fellows help to identify and bring attention to emerging topics of public concern that are currently under-discussed. 
  • Develop Innovative Discussion Tools. SDP Visiting Fellows work together to pioneer the development of new tools and help create new standards in the field of dialogue and deliberation. 
  • Promote Exploratory Process. SDP Visiting Fellows promote exploratory and collaborative discussion methods to help support developmental discussions within their discussion groups.  

Selected SDP Visiting Fellows meet monthly to support and learn from one another and in collaboration with the IF team. Each discussion project produces a facilitation plan along with other innovative discussion tools designed to help others have meaningful discussions. At the conclusion of the fellowship, there will be a showcase of the new collection of facilitation and discussion tools.  

The next Visiting Fellows Program launches in September 2024 and concludes in June 2025. 

Read more about becoming an SDP Visiting Fellow. Applications will open on July 15th, 2024.

Register for the upcoming information session on July 31st at 12 PM ET.

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