In response to increased decisiveness and hostility in the country, America Talks was created and launched with a goal of connecting citizens across political and regional lines through thoughtful conversation.
Problems and Purpose
Following the 2020 elections, palpable tensions across political lines inhibited thoughtful conversation regarding contrasting beliefs and opinions in the United States. Many Americans recognize that the growing contempt within their communities leads to incivility and apathy. Many Americans note that the growing divide over political ideologies threatens American democracy. In response to increased decisiveness and hostility in the country, America Talks was created and launched with a goal of connecting citizens across political and regional lines through thoughtful conversation with each other.
Background History and Context
America Talks adopts the framework of My Country Talks, an international program that connects participants across regional boundaries and political backgrounds to engage in conversation. My Country Talks introduced their software for the first time in the United States through the America Talks event. Participation in the weekend event was free for all participants.
America Talks used video conferencing to engage participants in one-on-one or small-group discussion across political ideologies to evaluate and reflect on issues in the country and how citizens can address problems together.
Signup for American Talks began in early 2021 with a goal of recruiting 10,000 Americans in conversation for the weekend event on June 12-13, 2021.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
America Talks was co-created with AllSides, Business for America, Cheryl Hughes Consulting, Citizen Connect, Common Ally, Crossing Party Lines, Epiphany Productions, Fix US, Junto, Listen First Project, Living Room Conversations, My Country Talks, National Institute for Civil Discourse, Public Agenda, Unify America, and Younify.
America Talk used a hosting partner network that assisted in the promotion of America Talks and recruitment of participants for the event.
America Talks is funded by the Listen First Project, a 501c3 nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that creates campaigns and strategies that transform today’s divisive landscape into meaningful, collaborative spaces through large-scale campaigns and strategies.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were recruited through the networks of America Talks and their promotional partners. Eligible participants had to be American citizens and 18 years of age or older. A two-step process was used to confirm their eligibility, using email and cell phone. Once registered, participants completed a form that asked for demographic information that would be later used to pair participants in conversations.
Methods and Tools Used
Deliberative & Dialogic Process: America Talks pairs participants across varied demographics including age, political affiliation, and geographic region. Using a conversation guide, participants are able to have structured conversations about challenges and opportunities they identify in their local communities, as well as nationwide issues, personal priorities, and hopes for the future.
Informal conversation spaces: America Talks used video conferencing software that allowed Americans to engage in conversation despite geographical restrictions. The software was adapted from My Country Talks, developed by diesdas.digital, a Berlin-based agency. Because there was no in-person venue, participants partook in these conversations in any location of their choice.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
On Saturday, America Talks began with a kickoff event, a live-stream that was immediately followed by participant-led conversations. Conversations were organized by an algorithm that used data from the forms that participants completed upon registration to pair users in one-on-one conversation or in small groups.
The video conference platform provided a conversation guide for participants to follow. Before beginning conversations, participants agreed to ‘conversation norms’ to ensure that people were able to engage in respectful conversation. To begin the conversation, participants shared preliminary information about themselves, including where in the United States participants are based and why participants decided to join the America Talks program. Following introductions, the conversation guide allowed participants to talk about community issues, challenges, and priorities. The questions provided allowed participants to think about their community on the local level, as well as country-wide worries and opportunities. Next, participants were prompted to discuss how they believe they are perceived by others, and how they wish to be understood. The guide next asked participants to discuss what local or national issues participants care about and how these issues affect themselves and their community.
Lastly, participants were encouraged to discuss their shared wishes for the United States moving forward, encouraging participants to write down ideas to share with others. The conversation guide prompted participants to reflect on how the previously expresses wishes can be achieved in participants’ communities. At the end of conversations, participants completed an exit survey where they provided insight and reflection on the discussion. Participants also had the opportunity to share testimonials and photos of their experience with the America Talks team.
Sunday, June 13 was used as a back-up event for participants who were not able to attend the Saturday event.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
America Talks weekend was followed by the National Week of Conversation (June 14 - June 20). The National Week of Conversation allowed organizers and participants to showcase the genuine conversations that can arise out of social and political issues. The goal of the week is to encourage transformative conversation through forums, workshops, and other dialogic processes.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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