Essential Partners

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Essential Partners (formerly 'The Public Conversations Project') is a non-profit organization working with communities to foster constructive dialogue and open communication, especially in situations where identities and values come into conflict.

Mission and Purpose 

Essential Partners, is a non-profit organization based in Boston, USA, whose mission is to train and promote individuals and other organizations in being able to beneficially discuss divisive issues that are important to them and the world.[1] Founded in 1989 as the Public Conversations Project, Essential Partners' goal is “to shift relationships, building the communication skills and trust needed to make action possible and collaboration sustainable.”[2] The organization works to bring together people of opposing values in one room and enable them to engage in constructive dialogue as opposed to heated disagreement or conflict. Essential Partners fosters communication and understanding of where each person is coming from in order to create human relationships and tolerance with even those who might have opinions and ideas from the opposite spectrum.[3] [4] As well, the organization hopes to make people realize that those that might have been considered adversaries prior to their trained dialogues, can now work with each other toward a shared goal.[5] 

Essential Partners works with people from all sides of the world in order to truly bond everything from universities, other non-profit organizations, community groups, government agencies, faith communities, issue advocates, professionals in mediation and dispute resolution and private citizens.[6] They believe that it’s possible to bring any two people together and create a conversation of substance that will allow individuals to understand that together they can reach an area of common ground.[7]

Origins and Development

Family therapist and philanthropist Laura Chasin conceived the idea in 1989.[8] After witnessing a debate on abortion on television, Chasin began to question how family therapy practices could improve polarizing conversations about abortion or other intense public issues.[9] Essential Partners was founded the same year under the name 'The Public Conversations Project', but did not enter the public’s eye until a shooting in 1994 where a man named “John Salvi walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline and opened fire with a rifle”, seriously wounding three people and killing the receptionist.[10] Salvi then went on to drive two miles down Beacon Street to Preterm Health Services where he injured two more people and killed another receptionist.[11] This violent incident caused the already substantial divide between those that were pro-life and those that were pro-choice to grow even larger, but it was because of this incident that three people who are prominent figures from both sides decided it was necessary to sit down and have a civilized conversation in order to prevent incidents like this from occurring again. 

These six people went to Essential Partners and met in private using the organization's method of communicating.[12] They learned about each other as people, started to care for one another, and realized the power and personal effect of vocabulary.[13] Through Essential Partners' methods and techniques of dialogue and communication, they were able to mend the gap in a way where they could be civil to one another and respect one another’s ideas and concerns.[14] The article "Talking with the Enemy", published in The Boston Globe, showed the public what had been happening in secrecy and really brought people’s attention to Essential Partners as an organization that created constructive dialogues about all different conflicts. 

Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding

Essential Partners' members provide “training, facilitation, coaching, and consultation” to communities and other organizations that wish to work with them.[15] Fixed in Boston, they often travel outside the city to communities that request their assistance.[16] Having Essential Partners become a non-profit organization means that they are always interested in foundations funding and supporting their vision. The organization has been fortunate enough to have many different foundations fund their organization in order to continue bringing people together. Some foundations that have been interested in their work include The Boston Foundation, United States Institute of Peace, Rockefeller Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and many more. Essential Partners began life as 'the Public Conversations Project', a Family Institute of Cambridge-funded initiative.[17] It wasn’t until 1996 when they received an initial grant from William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that PCP became a nonprofit organization.[18] Aside from receiving funding from foundations, Essential Partners, also accepts donations from individuals or other organizations that feel that what the organization has done is useful and right for not only the country but also the world. 

Specializations, Methods, and Tools

While Essential Partners' underlying philosophy or 'theory of change' is not entirely unique, its innovative methods, tools, and techniques of communication have seen success in the creation of constructive, sustained dialogues. The way Essential Partners' staff facilitates and teaches people how to communicate with one another has roots in family systems therapy methods and goals. The goal with using family therapist skills is to prevent people from seeing each other as enemies but to see each other through personal experiences and deeper understandings. Their goal is not to change people’s minds or make the group come out with one answer to the problem, but more so to have people come out with respect for the other side and understanding of where each person is coming from. They hope to make connections between people that before would have assumed there was no way to relate to someone with such an opposing view. They, like many other organizations, wish to promote public deliberation where they encourage participation in democracy through their methods of constructive conversations.[19] Although public deliberation typically is more based around decision-making, Essential Partners does not intend for the group to come out with a decision, but to instead come out more enlightened.

Essential Partners has three methods in order to provide productive dialogue. First, it takes preventative measures in order to guarantee that the conversation won’t turn into a debate. All those that intend to participate in the conversation are contacted before and are asked to listen to some ground rules, such as not talking over one another and waiting till the facilitator has asked you a question.[20] This will ensure that no one in the group gets attacked, or feels as though they must put their guard up and not truly say how they feel. Secondly, Essential Partners has a variety of facilitative processes such as keeping the conversation on track, asking the questions, setting the tone of the interactions and conversation and enforcing the ground rules.[21] Lastly, Essential Partners works with the participants in creating the overall process such as the ground rules.[22] They allow the participants to work together to realize what rules should be instituted in order to not offend themselves and to see what things they do that offends others.[23] This is the beginning of showing the group what things affect what people and making everyone more conscious of even the little things. The point of these three steps is to get the participants to realize that in no shape or form are they there to try to change people’s mind or to prove that they are right. The point is for everyone to share experiences and talk about who they are in order to really show each other what it’s like in their shoes.

Major Projects and Events

Essential Partners has led many major projects and events relating to dialogue, communications, and conflict resolution. Emblematic of its work is a 2017 project to diffuse the polarizing rhetoric of journalistic reporting on the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Like the majority of Essential Parterns' other work, the project brought both sides of the conflict together in dialogue. Five Israeli and five Palestinian journalists engaged in a series of dialogue workshops around the challenges of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[24] The hope was that through the dialogue workshop, the participants would gain better understanding of each other’s experiences and constraints.[25] This project demonstrates Essential Partners committment to the use of deliberation in conflict resolution and management in America and abroad. Besides international conflict, Essential Partners has brought people together around issues like health care, higher education and various matters of public policy.[26] 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

With their unique methodology and powerful theory of change, Essential Partners has proven the ability for dialogue to resolve conflict and build mutual understanding. The Essential Partners organization as a non-profit and non-partisan entity, has grown to become a place where people of all sides can be heard and valued for who they are.[27] The organization continues to show people that just because a person may think one way they have the ability to listen to the other side comfortably, professionally and honorably without creating hatred and fear. It is likely for this reason that they have been asked to work with all different types of groups from universities to community groups.[28] Essential Partners serves many different groups from all different backgrounds in order to get one thing out of it for them, which is a chance to genuinely communicate.[29] Since Essential Partners has become seen as an organization with a lot of power to bring people together, they have been working on projects to expand not just in America but also around the world.


Essential Partners, formerly the Public Conversations Project, has been mentioned in the news all around the country in order to make people aware of what is going on and what the organization has to offer.[30] Some of the most famous publications of PCP in the news includes an article from Newsday where an Associate named Mary Jacksteit answered questions about how she would be able to help resolve the conflicts over abortion and health care reform.[31] Answering these kinds of questions in the news allows the public to see the methods that Essential Partners uses and the successes Essential Partners has the ability to have. Furthermore, PCP has been mentioned in articles discussing how two very opposite sides have had the ability to talk and communicate with one another and how these polarized sides have come to PCP with the hope that they can someday understand one another and reach some form of common ground. When the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation [32] asked on their website,, which programs have addressed the partisan divide in the U.S. through dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution, PCP was mentioned and recommended for this very cause.[33] 

See Also

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation 


[1] [2] “About us.” Public Conversations, [dead link]

[3] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,, 1

[4] “About us.” Essential Partners, accessed January 30, 2019,

[5] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,, 1.

[6] “Partners.” Essential Partners, accessed January 30, 2019,

[7] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,, 6

[8] “Essential Partners - Who We Are,” YouTube video, posted by the “Essential Partners,” April 6, 2012,

[9] “Essential Partners - Who We Are,” YouTube video, posted by the “Essential Partners,” April 6, 2012,, 0:38.

[10] [11] [12] [13] [14] Anne Fowler, Nicki Nichols Gamble, Frances X. Hogan, Melissa Kogut, Madeline McCommish, and Barbara Thorp. “Talking with the Enemy.” Published in The Boston Globe, January 28, 2001, accessed January 30, 2019,

[15] [16] “About us.” Essential Partners, accessed January 30, 2019,

[17] [18] “The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Annual Report 1996.” Accessed January 30, 2019,, 17

[19] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,, 2.

[20] [22] [23] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,, 3.

[21] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,,, 4.

[24] [25] Herbert C. Kelman, Resolving Deep-Rooted Conflicts: Essays on the theory and practice of interactive problem-solving, eds. Werner Wintersteiner and Wilfried Graf (New York: Routledge, 2017), 135.

[26] Alison Baron and Mary Jacksteit. “Public Conversations Project Dialogue.” Civicus, accessed January 30, 2019,, 2.

[27] “About us.” Essential Partners, accessed January 30, 2019,

[28] [29] “How to Work with Essential Partners.” Essential Partners, accessed January 31, 2019,

[30] “In the Media.” Essential Partners, accessed January 30, 2019,

[31] “Mediating Abortion - Can All Agree on a Purpose?” Published Newsday online, November 14, 2009,


[33] Keiva Hummel, “Shining a Light Beyond Polarization.” NCDD. April 25, 2016,

External Links

Essential Partners Official Website:

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation Official Website:


The Public Conversations Project has operated under the name Essential Partners since 2016.

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