The Ladder of Engagement

What I’ve learned about engagement through meaningful dialogue

The first month of the project is coming to a close! I had the pleasure of finishing off this period of focusing on meaningful dialogue by attending a night of discussion called “More than a Pretty Face: Four Women under 40 Talk Politics”. The evening was presented by RNZ, The Wireless NZ, The Spinoff, Ace Lady Network and City Gallery Wellington.

Fangirling very hard

I was incredibly impressed by how thoughtful, respectful and hilarious the dialogue between these amazing women was. Among many other things, they shared their thoughts on why participating in the democratic process is important, and how going out and speaking to people face-to-face is critical to being a good elected representative.

I would highly recommend watching the video of the talk here. Near the end you’ll hear me, very nervously, ask the panel what they think are the best ways to get involved in the democratic process — “beyond the ballot”(yes, I managed to sneak that in).

I have come away from this month with two key things to remember:

  1. That meaningful dialogue can be the base for future actions.
  2. That it is important to reach out to those with different perspectives than yourself.

I mentioned in my second post that there are usually a few steps between discussing an issue to advocating for change. I like this model of explaining the steps, its really simple:

This ladder of engagement is similar to the ladder of civic participation, which describes a citizen’s journey from non-participation to control over decision making.

I want to give a special shout out to Samara Canada, who are very active in this space. I’ve followed Samara’s work for a number of years now and they were really the first ones that got me excited about civic engagement. They want people to reconnect to democracy — something that has become very near and dear to my heart.

The concept behind their flagship program — Democracy Talks — has been a slow burning inspiration behind my desire to start this project in the first place.

Democracy Talks is an outreach program that motivates Canadians who are not engaging in Canada’s democracy by giving them the opportunity to discover and develop their political voice. It is a facilitated, activity-based discussion around issues that matter to society.

It uses meaningful dialogue to mix civics education and community participation to enable groups to take a first step in becoming democratically engaged. Its a program I would love to try using here in New Zealand one day.

Since starting this project and chatting about it with others, friends — who have typically been democratically disengaged, have told me they were motivated by my posts and started doing research on candidates’ positions on certain issues for the upcoming election. I’ll take that as a small win!

Reaching out to people with different perspectives, worldviews or ideologies is something I did less of this month, but I will endeavour to do more of it moving forward.

One thing that usually stops people, myself included, from engaging with others with different points of view is the fear of conflict or confrontation. A few years ago I got my mediation certification, and one of the things that has stuck with me was the instructors advice to just simply be curious. Ask questions with no agenda or purpose of leading the discussion in a certain way, simply ask to know more. Its about unpacking a person’s story or point of view, without making a judgement on if they are right or wrong —of course, much easier said then done.

Last week I stumbled across, With Friends Like These by Ana Marie Cox (part of the Crooked Team) — a podcast centered around having meaningful dialogue with people with different views or experiences from our own. Its ‘an open, funny, in-depth conversation about what divides us — a show about listening instead of arguing’. I’ve only listened to the first episode so far, but I am hoping I can learn a thing or two about keeping my cool in tough conversations.

My next post will reveal my second civic action, it will be something a bit out of my comfort zone... so stay tuned.
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