formally selected or simply recognized as influential, to support both the listening session process and to co-create
Social. The Center must be perceived as impartial, meaning
solutions must come from the participants themselves. On
the other hand, the Center must not be perceived as neutral,
in the sense of being indifferent, but as caring for all participants’ need to be safe and to have equal opportunity to be
heard. The tendency of some, whether police or streetwise
community members, to perceive mediation as too soft and
“touchy-feely” to make a difference, may make discourse
more difficult. The Centers therefore selected facilitators for
gender balance and for their ability to manage such concerns
both by their self-presentation and by their listening skills.
In the end residents and law enforcement found common
ground about the lack of impact of previous public discourses.
They concluded that the “other” did not always respect them,
recognize their value, provide rewards for their participation, or
even clarify the role that the other expected of them. Therefore,
initially, these were seen as meaningless gestures to soothe
the population. The Center needed to address these concerns
during the data collection process and design the joint session
to have at least one concrete, measurable outcome.
Economic. Scheduling is a big issue. Police often want to
meet early, during a shift change. However, many residents
preferred evening meetings, after work and after the children have been fed. Finding time for police to attend without
neglecting their other roles, and for community volunteers,
who are likely to be the most overextended people in the
neighborhood, is also a challenge. Resolving these dilemmas
effectively takes both political and social acumen. Do not just
pick a day and time, but instead allow both time and place to be
agreed on by the intended participants, so as to obtain buy-in
and a sense of equity.
Communication. The community mediators need to
attended a number of diverse meetings before the listening
sessions. By using these opportunities to connect, the Center
created a presence that allowed for understanding of community perspectives. Being present also created opportunities to
talk about the Center’s work to a broad cross section of the
community. Finally, these meetings allowed the mediator/
facilitator to appreciate how specific groups learn, to whom
they listen, and how best to communicate with them.
PHASE 2: HOLDING THE SPACE
FOR THE LISTENING SESSION
Again, creating a clear sense of shared values is important
for making substantial change in the community. A series
of listening sessions can be used to find the shared values
between diverse community members and foster substantive
discourse among them focused on co-creating expectations
and emerging realities.
In the development of the membership, logistics, and atmosphere for the listening sessions, all parties need to contribute
since discourse cannot be one sided or one-directional. The
center staff needs to create a welcoming environment for
the listening sessions. Law enforcement participants need to
be fully engaged and speak freely. And community residents
should select their participants in the listening sessions.
While each center used a structured outline for the focus of
the questions, they could modify language in a way that fitted the cultural contact of their police and their neighborhood.
The first session for each group focused on considering the
image law enforcement and neighbors have of themselves,
and what they perceive others think of them. They also talked
about their visions for the community and what they and others can do to create that vision. The intent of this first session
was not only to learn from the groups, and have them learn
from each other, but to also allow them to become comfortable with the mediators and the center, so that they would be
more likely to participate in an authentic and transparent manner in the joint listening session. Also, creating those steps
allowed the participants to lower their defensive postures and
increase the opportunity for honest communication.
After the first two sessions, the data were studied to note the
shared values between the two groups. The direct comments
and answers from the individual sessions were not shared by
the Center at the joint session, but instead guided mediators
in the joint session, to help group members explore and clarify the shared values and their meanings. Those values then
helped the group decide the focus for their future relationship. Agreeing on the behaviors and attitudes that each could
expect from the other provided the necessary guidance for all
involved to know where to begin to change their relationships.
Facilitated discourse works when we see the other person,
not what that other person may represent. When groups were
separately asked how they wanted the other to see them, for
the majority the response was, “as a person.” In other words,
“don’t look at me and just see a uniform.” And, “don’t look at
me and think the worst.” Being able to speak one’s truth and
be heard in the individual group listening sessions were critical elements to creating a joint session rooted in friendliness,
purposefulness and dignity, and this would not have happened without the structured data collection and framework
for these sessions.
The author wishes to thank contributors Laura Smythe and
Jeanne Zimmer for help in preparing this article.