Key characteristics of community dialogue

The key characteristics of a dialogue with the local community will involve the following:

  • An emphasis on ensuring that the dialogue is targeted to individual behaviour as well as social change in the community.
  • The community itself asks the questions and finds solutions, rather than looking to an external ‘expert’ to produce those solutions.
  • A focus on resources that communities already have and building communities’ commitment to providing these resources.
  • A move away from just giving messages and telling people how to behave and what to do, towards actively engaging the communities.
  • A challenge to existing power relations, giving the weak and vulnerable a voice in any given community.
  • Working through existing channels that are already well-organised and are using dialogue in various forms.

Tips to conducting a successful community dialogue

As a health professional the following tips can enable you to organise and conduct a successful community dialogue. Remember the nature of the community dialogue process can motivate people to work towards change. Effective dialogues do the following:

  • Move towards solutions rather than continue to express or analyse the problem. An emphasis on personal responsibility moves the discussion away from finger-pointing or naming enemies and towards constructive common action.
  • Reach beyond the usual boundaries. When fully developed, dialogues can involve the entire community, offering opportunities for new, unexpected partnerships. New partnerships can develop when participants listen carefully and respectfully to each other. A search for solutions focuses on the common good, as participants are encouraged to broaden their horizons and build relationships outside their comfort zones.
  • Aim for a change of heart, not just a change of mind. Dialogues go beyond sharing and understanding to transforming participants. While the process begins with the individual, it eventually involves groups and institutions. Ultimately, dialogues can affect how policies are made.

3.7 Engaging in community dialogue

3.8 Practical questions to address in community dialogue