The Columbus Indiana Community Area Sustained Dialogue, now completing two full years of monthly sessions, focuses its work on identifying and addressing obstacles to and creating opportunities for economically challenged citizens to achieve self-sufficiency – economically, socially and emotionally. The dialogue has created a space that regularly attracts Columbus area residents from all sectors of the community: from city council to the socio-economically disadvantaged, from United Way to community center leaders, from landlords to renters and homeowners, from the police’ and sheriff’s offices, to employment agencies and transportation specialists to medical professionals and church leaders and members. The participants often describe this dialogue as “a wonderful space that WE have created,” working across social and institutional boundaries. Concrete actions include the development of a comprehensive program to ensure those ready to work have reliable transportation. More broadly, participants note that their dialogue continues to have a transformative impact on the local political climate, moving from confrontation to listening, and from listening to dialogue.
SDI Associate Ramon Daubon collaborates with Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR) and the multi-actor “Imagine Santurce” place-making initiative convening stakeholders in a variety of fields (e.g. education, transportation, unused properties, access to capital, the arts as convener) to reactivate the central business district of the city. Daubon sits in some of these roundtables and often moderates a monthly informative gathering where working groups report on topical activities which may evolve into SD spaces.
Also in Santurce Daubon and a group of business students in a senior seminar on community development at Universidad Sagrado Corazón (USC) selected a sub-district around “calle Loiza” as a field case study. In collaboration with urban-planning students from MIT, the University of PR and a local design firm, the seminar is experimenting with applying to community settings design thinking strategies normally conceived for business or institutional settings. Parallel to SD’s practical evolution from national conflicts to communities to organizations to firms, the five-stage design thinking process (coincident with SD’s five stages) is here attempting to evolve in the opposite direction, from the firm to the civic. The conceptual contribution of design thinking is to have the participants in a dialogue see themselves as designers of an economic future that they—and only they—have yet to invent. The practices of design add a new dimension to the recurring ebb and flow motion of the SD stages.
For almost a year in 2014 a diverse group of stakeholders in the controversial education reform movement in Puerto Rico requested SDI’s help in organizing and moderating a slowly broadening dialogue separate from the contentious official policy process. The Corillo (“little choir”) dialogue broadened its participant base over time and was able to draft a basic document on the essentials of a public education that all parties can adhere to as a basis for broader discussion.