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Essential Partners

Our mission is to foster constructive dialogue wherever conflicts are driven by differences of identities, beliefs, and values. Difficult conversations — about the issues that matter most — are too often avoided or approached with fear. Essential Partners has worked for three decades to facilitate conversations and equip people using our approach to dialogue. We bring a method that is applicable and adaptable to a wide variety of contexts. Our method, Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD), relies on preparation, structure, questions, facilitation, and reflection to enable people to harness their capacity to have the conversations they need to have. Essential Partners offers workshops, custom training, and dialogue facilitation, as well as consultation. Our aim is to equip you to have meaningful conversations about essential issues, so you can move forward and create a better way of living together.

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Faculty Workshop: The Dialogic Classroom

Organizer: Essential Partners

From public universities to private colleges, Essential Partners has worked to adapt and innovate its approach to dialogue across differences for higher ed teaching. We call our model the dialogic classroom. From arts and humanities to STEM, we've trained hundreds of faculty to lead more open, productive discussions about difficult or divisive issues—topics like stem cell research, the role of race in American society, and gender identity. Join Essential Partners for a two-day training to learn how to implement the dialogic classroom. In first-year lecture classes and Ph.D. seminars alike, we have helped teachers and students make the shift to a dialogic classroom. The benefits have been broad and deep. Our research has found that the dialogic classroom:

  • Better, more constructive, more inclusive conversations about tough topics like race, immigration, gender, science and society, partisan polarization, or religion
  • Improved student retention of the course content
  • Greater student capacity to articulate and interrogate their own values and views
  • More consistent class participation among students who might be less likely to engage
  • Helps students feel like they belong.
Location: 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 212, Cambridge, MA 02138

Basic Facilitation Skills: Designing and Facilitating Dialogue Across Difference

Organizer: Essential Partners

This two-day workshop will help participants build the skills they need to facilitate tough conversations in daily life, in their community, in an organization, or in formal dialogues. The Essential Partners framework promotes connection and curiosity between those who see each other as enemies. For three decades, our unique approach has transformed conflicts across the country and the world—but the basic principles of the EP's framework are applicable to local community issues, organizational development, congregations, and everyday conversations. Intentional communication helps individuals, organizations, and communities build trust, enhance resilience, and engage in constructive conversations despite deeply-held differences of value, belief, opinion, or identity. This workshop is designed to help participants develop a powerful set of tools to achieve those goals and adapt them to meet the needs of their contexts.

Location: 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 212, Cambridge, MA 02138

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"To sustain this democracy, we must work to make space for the complex and contradictory identities within us and within each other," writes Pritchard.

The poverty of partisan identity

Pritchard is the director of strategic communications for Essential Partners, which fosters constructive dialogue where differences are driven by values, views and identities.

"Unless democratic habits of thought and action are part of the fiber of a people," the American philosopher John Dewey wrote on the eve of World War II, "political democracy is insecure. It can not stand in isolation. It must be buttressed by the presence of democratic methods in all social relationships."

Today, many of our social relationships have been stripped of those methods. Democratic habits are imperiled, if not lost. And many advocates, pundits and politicians point to "identity politics" as the cause.

Identity politics, the criticism goes, have corrupted our public discourse, our politics and our civic life. We read that identity is divisive, rancorous and dangerous. You can find this sentiment in op-eds, newspaper columns, Twitter threads and stump speeches. There's too much identity, the thinking goes, and not enough open debate.

I disagree. We don't have too much identity in our political lives. We have too little.

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Introduction to Dialogue Across Differences

Organizer: Essential Partners

This one-day workshop uses real-world case studies to introduce participants to the theory and practice of EP's Reflective Structured Dialogue framework. For three decades, our unique approach has transformed conflicts across the country and the world—but the basic principles of EP's framework are applicable to local community issues, organizational development, congregations, and everyday conversations. Intentional communication helps individuals, organizations, and communities build trust, enhance resilience, and engage in constructive conversations despite deeply-held differences of value, belief, opinion, or identity. This workshop provides a set of simple tools to achieve those goals.

Location: 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 212, Cambridge, MA 02138

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