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Community is an act of Courage

College students engaging in reflective leadership training at Mount Holyoke College.

All around us are stories that tell us difference is scary. Even deadly. The reality of a world torn apart by ideology, ethnicity, racial tension or religious difference looms large... What can we do to turn the tide? How can we find the companions who will help us find another way? We are facing the painful fact that community is not a given; it is an act of courage. To change the story, we must step forward, even into the uncertain. We must dare to go through, even stand in the fire, rather than avoid our differences. When we do, we claim ourselves and rediscover others.


Hopes. Fears. Boundaries. Stories. Behind every belief is a story. And behind every story is a person. Our work happens where people bring their beliefs and stories together to forge a path forward. We bring deep curiosity, compassion and heart to the journeys that define community, to the connections that shape human lives. Because our belief, our story, is a simple one: In the courage of community, possibility awaits. In this essential work, these bold explorations, we can be your partners.

Our current civic culture encourages me to take the 360 degrees of you and reduce you down to a single defining degree; like folding up a fan. Public Conversations’ practices are designed to open the fan up again. As I appreciate a widened range of who you are, and as you do the same for me, the odds increase that we can identify and explore shared concerns. We might even find a way to do something new together. —L au r a C h a s i n , F o u n d e r

An Origin Story Laura Chasin imagined a different kind of civic life — one in which people could speak truthfully and compassionately about what mattered in their communities without letting differences tear them apart. She and her colleagues turned their research on constructive communication patterns into a new initiative called The Public Conversations Project (of the Family Institute of Cambridge). It was an experiment, a bold exploration.

The founding associates of Public Conversations Project. From left: Maggie Herzig, Sallyann Roth, Corky Becker, Laura Chasin and Dick Chasin.

Following the murders of two women outside local abortion clinics, Laura became a co-facilitator of a multi-year, clandestine dialogue between Boston area pro-choice and pro-life leaders. In the years that followed, Laura and the founders applied this singular method — which combined elements of family therapy, neuroscience and mediation — to a wide range of issues and communities. Today, 26 years after Laura gathered her colleagues to address the pain she saw in civil society, the goal remains the same: equipping individuals and communities to not simply survive with their differences, but to thrive, working toward a vibrant future for us all. In 2016, Public Conversations Project embarked on a strategic process to boldly proclaim the power and relevance of its work, connecting to new audiences hungry for better ways to be in community together. Laura shared and furthered the imperative to shift the organization from a philanthropy into a self-sustaining institution. After her untimely passing, Public Conversations’ staff, board and founding associates gathered to fulfill the plans to grow the message and the impact of the core and distinct qualities of the organization’s critically important work.

The Boston Globe’s Focus section featured a statement co-written by the six leaders of Massachusetts’ pro-life and pro-choice movements, who had met for six years to participate in clandestine dialogues.

New Name, Same Bold Hope for New Conversations The name “Public Conversations Project” emerged from the need to distinguish an experiment from the family therapy practice of our founders. No longer in an experimental stage, we are ready to proclaim the radical lesson learned in our first 25 years: another way is possible. That bold claim demanded a fitting name. “Essential Partners” emerged as a way to invite a broader range of participants to our work. We uncover the issues at their essence. We work in partnership with the individuals, communities and organizations we serve to invite the conversation that works in their context. Ultimately, we hope that folks who have seen each other as opponents can discover they are one another’s essential partners in moving their communities forward.

Bold Explorations in Community Today, and throughout the organization’s history, the goal remains the same: equipping individuals and communities to live with their differences by building trust through new conversations.

A Blueprint for Living with Differences Essential Partners supports courageous, resilient communities through a trainable, scalable and adaptable approach that allows us to engage our differences. Carefully designed conversations create a foundation of trust and understanding, even as disagreements persist. Rather than succumbing to fracture, the courageous communities that engage with Essential Partners come to embrace differences as an invitation, and view conflict as an opportunity for deeper connection. Fresh solutions arise from a rediscovered landscape of community.

When communities can tap into Essential Partners aims to expand and amplify our founders’ dedicated work. The practice they created of connection, relationship, resilient listening and honest speaking are critical to the world at this moment. We now turn to sharing our trainable, scalable and adaptable approach as broadly as possible by leveraging greater impact and reach by:

High-Impact Training Our aim is to become the go-to training organization for the skills and technologies that build relationships across differences, maintaining the integrity of our method. We will pursue credentialing and licensing individuals to practice our approach in their roles in communities or organizations, and we are in pursuit of university partners for this endeavor. A focus on long-term partnership with communities eager to create a sustained culture of dialogue will both “scale up� and deepen their capacity to engage across differences.

Telling the Story We are putting new emphasis on telling the story of our work and its impact through both data and narrative. We will seek out engaging stories of those who are applying our work in their communities. We are also building a robust monitoring and evaluation program to measure our impact over time. This system will position us to more effectively serve the long-term partnerships we believe can foster deep change.

Building Our Capacity Conversations have changed since the organization was created, and we are responsible for increasing our cultural fluency to be able to meet the emerging needs of our partners. We are also training the next generation of practitioners through an apprentice program, and integrating intercultural and diversity training into our programming.

Join us on this journey for the next 25 years!

their collective potential, new possibilities arise. The change is in hearts, as people become better able to see the other side of the issue and recover a shared sense of concern, connection and humanity. They create a bigger story, one that can hold care for each other alongside difference.

Together we will sow a seed that will germinate and become a source of the antidote to terrorism, fanaticism, bigotry and extremism. — Imam Sani Isah, Project Partner, Interfaith Mediation Centre, Nigeria

186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 212 Cambridge, MA 02138 617-923-1216

Profile for Essential Partners

Meet Essential Partners  

The story of how a committed organization boldly told its story in a new way.

Meet Essential Partners  

The story of how a committed organization boldly told its story in a new way.