Frequently Asked Questions
What is NH Listens?
- NH Listens is a civic engagement initiative of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Since 2011, we have worked at the local and state level to support civil, public deliberation of complex issues affecting New Hampshire residents’ everyday lives. We work with local and state leaders to share resources on dialogue design, train facilitators, and help towns create their own Listens communities. We are committed to neutrality in all the work we carry out to meet our mission of creating and sustaining a fair process for public engagement and action.
What are our core principles?
- Bring people together from all walks of life
- Provide time for in-depth, engaged conversations
- Respect differences as well as seek common ground
- Achieve outcomes that lead to informed community solutions
Who funds our work?
- Our work in local communities is funded by donations, in-kind support, and matching project funding provided by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Our research, regional, and statewide work is typically funded through grants from private foundations and contracts with public agencies (local, state, and federal). Since our beginning, we have received funds from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the NH Office of Energy and Planning, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the NH Regional Planning Councils (in a contract from the U.S. Department of HUD), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Kellogg Foundation, and the National Estuary Reserve Research System (of NOAA).
Who are some of our local, regional, and state partners?
- In the past few years, we have partnered with Lakes Region United Way, Regional Planning Commissions, and two Governor’s Study Commissions. At the local level, we partner with nonprofit organizations; government officials; leaders from the education, civic, and corporate sectors; philanthropic organizations; and others who both support and participate in our public deliberations.
What is the difference between NH Listens and other Listens groups, such as Lakes Region Listens and Dover Listens?
Local Listens groups are independently founded and controlled, typically with a steering committee comprised of public, private, and civic sector leaders who self-organize with our assistance. These formally or informally organized local or regional groups carry out similar deliberative projects and agree to operate within the principles for fair and productive engagement, as outlined in #2 above. NH Listens supports and networks local Listens organizations to increase civic capacity statewide in order to solve problems and increase opportunities for everyday citizens who want to express their individual and shared views on governance and community-related issues.
Who are the staff members of NH Listens?
- Bruce Mallory
As director of NH Listens, Bruce leads the development of capacity building in local communities and at the state level for public dialogue on a range of issues. Bruce has taught in the education department at the University of New Hampshire for the past thirty-four years, and he has been a practitioner and national leader in deliberative democracy for the past fifteen years.
- Michele Holt-Shannon
Michele serves as the associate director of NH Listens. She received an MA in higher education and student affairs from Bowling Green State University, an MTS in world religions and theological studies from Boston College, and a BS in biology and psychology from the University of Alabama. Michele’s academic focus provides a foundation for applied student development, organizational problem solving, and community change work.
- Bruce Mallory
How can I get engaged in the work of NH Listens, in my community, region, or at the state level?
- Attend an event, join us for Facilitating for Public Engagement Training, or just contact us. We would love to talk with you.
What processes does NH Listens use to conduct community conversations? Is the work similar to processes used elsewhere to conduct community conversations?
- Our work is grounded in small, facilitated
groups. Our facilitators are trained in a “pure facilitator” model where they
are required to be neutral on the topic and focused solely on making sure the
group is fair and that everyone gets to participate. There is often a large
group “report out” at the end of the process where participants share direct
summaries from their small groups. Using small groups makes it possible for
more people to participate, and they are often less intimidating for those who
are hesitant to speak in large groups.
- We recognize that some people may be guarded about and suspicious of public meetings; we often work with individuals who reserve judgment in case they are treated unfairly or find a predetermined agenda at play. Over the years, people doing public engagement work have sometimes been accused of imposing their own biases or using what is known as the Delphi method to lead participants into believing a certain way on an issue. The Delphi method is adecision-making process created by the Rand Corporation in the 1950s. NH Listens does not use the Delphi method, does not train its facilitators in this approach, and rejects any charge that we might use it. Even so, it is understandable that some will join our conversations tentatively while they learn about NH Listens for themselves. In keeping with our independent spirit, we welcome everyone and hope you find NH Listens is a refreshing antidote to what sometimes in civic affairs becomes more focused on the fight than on the solution.
- Our work is grounded in small, facilitated groups. Our facilitators are trained in a “pure facilitator” model where they are required to be neutral on the topic and focused solely on making sure the group is fair and that everyone gets to participate. There is often a large group “report out” at the end of the process where participants share direct summaries from their small groups. Using small groups makes it possible for more people to participate, and they are often less intimidating for those who are hesitant to speak in large groups.