Guns: An American Conversation

May 10, 2018

The subject of guns in America lends itself to strong emotion and great strife, especially in the face of continued mass shootings. We all wish we could make it stop, but we can’t seem to agree on where to focus. The guns themselves? The troubled souls who carry out these acts of violence? The inconsistent regulation of existing laws? The poor infrastructure for recognizing this danger?

At the end of March, Essential Partners worked with Spaceship Media and Advance Local to bring people from across the country together to talk about guns. John Sarrouf and I travelled to Washington, DC, to facilitate the conversations. At the end of the two-day conversation, that core of 21 people then formed a closed Facebook group with more than 130 members, and continued the dialogue online for the following month.


Watch - Time Magazine video about “Guns: An American Conversation”


John and I followed along. We offered behind-the-scenes support to the moderators, who worked 24/7 to help those 130 online conversants share their views in ways that could be understood. We witnessed the yearning for a deeper, richer conversation on this divisive topic, and we learned that while it is possible to have that dialogue in a Facebook group, it doesn’t happen without thoughtful facilitation.

Three things we saw:

  • Online engagement was much stronger if people had one-on-one conversations via phone or even Facebook messenger with someone they disagreed with. Being “known” in this way by even a few individuals in the larger group made a big difference in the ability of participants to hang in during tough interactions. Even moderators had an easier time intervening with people who exhibit challenging communication styles after they had a phone call with them.
  • The 21 participants who had invested a lot of personal time at the outset wanted their own smaller group to reconnect, take a breather, and process the many things happening in the larger group. This was not because they all had the same point of view. It was because they were known and knew each other as well-rounded people in the small group.
  • The online conversation could easily have gone on for months in order to reach the fullness of the issues surrounding guns in this country. The level of attention and strength of relationships needed to sustain a conversation on such a hot topic could span years. At the same time, even within a month, there were productive inroads and proposals surfaced for potential continued work on the issue.

We are continuing this work in the coming months. Stay tuned for updates as we take this conversation on the road.

 

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