How the Nashville Conversations worked:
In the fall of 2011, the Jewish Federation of Nashville asked Roger Conner to design a process that would allow members of the Jewish community of Middle Tennessee to answer to this question:
What are our goals for the Jewish community when people hold strong and conflicting views about issues related to Israel and its future?
The facilitators were given full control over the process and the data. They used a tool from Action Evaluation known as ARIA C-3. ARIA stands for Aspiration, Resonance, Invention and Action. C-3 refers to three ways to “see”–as individuals, as groups and as a community.
C-1: Seeing the issue as individuals. The process began with an announcement in the Jewish Observer on March 2, 2012, inviting everyone in the Jewish community to give their input by answering a web-based questionnaire. They were asked “WHAT are your goals for the community” when people disagree strongly about issues related to Israel? For each WHAT goal, they were asked to explain “WHY is this goal important to you,” as an individual, and “HOW” could the goal be advanced. 148 participants suggested 403 separate WHAT goals during this first phase.
C-2: Seeing the issues in separate groups. In the second phase, participants were asked to assign themselves to one of three groups, defined by the following statements:
- “The best way to assure that Israel survives and prospers as a homeland for the Jewish people is to support the current Israeli government’s strategy on settlements, territory and negotiations, or to abandon the peace process as not being in Israel’s best interests.”
- “The best way to assure that Israel survives and prospers as a homeland for the Jewish people is to encourage the government of Israel to give much higher priority to negotiations leading to a two-state solution, changing its current positions as needed to facilitate such negotiations.”
- “I want Israel to survive and prosper as a homeland for the Jewish people and both of the above groups have some good arguments.”
The professional staff of Nashville Jewish organizations and rabbis also provided input into the process. However, they left it to community members to sort through the ideas and find consensus. Each of the three groups spent an entire evening at the Gordon Jewish Community Center discussing the issues and hammering out an agreement on desired goals for the community from their point of view. After these meetings, the 403 original WHAT ideas were reduced to twelve goals.
C-3: Seeing the issues from the perspective of the community: On May 2, 2012, fifty people assembled in the Gordon Jewish Community Center to discuss their shared and contrasting goals and seek consensus in a public forum. The session was by turns passionate and reflective, gentle and tough. It was also long, lasting more than four hours! By the end, the representatives agreed to five goals by consensus. Despite the physical and emotional effort required, representatives and attendees demonstrated how passionate people can listen respectfully without sacrificing their principles.
Second, words and phrases. During each meeting, participants were asked to name a single word—a “passion word”—that best captured WHY they were so passionate about their goals. These passion words make up the background of the cover pages of the final report.
Third, the stories beneath the words. Even supplemented by the passion words, the Goals cannot convey the complexity and the richness of the conversation that led up to them. We asked each participant WHY he or she felt so deeply about this question. Some answered with the wisdom of a lifetime compressed into a phrase or a sentence. Others shared stories that have shaped who they are. The report contains a section with each goal surrounded by a sample of these WHY stories—commentaries, as it were—through which the readers can know that those who created these goals invested much more than hours; they invested a piece of themselves.
Fourth, a collection of Action ideas. In our mind, the ultimate purpose of this exercise is Action. Thanks to the ARIA C-3 Action Evaluation database, we can list together the HOW suggestions relevant to each of the agreed goals. The Action ideas were not discussed or agreed to by the groups, so it is important to treat the lists as a collective brainstorming exercise, a jumping off point for the individual and group effort that will be needed for these goals to become a reality. In this section of the report we are careful to flag contrasting and unique Action ideas in addition the shared ones.
Fifth, public commitments. We have invited all members of the community who agree with these goals to endorse them publicly. This report includes a list of those who have already signed; the Federation will continue to add more people to the list of signatories in the coming weeks.
Several people worked behind the scenes to help make this project a success. Jay Rothman and Brandon Sipes of the ARIA Group provided guidance at each step of the way, which was extremely important. Judy Saks of the Federation did an outstanding job on covering every detail of the space, food and accommodations for the meetings.
We are extremely grateful to the Jewish Federation of Nashville and to every person who participated for allowing us to be a part of this remarkable process. We hope that many other groups will be inspired by your example.
Roger Conner. Lead Facilitator
Jean Hastings, Project Coordinator
Michele Maddox. Marietta Shipley. Abhishek Singh, Sarah Smith, Facilitators