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August 03, 2022

Planning and Organizing Your Civil Conversation

Planning for a successful program begins weeks—if not months—ahead of the event. Begin planning program logistics—such as location, marketing, and budget—as early as you can.

Three (or More!) Months Out -- Guiding Principles, Themes, and Format

Program Planning Committee – Consider establishing a planning committee made up of 5-6 community stakeholders who can help you develop program objectives, connect with community members, and engage your audience. The planning committee can also help identify potential program partners or sponsors and build on existing relationships or create new ones.

Program Objective and Themes – Your public conversation may serve many goals—education, consensus building, public awareness, discussion, forming a coalition, etc. As you establish the goals of your program, you will also be able to consider themes or topics. Make sure whatever objectives and themes you consider are relevant to your specific community needs and priorities.

Funding Your Program – Establishing a solid budget and funding plan will help guide your planning process—and ensure that you have the resources to hold a program that meets your goals. Keep in mind financial resources, but also limits on staff/volunteer time. As you begin to piece together your budget, work with your planning committee to explore potential donors, in-kind gifts, or sponsors.

Location and Facilities – As you begin to line up partners and think about your audience, keep in mind potential venues. If one of the partner organizations already has a viable space, consider using it as an in-kind donation. Make sure you are aware of any set up, equipment, or security limitations or policies. Additionally, you should ensure that any physical facilities meet community accessibility standards. (Be sure to consider if your programs needs to be in-person. A virtual program may be easier and less costly to hold.)

Setting Goals and Objectives–Goals and objectives are critical to a successful program. Make sure to work with your planning committee to brainstorm the objectives you hope to achieve.

Potential objectives may include:

  • Building consensus on an important community issue.
  • Forming a coalition to help solve community problems or concerns.
  • Raising awareness on an important legal issue (which may focus on a local concern or a national or constitutional issue).
  • Explaining a complex legal issue.
  • Solving a special problem in your community that has a legal or constitutional dimension.

Two Months Out

Two months before the program, the planning committee should finalize speakers and solidify marketing plans.

Invite Panelists and Speakers – As you get closer to the program date, you will want to line up your panelists, speakers, and moderators. Make sure your speakers are representative of your community and bring with them a broad range of experiences and viewpoints. After confirming their participation, make sure you receive headshots, bios, and any necessary speaker/media releases.

Marketing and Audience Building – Work with local media, your program partners, and community groups to publicize your event. Update your website and, if appropriate, use it to track audience registration. Develop and launch a social media campaign.

Contracts and Releases – Make sure all necessary contracts are finalized with vendors, venue spaces, catering, etc.

One Month Countdown

Finalize Your Plan and Agenda – Work with your speakers, program committee, and facilitators to finalize an agenda/timeline for your conversation. Make sure everyone is aware of any timing cues and plans for audience interactions. In the last week or two, do a dry run to try out any PowerPoints, videos, or live streams.

Production and Printing – Finalize and print any program guides or booklets that you will distribute. Determine whether you will need any signage onsite (to welcome audience members or to provide necessary directions). In the last week or so, print name badges and tent cards, which can be helpful for panelists and attendees alike.

Final Publicity Push – Finally, as the date of your program nears, coordinate any last-minute marketing and outreach to potential audience members through email, social media, and local media outlets. Depending on your budget, consider doing local media ads or promoted posts on various social media platforms. Work with partner organizations to get the word out through their various channels as well. Letters to the editor sent to your local newspaper can be a great way to reach newspaper readers, raise awareness, and share information about your program and objectives.

Wrap up

Evaluation – Prepare and distribute a survey to solicit feedback from your audience. Find out what participants liked best about the program and what they learned as well as areas for improvement

Thank Yous – Send formal thank you notes to sponsors, volunteers, speakers, partner organizations, and coordinating teachers, among others to show appreciation and maintain strong relationships for future partnerships.

Continue the Discussion – Direct participants to additional resources. Post a recording of your program and collect a list of resources, including websites, articles, social media hashtags, or other resources in the program so audience members know how to continue the conversation and stay engaged.

Committee Debrief – Make time to host a formal debrief with your planning committee, which will give you a chance to reflect on your program, discuss next steps, and review outstanding budget items or other loose ends.