Public Officials and the Community

Conversation Guide

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Public Officials speak together

Relationships are the foundation of our community, how we treat each other can strengthen or weaken the communities we live in. Public officials, whether elected or appointed, are able to influence their communities in significant ways, but also open themselves to public scrutiny. While significant differences of opinion between the public and its officials can be expected, conflict that becomes destructive or personal can have lasting effects on the community and individuals involved. When that happens, communities risk losing the participation of thoughtful and capable citizens who would otherwise be engaged. This conversation is an opportunity to explore shared values around how we want to treat public officials and what kind of relationship we expect or hope for.

Background Information:

If you feel it can be hard to follow along with how your elected officials are voting on your behalf, our partner ActiVote helps make that easy.

Let's Get Started!

Living Room Conversations offers a simple, sociable and structured way to practice communicating across differences while building understanding and relationships. Typically, 4-6 people meet in person or by video call for about 90 minutes to listen to and be heard by others on one of our nearly 100 topics. Rather than debating or convincing others, we take turns talking to share, learn, and be curious. No preparation is required, though background links with balanced views are available on some topic pages online. Anyone can host using these italicized instructions. Hosts also participate. 

Why We're Here (~10 min)

Each participant has 1 minute to introduce themselves.

Share your name, where you live, what drew you here, and if this is your first conversation.

Conversation Agreements:
How We'll Engage (~5 min)

These will set the tone of our conversation; participants may volunteer to take turns reading them aloud. (Click here for the full conversation agreements.)

  • Be curious and listen to understand.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. 
  • Note any common ground as well as any differences. 
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. 
  • Be purposeful and to the point. 
  • Own and guide the conversation. 

Question Rounds:
What We’ll Talk About

Optional: a participant can keep track of time and gently let people know when their time has elapsed.

Round 1:
Getting to Know Each Other (~10 min)

Each participant can take 1-2 minutes to answer one of these questions:

  • What are your hopes and concerns for your family, community and/or the country?
  • What would your best friend say about who you are?
  • What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?

Round 2:

Public Officials and the Community (~40 min)

One participant can volunteer to read the paragraph at the top of the web page.

Take ~2 minutes each to answer a question below without interruption or crosstalk. After everyone has answered, the group may take a few minutes for clarifying or follow up questions/responses. Continue exploring additional questions as time allows..

  • How do you define “public service”? What does it mean to you?
  • Have you or someone you know run for office? What was that like?
  • What happens in our community when there is conflict with the public and those in office? Are there ways to engage productively?
  • What are appropriate ways to support or oppose candidates running for office or already in office?
  • What would you like to avoid?
  • What are your hopes and concerns for the relationship between those in public office and the community? What, if any, are their responsibilities to one another?

Round 3:
Reflecting on the Conversation (~15 min)

Take 2 minutes to answer one of the following questions:

  • What was most meaningful / valuable to you in this Living Room Conversation?
  • What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on the topic?
  • How has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group?
  • Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation?

Closing (~5 min)

  • Give us feedback! Find our feedback form here.
  • Donate! Make more of these possible; give here.
  • Join or host more conversations! With a) this group by exchanging your emails; b) others in person and/or by video call online. Get more involved or learn how to host here.

Thank You!