Maire Dugan

Director, Race Relations 2020, Columbia, South Carolina

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Most dialogue groups ask people towards the end of the session, well what would you like to see happen in your community, as a prelude to developing projects to help bring those preferred futures about, but they don't support the participants in any way in imagining those futures. I have a lot of background in envisioning, and my own perception and experience is that our right brain imagining capacities aren't anywhere near as developed as our left-brain analyzing capacities. I think

when you throw out that question, what would you like to see happen, you tend to get more limited answers than if the participants were supported in some way in unleashing the power of their imaginations. They really identified ideals versus just identifying things that they thought would be better and were possible and they put that constraint on them at the outset.

Q: How do you get them to do that, to get them to unleash that imagination?

A: What we did was to redesign the dialogue design to include an envisioning workshop, which takes people through a set of questions. It begins by asking them to set aside concerns about possibility, plausibility, likelihood, and to focus entirely on desirability; things that would be wonderful, things that they could permit themselves, that they would intend to bring about, and then it takes them through a set of exercises that helps them concretize that.

Typically people come up with very generalized things such as, "Well, I'd like people to feel good about each other, I'd like everyone to treat each other as a person." You put that goal statement up and everyone walks along and looks at it and says, yes to it, but what they're saying yes to isn't necessarily exactly the same thing as the speaker means. The statement is general enough that everybody can find a connection with it, but I'm saying yes to my own interpretation to it rather than your actual vision. So a lot of the steps have to do with concretizing that so you have a blueprint rather than simply a general statement.

Q: What are some of those steps?

A: Well, the process that I use, I've written an article about in the book called Peacebuilding, which is edited, by ??? You start out with a goal statement and then you ask people to identify indicators of it, not benchmark so much. The way I get them into it is to say, "You've fallen asleep, you wrote down your goal statement, you've fallen asleep, woke up, somebody tells you 20 years have passed, somebody tells you, but you'd be delighted, it's exactly the way you want it to be. You might be a little incredulous, what do you look for? Who would say to you that they're right, that your goal actually does exist?"

Those indicators do two things, one is they help the author flush out their goal; it helps them think it through more fully and make it more concrete. If I have a lot of time, by the way, what I do is assign them to read an ???Ursula Laguine??? novel, with the idea that your goal should be concrete enough that when you write it out, the reader should have a sense of what it would be like to live in that space, just as you would in a well written novel.

The second thing it does is it gives the reader a little more information. Sometimes when I see the goal statement, even if it's flushed out enough, I may say, "yeah! That's something I can say yes to." After, I get down to an indicator I might say, "Wait a minute, they might be saying something a little different from what I'm thinking of." That provokes what ideally you have time for in each stage and after each step. Coming back several times to it is a clarify discussion where the participants partner off, and ask each other clarifying questions, being careful not to be judgmental, just to elicit more clarity about what the goal is and the indicators help to do that as well.

The third exercise is what is called "consequences", and it gets people to think about something a little bit differently. People are asked to identify positive consequences, which they are very at ease doing although that may expand their understanding. For instance, you may have written about race relations in Columbia in your neighborhood, and I ask what would be the consequences for the suburbs. You might be able to identify some positive consequences for the suburbs, and in doing so you get a little more flesh on the bones for that idea. The bigger thing is that you're also asked to identify negative consequences. The starting point being that every change has positive and negative consequences, no matter how good intentioned the goal is; for some people, for some time it's going to involve a loss of something. 

If you think of any kind of growth, you may think of a baby growing up. Pretend you're talking to the baby's mother. She's very proud of her now 18 year old son who's just graduated from high school and has now gotten a scholarship, but if you press she may have some nostalgia about this baby that's not there anymore, this bright eyed, inquisitive toddler crawling around and getting into everything. There's always something that's given up in the process of growth. Even if those things are necessary to be given up, there's still a negative side to the positive growth.

As I identify negative consequences of my own goal, I may identify negative consequences to vote Winston Churchill up, with which I will not put that I realize that the way I've been thinking about this that it's going to have some negative consequence. For example in race relations, a lot of people have thought at times that the ideal state was a situation where everybody was exactly the same.

Q: Color wise or status wise?

A: Status wise or culture wise, as in the melting pot; not so much color wise. One of the negative consequences of the melting pot, if you really achieved it, is that all of the richness of the individual cultural entities could be effectively lost in the process of reframing them to fit in this larger composite whole. If I've identified that as a negative consequence of my vision, and I say to myself, "wait, there's too much richness here," somehow we've got to find a way to achieve some degree of harmony without losing the richness of the variety of differential human experience.

Q: Harmony, while maintaining difference?

A: I'm just hypothesizing that my first take at a goal may have led to the consequence of losing the continued existence of cultural specific ways of dealing with reality, ways of seeing reality. That may cause me to go back and reframe my goal a little bit, because I still want the positive interaction going on in my future. I want to revise what it would look like so it would be inclusive of cultural diversity rather than moving towards a melting pot.