Community Conversations: deliberative democracy, education provision and divided societies

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How can Community Conversations be used to give communities a voice in policy decisions? This paper is a response to the challenge of engaging citizens in inclusive, meaningful dialogue and deliberation on potentially sensitive policy topics that affect their lives and to create a bridge between individual, community and policy perspectives. This dual aim therefore is to give individuals and communities a stronger voice in key decisions affecting them and to provide stakeholders involved in public policy and decision-making a genuine evidence base which they can use to inform their work. This challenge is even greater in divided societies where consensus building can be difficult. The paper focuses on a Community Conversation methodology and the innovative Community Conversation Toolkit developed by the authors as a mechanism for deliberative democracy through citizen engagement in important public policy decisions. Particular attention is given to the application of the Community Conversation methodology in relation to educational change and sustainability in Northern Ireland, a divided society. The methodology and context are aligned with a socio-ecological perspective which provides a conceptual lens to better understand the complex interplay that spans individual (micro) to policy (macro) levels. In addition to providing a theoretical foundation for the methodology, its application in a specific educational context is presented and discussed. It is therefore intended that the paper provides a rubric for the adaptation and application of the Community Conversation approach in a wide range of policy settings and contexts in order to evoke change. The value of the approach in enabling constructive dialogue on sensitive topics in a divided society is explored throughout the paper. Using an exemplar where divergent community views on school provision were shared, we synthesise the Community Conversation methodology with the socio-ecological approach to illustrate how our approach is particularly suited to closing the gap between parents/communities and policy stakeholders and enabling change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalSN Social Sciences
Issue number45
Early online date20 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 20 Jan 2021


  • Community Conversation
  • Decision-making
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Education
  • Educational change
  • Northern Ireland
  • Socio-ecological perspective


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