Deliberative Dialogue as an Evaluation Strategy to Enhance the Leadership Capacity of Community Leaders and Community Coalitions

LaBara, Kimberly, Shannon Johnson, and Kathleen Zimmerman-Oster

Action research involved a series of previously scheduled community dialogues to inform local needs related to substance abuse prevention. Several federally-funded community coalitions, required to document their processes, outcomes, and ability to enhance the leadership capacity of their community leaders, hosted youth “deliberative dialogues.” The purpose of these events was to understand the local challenges to preventing substance abuse. This work involved collecting needs assessment data from community leaders to determine the extent to which they believe a variety of organizations, community leaders, and community sectors should play a role in preventing substance abuse in their community. This project builds on the drug prevention coalition literature by employing youth voices to understand peer perceptions and experiences with how to prevent underage drinking, smoking and drug use.

Deliberative dialogues are focused conversations that involve the framing of complex issues that have public significance. They are moderated discussions that weigh the cost, benefits, and tradeoffs of several approaches to addressing the problem and in the end will ideally develop a deeper, shared understanding of the issues. Deliberative dialogue emphasizes the value of the process rather than a particular point of view and assumes better informed citizens make more viable decisions and are more likely to take action regarding the issue at hand.

Dialogue events in previous years have only used intuitive interpretation by community organizers to distill the results of the needs assessment strategy into planning and implementation of strategies. This project allowed a more social scientific approach to analyzing the conversations that took place. Audio tape transcipts of the dialogues were created and qualitatively analyzed using NVivo software that generates themes and categories of results. In addition, post-event surveys were administered to obtain participant reactions and learning. Findings were reported back to the community coalitions and will be used for academic articles to inform future initiatives.