Laying the Groundwork: Planning a Conversation


It can be difficult to know where to start with planning conversations you'll facilitate, so we'll provide some steps to get you going, beginning with choosing a topic.

Choosing a Topic and Goal

Sometimes choosing a topic can be straightforward. For instance, you may have a clear agenda for a staff meeting, or there might be a hot topic in the community that you know people want to talk about. Other times, things can be a little more ambiguous and a topic may not immediately come to mind.

In moments like this, having tips and tools to help select a topic for conversation can be extremely helpful. In the video below you will hear library workers talk about how they identify topics for discussion. Following the video, you will be given prompts to help you start thinking about potential topics and goals for your own conversations.

Click here to access the Conversation Planning Tool (pdf) for this module (What's this?)

Do you already know which topic you want to have a conversation about? See this flowchart to clarify your ideas and think through next steps.

Conversation Flowchart

Conversation Planning Flowchart

Clarify Goals

As you arrive at the topic for the conversation you will facilitate, you should also reflect on and clarify your goals, linking them to possible outcomes. The NCDD has distilled facilitated conversations into four general goal areas with corresponding outcomes. And although often one of the goals below will be most predominant, these goal areas do not need to be mutually exclusive – for instance, in one meeting between the library and community partners you may end up committing to work collaboratively on a community food drive and also arrive at the decision to host it annually. The graphic below outlines four goals you may wish to consider for your conversation.

Click here to download this graphic as a pdf.

Identifying conversation goals - graphic

On your Conversation Planning Tool:

  • Identify an issue or program important to your community or library that you think might be enhanced by conversation.
  • Write what you believe should be the primary goal(s) of your conversation. What are you aiming to accomplish?
  • Once you think you have a topic and goal, who can you talk to to get feedback on your ideas? Talk to people who might be a part of the conversation to find out if they feel it is relevant.

Understanding Your Topic

Now that you’ve identified a topic and goal or goals, it’s time to build a deeper understanding of it. Doing this is key to leading a successful conversation. While you don’t need to be a subject matter expert on your chosen topic, a little research will help you plan the right way to approach the discussion. It will also help you feel at ease when you are in the room.

There are many ways to carry out this background research; watch the video below to hear how several library workers have approached this important facilitation step.

Types of Research

Below are some things to consider while researching your topic:

  • Have you done a bit of background reading about this topic? (You certainly don’t need to be an expert, but having a general understanding helps.)
  • Have you talked to others about this topic? Are you aware of opinions on all sides of the issue?
  • What might you gather for participants to look at before or during the conversation?
  • What might you gather for participants to take with them?

Who Can Help? Partners and Supporters as Resources

You don’t have to do this alone! Many times, other organizations or individuals in your community or nearby have expertise and experience in the topic you will be facilitating. Engaging partners and community stakeholders can deepen the impact of your conversation, provide facilitation help, and even aid in bringing participants. Don’t be afraid to reach out! Watch the video below to hear how various library workers have harnessed the partnership of outside individuals and organizations, and then scroll down to begin thinking about who your library can partner with.

Potential Partners

Organizations and individuals that can contribute to a conversation in the library are numerous. Perhaps you already have solid partnerships to draw on, but perhaps there are other possible collaborations you haven't considered. See the list below for some ideas.

  • American Legion
  • Lion’s Club
  • Elk’s Club
  • 4H
  • Local Faith Groups and Churches
  • League of Women Voters
  • Rotary International
  • Loyal Order of Moose
  • Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts Groups
  • Local businesses
  • Local colleges, universities and schools
  • Neighboring libraries
  • Local history associations/societies
  • State humanities councils
  • State and local arts councils
  • Volunteer organizations/clubs
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • City/town officials and departments
  • Community foundations and philanthropists
  • PTAs
  • Correctional facilities
  • Parks and Recreation Departments
  • County extensions
  • Health clinics or hospitals
  • State NAACP
  • Urban Leagues
  • Local gardening clubs
  • Sierra Clubs or other environmental organizations

Module Resources

Establishing a discussion topic and goals are important early steps in the conversation-planning process. Your community (patrons and partners) are important resources for helping shape your topic and how it is framed. And while some research is helpful, you as a facilitator are not expected to be an expert on the subject! Use your skills to help identify the most important information to make available to participants before, during, or after the conversation. These building blocks will prepare for your next step: Setting up the conversation.

Keep the following resources with you as you continue to learn:

Next Section: Navigating Logistics & Setting Up A Conversation