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America On Guns. Creating civil dialogues online.'s video poster

A better way to bring opposing viewpoints together online for meaningful, productive conversations. A wide look at America on Guns. Read more

New York, NY Journalism
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This project was successfully funded on November 11, 2013.

A better way to bring opposing viewpoints together online for meaningful, productive conversations. A wide look at America on Guns.

New York, NY Journalism
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About this project

It is difficult to have rational, meaningful dialogues about contentious issues online, but when it works, it can be transformative. We have a process that has been proven to produce more meaningful exchanges. We want to engage the American people in broad, civil conversations around the most divisive subjects, starting with the issues surrounding gun violence

Yeah, we've been worried about that too, and we're not the only ones. That's why we've developed this technique (and the technology to run it) called Small Group Dialogues. What we've learned is that even though conversations on the web often suck, that's not because people do. The early and lasting implementation of the web just wasn't built for civility. We've used SGD before and studied the impact. It fosters civility and transforms arguments into discussions. 

In short, participants are put into small groups sorted for diversity, and asked to commit to make regular contributions over a fixed period of time. They are also asked to participate using their real name. This combination of small groups, commitment to each other and transparency about identity are the critical combination that allows civil conversation to take place. The best of these conversations and the insights from participant surveys become the material for a capstone report. Want to know more about the process? The report "Transforming Dialogues" (PDF), jointly funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Markle Foundation, goes deep.

Each small group dialogue session lasts for three weeks, with new groups starting on a rolling basis as participants sign up. The overall effort, America On: Guns, will open first groups in December and continue to form new ones through January, with the last dialogues concluding in February. We expect to have the major report completed and distributed by the end of March.

We can move more nimbly using Kickstarter than through a long granting cycle, but more importantly, Kickstarter lets us connect directly to you, the people whose voices we want in this important conversation. Through direct contribution of program costs, you become part of the community crucial to its success.  

Because we've been developing this technology continuously for 15 years (we used it recently with the Smithsonian Museum of American History), we're able to deploy these dialogues quickly. Reaching out to communities of participants, curating the live conversations and developing and evangelizing the resulting report are all about having a team dedicated to the effort. If just 500 people pledge $15, we'll launch America on Guns in December. If we exceed our goal, any additional funds will go towards expanding the participant outreach and enriching the depth and breadth of the report. If you'd like to pledge more (or less) than the $15, we'd of course appreciate it (you can use the "Other" button in the pledge process) but we believe we could bootstrap from a passionate community of small donors. We'd love your support, and we need your voice!

All backers of the project, starting at the $15 Community Level, will receive early invitations to the first dialogue groups and your name as a Friend on the America On website. You'll also have access to an early draft of the resulting report to provide additional feedback for the final version. 

If you'd like to give a bit more, the $25 Supporter Level throws in a "Be Civil" coffee mug. The Advocate Level comes in at $50 and sets you up with a "Be Civil" cell phone charger for your commute.

And finally, the $300 Producer Level includes the Community Level perks and provides a chance to learn more about the SGD process through a web-based workshop, and a lunch with the team in New York City. 

After the dialogues are completed, we’ll combine pre- and post-participation surveys with extended excerpts from the best of the conversations into a report to distribute more broadly. The report’s goal is to focus on the benefits of civil discourse for identifying common ground and surprising insights, in the hope of softening the hardened lines of disagreement. We’ll distribute this report broadly to the press, action organizations and politicians. 

We're GMD Studios, a small innovation shop focused on how to create more meaningful experiences for communities and groups. While our work has a huge variety, we've been grappling with how the web might change dialogue and community as far back as our first collaboration with PBS and The Well in 1997. (Please checkout our site for more info on what we do.)

Special thanks to Cowboy Bear Ninja for creating the video!

Risks and challenges

The challenge with this type of project is finding a balanced mix of participants willing to commit to the project. It takes a willingness to be actively involved for a short period of time. While we are confident we’ll have a large pool of participants, getting a balanced mix is critical, and will take some coordination.

All the more reason to share with a friend, or the relative you always argue with at Thanksgiving dinner.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $15 or more

    37 backers

    Community Level.

    Receive an early invitation to participate in the first dialogue groups and add your name as a Friend on the America on Guns website.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    52 backers

    Supporter Level.

    You'll have the full Community Level perks plus we'll send you an awesome "Be Civil" coffee mug to help keep your mornings grouch free.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    21 backers

    Advocate Level.

    Community Level plus the vital "Be Civil" USB car cell phone charger to make sure your lines of communication remain open during your commute.

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $300 or more

    8 backers

    Producer Level.

    The Advocate package plus access to a web-based workshop on designing and implement civil conversations online, and a Producer's Lunch in New York City (sorry, we can't help with travel or accommodations).

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States

Funding period

- (21 days)