I have followed the letters to the editor over the winter as a few of your readers have weighed in about our civic engagement work at NH Listens and our local partner, Lakes Region Listens. Until now, we have chosen not to respond to any of these letters. We are more interested in being part of a public dialogue where everyone can speak and be heard equally than rely on the impersonal nature of an opinion column. But I am concerned that your readers might have formed an incorrect view of our work, so I have decided to respond at this time with a few corrections to recent letters printed here from Rosemary Landry of Meredith, Greg Hill of Northfield, and Ken Gorrell of Northfield.
First, NH Listens isn't a corporation, a PR firm, or a corporate front group. If we were, I bet I'd spend less time writing grants and worrying about funding. We are employees of the University of New Hampshire interested in helping communities to come together and discuss in a civil, safe environment the issues that they have identified as important to them.
Second, we are often referred to in these concerned letters as using a "Delphi technique" of facilitation. We weren't sure exactly what that was, so we Googled it. It appears to be a method to communicate information systematically through a panel of experts. That would not be an accurate description of NH Listens or Lakes Region Listens, the group formed by local residents and the Lakes Region United Way to address Lakes Region issues. Our role is to facilitate conversations among attendees and identify common themes that arise in multiple small groups. Facilitated small-group discussion is useful because it allows people to not only voice their opinions and their questions, but to have an exchange of values, beliefs, and ideas with others in the group. This is different from the format used at town meetings or school board meetings where there is usually only one-way communication, often time-limited and rarely interactive. We see our work as complementing, not substituting for, these more official occasions.
I could make this letter longer, but I'm told fewer people would get to the end. So here is what I suggest to your readers. Please come to an event and decide for yourself. We are really proud of our mission, and the feedback we are receiving from participants at these sessions tells us we are doing useful work in communities across the state. There is a Granite State Future conversation at the Laconia Middle School on Tuesday, May 7. A full calendar of NH Listens events and more information about our work and who we are can be found at www.nhlistens.org. If you have questions, call us at 862-0692.