A Community Conversation Model

Community Engagement 2016When OPL began this project, our grant consultants modeled a facilitated community conversation with staff members.  The group consisted of one or two staff members from each of our 12 locations.  The community was defined as the Omaha Public Library system.  After the conversation, the participants were asked to replicate the model at their own locations.  Those that repeated the structured conversation reported a positive experience with their co-workers.  Common agreement points were that “staff needs to be engaged first before the community can be [engaged]” and “work to make sure staff is in place that cares about OPL and furthering its goals”.

The detailed agenda with facilitation tips follows.  Feel free to use this model for your own community conversations.  All you have to do is substitute the community’s name for the words library, OPL, branch, and Omaha.     


Please use this supporting document to reproduce the community conversation experience you had at Abrahams Branch on 12 March 2013.  We’ve given you the day’s outline to help you succeed.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.

Facilitation Tips

  • These are community conversations.
  • Your job as a facilitator is to make people feel heard.
  • It’s not your job to defend the library, determine accuracy, and/or agree or disagree with the participant.
  • It’s important to capture what is said and confirm that you accurately reflected their words in writing.
  • If problems arise, feel free to state that this forum is not about solving problems. The forum’s purpose is to identify issues that need to be addressed.  The collected answers will be shared.

Feel free to use any or all of this information as you facilitate conversations at your branch.  Each facilitation technique is briefly explained.

Please write down the responses from the Current Issues Facing OPL, Resources, and Actions in The Community Conversation section below.  Put the responses into a Word document and send them to the designated person.

 Context / Introduction


One minute life story  17285641006_7106536788_z

  • Each person finds a partner.
  • The first person tells his or her life story in one minute.
  • The second person then tells his or her life story in one minute.
  • Ask yourselves if you’ve learned something new about each other.

Grant Description

Our IMLS grant, Creating a Collaborative Culture through Community Engagement, is designed to help us become a community nexus as described in our Strategic Plan 2011.  While programs bring people into the library for materials and services and outreach takes our materials and services outside the library, community engagement is more about being a part of the community.  As a nexus, the library becomes a place for individuals and organizations to meet, discuss, and/or resolve the community’s underlying issues (i.e., the socioeconomic divide, inclusiveness, growth and development, etc.).  The library’s role may include providing a safe, neutral space; a trained facilitator for a group; and/or resources such as carefully selected materials and/or research that support the group’s purpose or goals.

Session’s Purpose

  • Introduce the IMLS grant
  • Model a community conversation
  • Learn and connect with each other

The Community Conversation (with OPL as the shared community)

Future of OPL

  • Have everyone form 3-person groups.
  • Discuss this question – What are your hopes and/or aspirations for the library?
  • Share responses with the entire group.
  • Write down the responses.

Current Issues Facing OPL

  • Have everyone form 3-person groups.
  • Discuss the three most important issues facing OPL that might keep your hopes from happening in your groups.
  • Have each group share one item with the entire room.
  • After every group’s turn, ask for any answers that aren’t written down.


  • Ask participants to total their answers to the five questions below –
    • How connected do you feel to? Rate from 1 to 5 (1 is low, 5 is high)
      • People I work with most often?
      • Everyone in my branch?
      • The library system?
      • The library profession?
      • Omaha?
    • Start counting down from 25. (25 is the maximum total of points)
    • Ask everyone to raise their hand when they hear their number.

Discussion: If you felt more connected, how would it change your life?  Write down the answers.Connections 4





  • Have everyone form 4 or 5 person groups.
  • Discuss these questions in your groups –
    • Do you know where to go to solve problems?
    • What do you do when you have an idea to share?
    • Is the process working at OPL?
  • Write down the answers.


  • Give everyone a piece of paper and write down the answer to this question –
    • What should OPL do to address these issues?
  • Have everyone crumple their piece of paper into a snowball.
  • Throw the snowballs into the middle of the room.
  • Everyone picks up a snowball and reads the answer to the group.

Posted by Theresa Jehlik, Project Manager

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