Moving Conversations to Communities: How to Host an Actionable On the Table

By Cheryl Hughes, Former Senior Director of Civic Engagement for The Chicago Community Trust

While making connections, talking and listening to our neighbors over a meal is at the heart of On the Table, we know that over the past four years, so many participants have taken these conversations a step further. They’ve worked with each other to take action, and make change in their community.
But how do you get there?

Hosts play an important role in not only leading the conversation, but also encouraging participants to move the ideas forward and make good things happen. This year, we want even more participants to do something coming out of On the Table. Here are five tips to host a conversation that inspires your guests to do just that:

1. Welcome differing opinions and perspectives.
As you begin to put together your invitation list, we challenge you to invite people from your network who you may not know… maybe they are a friend of a friend? Or ask each of your guests to invite someone new. You could bring together people in your network that may not know each other. By doing so, you will inspire dynamic table conversations—filled with fresh perspectives, innovative voices and new faces.

2. Encourage solutions.
After guests have the opportunity to introduce themselves and spend some time getting to know one another, it is imperative that you remind your guests that On The Table is more than just time to complain about issues—think about ways you can address these challenges. It’s an opportunity to move ideas from the table into actionable next steps.

3. Make a plan.
Before your conversation comes to a close, spend a few moments discussing possible next steps toward action. These can include, but are definitely not limited to: coordinating a follow-up meeting or conversation, reaching out to or getting involved with relevant organizations or committing to submitting an entry for the Acting Up awards (more below). New this year, we’ve also created a Take Action Worksheet (30.7KB) to help walk your table through identifying actions you can take, as a group or as individuals, to move your conversation from ideas to impact.

4. Invite guests to “own” action.
As you begin to determine next steps, give guests the opportunity to spearhead or “own” making things happen. Perhaps you take some time to divide and conquer tasks. Maybe someone at your table has a particular skill set or network that can help a certain area of your strategy. Regardless, set your plan in motion with time-driven goals as you work toward meaningful action.

5. Apply for an Acting Up award
Since 2016, the Trust has supported actions taken by residents after their On the Table conversations through the Acting Up awards —totaling $195,500 for 135 diverse projects. This year, we’re giving away more than $150,000. It is the hope that these intentionally small awards, with winners chosen by a community selection committee, offer support to the grassroots and community-based solutions that emerge from conversations. Urge your guests to to apply for an Acting Up award—which simply requires them to submit a two-minute video application. Even better… submissions don’t require anything fancy or special. The Trust actually encourages videos using the camera on a smart phone!
I am continually impressed by and grateful for the hosts who commit to On the Table conversations each year. Whether this is your first time hosting an On the Table conversation or you are a returning host, your leadership is truly inspiring positive action and change across the Chicagoland region and into our communities.

Originally posted April 18, 2018 by the Chicago Community Trust. Reprinted with permission

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