UMass Boston

Public Deliberation Program

MOPC’s Public Deliberation Program was founded in 2006 through a start-up grant from the Kettering Foundation to help communities address important and difficult public issues and move toward collective action through designing and holding deliberative dialogues with community members. Through this Program, MOPC has trained conflict resolution practitioners, community mediation centers, university students and community leaders to moderate dialogues, and incorporate new approaches to community engagement and public decision-making.  

This Program is centered around the practice of public deliberation, which is a way to bring together community members to explore options for addressing public issues. These moderated conversations do not advocate specific solutions or points of view but ask participants to weigh the benefits, drawbacks, and tradeoffs of potential options, and to identify the concerns and goals they hold in common. This model allows participants to speak their minds as well as listen to other people’s concerns and what they value. Deliberation can reveal new possibilities for action that neither the public nor community leaders saw before, and can set the stage for collaborative problem-solving, policy development, and planning.  


MOPC staff coach community leaders in thinking about and deploying new approaches to public engagement. Through a series of meetings, MOPC coaches the leaders through their goals and aspirations, and offers insights into structures for more robust and authentic engagement and methods for more inclusive communication with the public. Leaders try these new approaches and debrief with the coaches as well as discuss how to continue improving practices. Example: A town administrator worked with the MOPC coaches to develop tools for boosting participation and including more voices in community decision-making around the town budget.  


Excellent dialogue materials are available from many public sources (such as the National Issues Forums Institute) that can be used to foster community connection and understanding of complex issues. These materials can often be adapted to include more localized information. MOPC staff can assist with identifying topics of interest, convening, and moderating one or a series of dialogues on public issues of interest to local government agencies, community organizations, and residents. 

In other instances, an issue may call for community-specific framing. MOPC staff can assist in creating materials for public deliberation, including clarifying the issue and identifying possible approaches to addressing it. Framing is often done through interviews, surveys and/or focus groups. MOPC can then assist the community in convening and moderating conversations to explore the options and make collective decisions. Example: MOPC staff assisted a rural town in framing dialogues around planning for the future use of open space and recreation. A series of conversations allowed community members to deliberate and offer their perspectives to town.  


The Program can also provide moderator training as part of some community initiatives as having trained moderators in the community allows for sustainable engagement. These workshops are typically 1-2 days, depending on the community’s needs, and can be combined with a series of dialogues where new moderators can practice their skills.   

MOPC staff have also taught workshops and short courses in public deliberation, primarily in partnership with departments at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  


For many years, MOPC has partnered with the Kettering Foundation on various projects and research. For example, MOPC staff were part of a research exchange that looked at how leaders identify and incorporate more democratic approaches in their work with communities. 

MOPC is a long-time organizational member of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD), a network of individuals and organizations that work to help communities have more productive conversations. MOPC has collaborated with NCDD on several of its regional and national conferences and  partnered to conduct a deliberative conversation at the Boston Public Library  to coincide with the inaugural 2018 National Week of Conversation.   

MOPC’s Public Deliberation Program is one of a growing coalition of programs, tentatively named the New England Initiatives for Democratic Practices, where members share knowledge, explore collaborative projects, and seek ways to expand the reach of this work in New England.  

MOPC Contacts 

Courtney Breese, Program Manager,  

Mette Kreutzmann, Director of Programs & Operations,  

Main office: 617.287.4040 

Other Resources 

Learn more about the reach of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation at 

Learn more about the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation at 

Learn more and review the resources of the National Issues Forums Institute at