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Community Dialogues Help Immigrants And Longer-Term Residents Bridge The Cultural Gap

Case Story

Community: San Mateo County
Population:745,858 (2009)


Through its new Immigrant Engagement Project, the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) is creating opportunities for dialogue that allow recent immigrants and long-term residents of San Mateo County to get to know each other better. These dialogues will also help identify shared interests and community concerns about public services including education, community development, health and safety. After a series of intra- and inter-community dialogue sessions PCRC plans to convene a countywide summit to bring together dialogue participants and local officials to discuss the outcomes.

PCRC serves residents throughout San Mateo County and is funded in part by cities and the county. The Immigrant Engagement Project is funded in part by the “Bridging the Cultural Gap” program of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Process Highlights

  • Multi-session intra- community dialogues are held within respective groups of long-term residents, immigrant youth, immigrant parents, and faith-specific communities, Pacific Islanders, Mexican-Americans and Latin Americans originally from countries other than Mexico. The purpose of these dialogues is to create a safe space for participants to tell their story, get educated about issues that impact their lives, identify issues of common concern and develop individual or group action plans to address the community’s concerns about public services including education, community development, health and safety.
  • Following the intra-community dialogue sessions, inter-community dialogues bring together elected and appointed local officials with participants across ethnicity, faith communities and generations. The purpose of the inter-community dialogues is to help build connections and identify issues of shared concern across ethnic and generational differences. Emerging leaders identified during the intra-community dialogues are trained to take on leadership and facilitation roles in the inter- community dialogues.
  • A countywide summit will bring together all the dialogue participants and local officials to discuss the outcomes of the community dialogues.

Lessons Learned

  • Dialogues among people who speak the same language, share similar experiences and cultural norms can be a critical first step to getting community members comfortable with sharing their experiences and views in more mixed groups.
  • Dialogues convened by trusted community members and community-based groups are more likely to be considered a safe space and thus generate broad participation.
  • Community dialogues require well-trained facilitators and transparent conveners who are able to communicate effectively and be clear about the purpose and process of the dialogues.
  • Community dialogues require an investment of time from participants, conveners, and supporters.
  • Community dialogues are an effective way to involve community members who might not typically be able to or feel comfortable attending a public meeting. Such inclusive public engagement informed by concerns voiced by a wider range of community members can support effective decision-making by local officials.

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