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Abstract

The experiences gained in almost two decades of supporting community-based deliberative processes highlight the importance of balancing participants’ desire for civility and safety with the passionate expression of deeply held values and beliefs. Effective deliberations may surface highly contested positions in which intimidation or bullying can occur. At times, even the deliberative process itself may become the object of ideological objections. This has the potential to a create a climate of fear on the part of participants and public officials seeking solutions to complex issues related to public investments, long-term planning, or improved governance. We apply the metaphor of “community compost” to emphasize the value of eliciting diverse points of view on hot topics that have divided residents as well as public officials. By turning the fertile soil of passion, values, and disagreement, we have been able to find common ground useful to decision-makers. Balancing the need for safety and the benefits of strong disagreement, shared understanding and agreement may be achieved.

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