Learn About SD
Sustained Dialogue as a change process is the conceptualization of two decades of dialogues. Bringing the same group together repeatedly, we began to see that relationships among participants changed through a recognizable pattern. We thought defining this pattern might enable us to transfer the experience of changing relationships to other conflicts and to teach the process to others.
SD differs from most other change processes in two ways (1) It focuses on transforming the relationships that cause problems, create conflict, and block change. SD works within a carefully defined concept of relationship —both an analytical and an operational tool for SD moderators. (2) Since relationships change only over time, SD is presented as a five-stage process . The stages are a guide to moderators and participants—not a rigid template to be slavishly followed. SD moderators must begin by internalizing the concept of relationship and the special work that defines each of the five stages.
Stage One: People in conflict or in change-blocking relationships decide to
engage in dialogue as a way of changing those relationships. They select SD because they feel they need to act and SD is something they can do that would make a difference. This decision can take a long time and may involve a citizens’ organization to help. [click on change process for a more detailed description of what happens in this stage].
Stage Two: Participants come together to talk—to map and name the elements of those problems and the relationships responsible for creating and dealing with them. In early meetings, this talk can be diffuse, and participants vent their grievances and anger with each other. This stage will end at least for a time when the group agrees, “What we really need to focus on is. . . .”
Stage Three: In more disciplined talk, participants probe specific problems to uncover the dynamics of underlying relationships with these aims: (1) to define the most pressing problems; (2) to probe the dynamics of the relationships that cause them; (3) to identify possible ways into those relationships to change them; (4) to weigh those approaches to come to a sense of direction; (5) to weigh the consequences of moving in that direction against the consequences of doing nothing; and (6) to decide whether to try designing such change.
Stage Four: Together, they design a scenario of interacting steps in the political arena to change troublesome relationships and to engage others. They ask five questions: What resources to we have? What are the obstacles to moving in this direction? What steps could overcome those obstacles? Who could take those steps? How could we sequence those steps so that they interact—one building on another—to generate momentum behind the plan for acting?
Stage Five: Participants devise ways to put that scenario into the hands of those who can act on it and ways of judging achievement.
To learn more about Dr. Saunders' Concept of a Relationship, Click Here.
A Visual Representation of the Five Stages of Sustained Dialogue

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