As President Obama and Vice President Biden host a National Conference on Mental Health as part of their Administration's launch of a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness of mental health, I wanted to share about a “Community Living Room Conversation” that I observed in March. This Community LRC focused on improving Contra Costa CA’s public health system. The conversation invited care providers, patients and patient’s families to participate in structured conversations adapted from http://www.lrsandbox.com (an open source project). To the best of my knowledge this was the first Living Room Conversation of this kind. Rather than a small group of friends with different political views, these people had very different views of a system that is not working optimally. They all wanted the system to work better. I was delighted to see that the Living Room Conversations are indeed adaptable and enabled these people to hear each other and have a thoughtful conversation about an issue that was of great personal importance to them.
The organizers found the Community Living Room Conversations valuable so, I met with one of the organizers to help her improve the structure of the conversation for additional conversations on this topic around the county. We agreed that though the first conversation was good and participants liked it, we could make it better. There had been over ten people in each of the two groups. This reduced the relationship building and diminished participation. Next time smaller groups and separate rooms for each group. Also the initial rounds focused on building trust were less time consuming in this particular non-partisan conversation leaving room for an additional round about hopes and dreams for the system.
We are delighted that Living Room Conversations are getting used in ways we had not imagined. This is the power and the joy of an open source effort. We share what we know and learn more from each other as we engage. I don’t know about all the Living Room Conversations that have taken place this year, I hope there are hundreds! And I hope that those of you that try them let us know what happened. Help us build our understanding of how to use these conversations to make our communities stronger and relationships richer.