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Our goal was to host one-on-one conversations with little or no moderation. The Seattle Council on American-Islamic Relations helped us find Muslims who were willing to answer questions.
We recruited listeners over the air to participate as “askers.” It took about six weeks to organize our first event, which was held at the KUOW studios.
We had learned a great deal about choreographing the events so the movement of participants from one conversation to the next went smoothly and audio recording at the event didn’t disrupt the conversations.
That fall we received a ,000 University of Washington Amazon Catalyst grant and ,800 contributed by KUOW major donors towards a second season for 2017.
We also wanted to see if civil dialogues increased trust and empathy enough to address profound differences within a diverse population.
We worked with researchers at the University of Washington — communications professor Valerie Manusov and doctoral candidate Danny Stofleth — to design a valid scientific survey of participants’ attitudes and understanding of the group they met at ”Ask A …” events.
The result is that we have fewer encounters with those who have different beliefs, and we don’t know how to talk to each other.
Trying to have a civil conversation with family members or friends can sometimes feel like a lost cause.
The divisions transcend party affiliations of Democrats and Republicans.
This was when conversations really took off between participants, as their earlier one-on-one discussions had been cut short.
When the event was over, we had to forcefully tell people that it was time to leave. We held a second “Ask A Muslim” in August 2016, using the same format in a different location, a South Seattle community center. The community engagement team decided to try and grow the “Ask A …” idea.
We arranged seating so that eight Muslim “answerers” sat in a circle facing eight “askers.” A bell rang and conversations began.
Eight minutes later, the bell rang again and non-Muslims moved one seat to the left for another conversation.