Centre for Dialogue

Early in 1998, Simon Fraser University was planning to create a Centre for Dialogue in downtown Vancouver. I had a high regard for the University and frequently had breakfast with David Mitchell, one of the University’s Vice Presidents, to talk about ideas. I was interested in creating a relationship with Simon Fraser University for Go Direct Marketing and even more interested in the idea of a Centre for Dialogue.

I presented my ideas on what I imagined the Centre for Dialogue could do and what we could do to build support for the idea and get the Centre for Dialogue started. I proposed a Dialogue on Canadian Unity as an opening event to demonstrate the role the Centre could play and how this could contribute to our interests. These are my notes.

Creating the Centre for Dialogue

Dialogue: an exchange of ideas and opinion
Facility: Something that makes an action or course of conduct easier.
Forum: a public meeting place for open discussion

What is the Centre for Dialogue

A forum that provides opportunities for the exchange of ideas and opinions around issues of common interest to facilitate the creation of new insights and new ideas to act on

Objectives of the Centre for Dialogue

  • To articulate issues of common interest
  • To create widespread awareness of issues of common interest
  • To develop communities of common interest
  • To create opportunities for dialogue within communities of common interest
  • To create relationships within and between communities of common interest
  • To service the needs of communities of common interest with new insights, ideas, and opportunities to act

Audience Development Objectives


Dialogue participants

Management objectives

To attract respected and respectful individuals who will positively contribute to the Centre’s objectives

Benefits for the audience

To provide them with the opportunity to:

  • participate in a learning experience
  • contribute their ideas and opinions to a large, receptive audience
  • create or strengthen relationships with other high potential contributors and influencers
  • be part of a process that creates new ideas and stimulates new initiatives

Desired outcomes for the audience

To create advocates for and active ongoing participants in the Centre for Dialogue




Management objectives

To reach, stimulate the interest, and serve the ongoing interests of individuals who are in a position to positively influence social change

Benefits for the audience

To provide them with the opportunity to

  • learn more about issues of concern to them
  • learn how they might become more involved in initiatives to find solutions

Desired outcomes for the audience

To establish the Centre of Dialogue as a primary source of information, opportunities to learn, and opportunities to collaborate on issues of interest and concern to them

Opening the Centre for Dialogue

1. Inaugural Series

First series to include dialogues on:

  • Canadian unity
  • Future for youth
  • Future for the arts
  • Cross cultural communication
  • Leadership
  • Importance and benefits of dialogue

2. Location for the Inaugural Series

Create a set that looks like the interior of the Centre. Two concentric rows of seating. No front. Audio visual and presentation facilities all around the walls. Proposed location: Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre; full facilities and services; close to Harbour Centre; close to replicating the experience to come.

3. Participants in the Dialogue

Individuals who:

  • Can bring different points of view based on their role, experience, expertise, personal characteristics and nature of their involvement in the issue
  • Have a high level of concern and interest in the issue
  • Will have or will quickly earn the respect and interest of other participants
  • Are respectful, open, confident, and who are interested in and understand the benefits of learning from other point of view
  • Are able to make positive contributions to the dialogue
  • Are able to bring an audience with them
  • Are free from the need to judge ideas or opinions in the context of their own perception and belief systems
  • Agree to conduct themselves in a manner that seeks to build on ideas and focus on how to make things work rather than on why they won’t work

4. Organization and Resources

Determine the functions to be performed and joint venture with organizations to deliver the audiences, product, revenue, relationships, and community development results.

5. Moderators and Protocols

Establish new nomenclature for and understanding of the dialogue process

6. Event Strategy

  • Articulate the issue in language that is outcome oriented; advisors to the Centre using input from the community being serviced
  • Determine the participants in the dialogue using input from the community served
  • Obtain widespread input from the community being served
  • Provide participants with input from the community and have each participant articulate and contribute their ideas and points of view with their contribution being focused on increasing understanding of the issue and on initiatives that might contribute to positive change
  • Publish in print, video, or electronic form the contribution of each participant to other Dialogue participants in preparation for the event
  • Conduct and record the results of the Dialogue
  • Publish, distribute, and broadcast the input and results of the event along with the additional opportunities available to those who are interested in learning more or becoming more involved
    Service the ongoing needs of the customer

7. Marketing

  • Create ongoing communication to service the interests of the ICARE market
  • Create specialized communications in specific areas of interest
  • Establish systems to track interest and response behaviour

8. Partners

Key Partners

National Broadcasters
Canadian Centre for Philanthropy
Knowledge Managers and Producers

Secondary Partners

Any socially responsible corporate partner
Groups of third sector organizations focused on common issues

9. Other issues

Board Composition

Dialogue on Canadian Unity: An Example


Order of Canada recipients; Different backgrounds, careers, demographics, and representative of different audiences or market segments
Common link; Interest in Canada’s future
Selection of specific individuals; Based on participant selection criteria

Focus of Dialogue

Their ideas and opinions on:

What is Canada?
What does it feel like to be Canadian?
What would they like to see happen?
What do they think needs to be done to make it happen?
What can we do to make it happen?
What can the average Canadian who cares do to make it happen?


Before the event

1. Provide participants with input on how average Canadians feel, by market segment, to give them some input for their thinking; could include input from other Order of Canada recipients
2. Have them individually articulate their point of view using a common framework
3. Have points of view videotaped
4. Distribute to other participants along with other background information

At the event

1. Create an experience for the participants and their audiences
2. Video conference and videotape

After the event

1. Publish and broadcast highlights of input and output
2. Provide recipients with opportunities to respond
3. Track response and interest

Ideas for the Centre for Dialogue – PDF

What happened

The Centre for Dialogue opened in September 2000. David Mitchell became the President and CEO of Canada’s Public Policy Forum in January 2009. I registered www.centreforcreativeconversation.com in April 2012.

Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue
Canada’s Public Policy Forum

Creative connections

Centre for Creative Conversation
Centre for Learning
Community Learning Centre
Centre for Literacy
Centre for Democracy
Creating our Learning Systems
Creative Community Centre