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Free Intelligent Conversation (FreeIC)

Bring people together to learn from each other by starting meaningful conversations in public places using signs.

Photo of Kyle Emile
31 13

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

As a society we’ve succeeded in growing our technological connectedness, while simultaneously failing to grow our understanding of each other. This has resulted in a shared anxiety towards engaging with people who are different than ourselves. For us to address this anxiety and gain the advantages of our differences, we must find a way to meaningfully engage and learn from one other. The problem is that there are no public places designated to facilitating meaningful conversations between strangers. If someone wanted to meet people of different backgrounds and meaningfully engage with them, where would they go? In a city there are few public places that actively facilitate fellowship. To mitigate this issue there must be ongoing opportunities for communities to convene and collaborate. Without these opportunities for meaningful interaction, people will remain callous towards those who are different. Free Intelligent Conversation is our solution to this problem. We organize events that facilitate meaningful conversations between strangers in public places. People sign up to lead these events in their city, then recruit volunteers to join their events. Our organization works with these leaders to equip and train volunteers (FreeIC Conversationalists) to connect with strangers through conversations. At these events volunteers go to public places and hold up signs reading "Free Intelligent Conversation," inviting people to talk about anything and everything. Our approach is an innovative and inexpensive solution to bridge communities. There are a lot of problems in the world and we believe that the first step towards a solution is to get people to talk to each other. Our vision, is for people around the world to have meaningful conversations with those in their communities. We believe that by making conversation with strangers more accessible we can positively transform both individuals and the communities, cities, and countries that they live in.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are people of all ages, demographics, and backgrounds that are looking to engage meaningfully with others. The range of people we have spoken to varies from individuals in grade school, to those enjoying the fruits of their retirement. Thus, FreeIC looks to benefit all members within a community. People benefit from Free Intelligent Conversation because we’re creating opportunities for socio-economic mixing, interpersonal growth, and generating positive contact between people of different social groups. You can find a collection of testimonials, stories, and general reactions from our beneficiaries here: http://freeic.org/testimonials

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

When attempting to start meaningful conversations across groups of people other organizations make the mistakes of trying to bring a diverse of group people to a centralized space, instead of starting conversations where diverse groups already are. This makes the barrier of entry and exit high and makes it likely that they will attract a homogenous crowd. Our unique advantage is that we start conversations in public places where diverse groups already are by using our signs. Using a sign allows us to be decentralized and to start conversations in a variety of high-foot traffic places (parks, trains stations, malls, public monuments, etc) where there's likely to be diverse groups. The signs also allow us to invite people to converse without being disruptive and makes the barrier of entry and exit as low as possible. This makes us more successful because we're able to appeal to a broader group of people and can get them involved quickly by just getting them a sign.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Our organization equips and trains volunteers to connect with strangers through meaningful conversations. www.freeic.org

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

I grew up in a diverse community where meaningful conversations between those from different backgrounds was the norm. However, when I entered adulthood I discovered that this was not the normal social environment for most communities. I wanted to find a way to meet people who were different then me and challenge myself to understand their worldviews. One day I had the idea for FreeIC; I then made my first sign and headed to the nearest metropolitan area, and I haven’t looked back since.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In our current socio-political climate — given global tension over refugees, immigration, racism, hatred, and harassment —the harmony between groups has been destabilized and is negatively affecting the Peace and Prosperity of these individuals. Free Intelligent Conversation promotes Peace and Prosperity by creating opportunities for positive contact between people of different social groups. By creating public places of active fellowship, people are able to meet and have meaningful conversations. We believe that our differences should be distinctive, not divisive. And that the first step towards Peace and Prosperity is to get polarized groups to engage in conversation. Conversation is our greatest tool for collaborating in an open-ended way. Through successfully attempting to have conversations with people who have different views, we lay the foundation for goodwill and empathy amongst each other.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our project has been implemented in 26 US cities, and 4 international cities. In addition to these volunteer led events, we have also partnered with local businesses and college campuses. Through these partnerships we have helped institutions strengthen their relationship with their local communities. Two examples: (1) We partnered with IGS Energy for their community service day. We took their Chicago office out to the streets to hold up signs and start conversations with the community. This event helped them build new relationships and strengthen trust between themselves and the local community. (2) We partnered with Andrews University to host an indoor event focused on creating meaningful interchange between students, faculty, and staff of different backgrounds. Our program enticed curiosity, engendered new connections between students of different backgrounds, and ultimately helped create a new culture that inspired both meaningful dialogue, and interpersonal growth.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Our advantage is that FreeIC is a ethnically, professionally, and socio-economically diverse community, that is strongly tied together by a shared appreciation of meaningfully connecting with people different than themselves. This allows us to have access to countless resources. This also allows us to quickly mobilize and spread our project within various communities.

Geographic Focus

We’re targeting every city. First focusing on major US cities, then major international cities.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

24 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

31 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Mensen@Missie
Team

What a great way to facilitate dialogue between people coming from all sorts of backgrounds. Keep up the good work!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Thank you and will do!

Photo of Hadi Shamieh
Team

Wow, I am amazed by the potential of this project. This issue of starting a conversation in public has always bugged me. Unfortunately, it is very easy for the public to go into a "judging mode" when approached by a stranger, especially if the stranger is an immigrant like myself. I would be more than happy to implement this on the streets of Montreal! In fact, I may have an idea that can come later as a future step to make this project even more widespread and easily adaptable. I would love to connect!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

I'd love to get connected—lets make it happen!

If you head over to http://freeic.org/apply and submit an application, we'll be in touch with you about getting the ball rolling!

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Kyle Emile 

Love this idea... Contact us #GreenStringNetwork when you are ready to to come to the African continent... We are in Nairobi Kenya and would love to host you.

Angi.

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Will do! Thank you for you kind words!

Photo of Hannah Tsadik
Team

What a brilliant and simple idea.

The organization that I work for, Life & Peace Institute (www.life-peace.org), is an international peacebuilding organization that has been supporting dialogue and convening spaces for people to meet across divides in conflict settings for over 35 years - and we are still very much learning of what works well, when, where and why... So I would learn the following from your experience:
- Which types of questions seem to be the most effective for people who are total strangers to open up and have meaningful conversations? The more “frivolous” ones about everyday life or the really intentional ones that forces those dialoguing to “go deep”?
- What types of outcomes in terms of changes in more long-term (deep-seated) behavior and attitudes in e.g. empathy, understanding etc have you seen FreeIC engender (especially given that it is a one-off interaction), in both the conversation leads and those stopping to converse?
- How do you ensure that you don’t just engage those who are already open-minded - the ‘already converted’ to stop and converse (and who’d naturally jump on to this kind of initiative), but also those who would be the least likely to stop and chat - but perhaps in most need an intelligent conversation with someone very different from them?

I’d love to hear your initial thoughts and happy to explore together with you to find the answers. Again, amazing idea which seems to have already gained a lot of well-deserved traction!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Hannah, thank you for your kind words! To answer your questions:

1) We've found that questions that prompt individual stories to be most effective at getting strangers to open up and have meaningful conversations. For example: "What is something you've learned recently?" or When you think of home, what immediately comes to mind?" Being intentional and "going deep" is what works best!

2) Qualitatively, we've had FreeIC Conversationalist (people who hold up signs) say that FreeIC is something that has changed their life, their worldview, and the way view and interact with view people. You can read some of those testimonials here: http://freeic.org/testimonials.

Quantitatively, we're using before and after surveys to measure changes in behavior and attitudes of our FreeIC Conversationalist. Due to the fact that we recently started these taking these surveys, our sample size isn't large enough to conclude anything definitively, but based on early feedback we're very optimistic about future results.

As of now, we're not measuring the impact on those who stopped for the conversations due to the complexity of capturing that data.

3) As you probably know, given your work with Life & Peace Institute, this is a really tough problem to solve for completely. That being said, there are steps we're taking to maximize the probability that we "convert" those less likely to stop: a) training: we train volunteers who join our events to be inviting without being intrusive to those walking by b) representation: our event attendees are diverse culturally, in age, and occupation—this makes those walking by curious and more likely to talk because they want to know what could unified all these different groups of people. c) location: our events are located in high-foot traffic, public places which makes it easy for those who are less-likely to stop and talk to feel safe chiming into an already ongoing conversation.

Again, thank you for your comment!

Photo of Hannah Tsadik
Team

Great responses - thanks Kyle Emile and keep up the amazing work! I'd love to keep the conversations going on how to engage more 'hard-to-reach' folks in real conversations.

Photo of Hannah Tsadik
Team

Great responses - thanks Kyle Emile and keep up the amazing work! I'd love to keep the conversations going on how to engage more 'hard-to-reach' folks in real conversations.

Photo of Karambu Ringera
Team

Great idea! We often here we need "less talk, more action" but sometimes talking is the action! Does the use of the word "intelligent" make it inaccessible to some who may not feel educated or "smart enough"? Would the word "meaningful" be more inviting?

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Thanks for the kind words!

When I had started this project, more than anything, I wanted to use the sign to spark people's curiosity—I wanted them to see the sign and think "what is going on there?" I considered using more inviting words like "meaningful" or "intentional", but I ultimately thought they would be less effective at getting people to actually stop and talk.

So far that assumption has proved correct: there are a minority of people that the word "intelligent" turns away, but I'd guess that 98% of people stop to talk. And often the first thing they ask is "what's this about?"

And we tell them what we believe: intelligence is a process of acquiring knowledge, not an achievement. An intelligent conversation is one where we gain knowledge from whom we are speaking with. Due to each of our individual life experiences, everyone has something to share and everyone has something to learn from someone else.

It’s free because it cost you nothing, it’s an intelligent conversation because you’re learning from people.

Photo of Karambu Ringera
Team

Great! The very best with your work.
Karambu
New Generation Leaders (NGL) Program, Kenya

Photo of Karambu Ringera
Team

Great idea Kyle. The very best!
Karambu
New Generation Leaders (NGL) Program, Kenya

Photo of Ashley Tillman
Team

Hi Kyle Emile great to have you in the Challenge! I'm curious, what your hopes and dreams are for this work in the next few years?

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Hey Ashley Tillman 

My hopes and dreams are to be regularly hosting events in every city, worldwide. I'd like that every person in every city could rely on FreeIC to facilitate opportunities to meet people and engage in meaningful conversations.

Our ideal future is that when anyone gets off of work or school, and thinks to themselves, "I want to talk with people different than me," the next thought will be, "Where’s my local FreeIC event happening?"

Over the next few years I'd like to be focusing on making that dream a reality.

Photo of Gayanjith Premalal
Team

Hi Kyle Emile  It's great to see you in the challenge! Now this idea is out of the box totally! Yes it sounds a bit crazy but looking at the testimonials and the work you have done, it seems like a great idea that actually works! I'm really interested to know how you make your presence inviting for the strangers if you did not have the sign. Any idea?

Btw, I listened to and watched your videos and they are very descriptive, touching and comprehensive, cheers for that!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Gayanjith Premalal thank you for you kind words! Glad to hear you enjoyed the content!

To answer your question, I think the first thing is to pay attention to people and be willing to break the ice. By paying attention to people's body language and what they're paying attention to, you can find small invitations and opportunities for conversations ("oh hey, I've been considering buying those sneakers you got on, how are they?")

It think it is also important to be mindful and intentional about your own non-verbal communication (body posture, eye contact, smiling, etc).

I've found that if you put effort into doing all of the above, strangers will be for more likely and willing to speak with you!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Kyle Emile thanks for sharing this very inspiring idea. It reminded me of a project done Blank Noise to address women safety in India: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/evaluation/talk-to-me I really like the idea of tapping into conversations (as a way to reconnect and create empathy). You probably know Celeste Headlee's talk but just in case I'm sharing too https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation
Last I'd like to share the work by 2 designers in Stockholm who have done projects using conversations and dialogues (Check their conversation dinners): http://www.tankeapoteket.se/ I was in their presentation at Parson (in NY) 2-3 years ago and I was very impressed by their work.
I guess the main issue is how to train people so that they feel safe and confidents in starting these conversations.
I wonder if through your partnerships, you have tried to have focused discussions. It could also be interesting from a business model perspective.
Anything you learnt with all the pilots you've done that led you to iterate your idea?
I haven't had time to dive in your website (just read your idea and have a quick look) but looking forward to learn more and see your idea evolve!

al

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Anne-Laure Fayard glad to hear you find it inspiring! Thank you for sharing all those projects/links. I wasn't aware of these and they're great!

And as you mentioned training is crucial, which is why we've extended to partners to help us figure it out.

The things we've learned from doing this over the years are mostly tactical and logistic things: like when's the best time to host an event, what kind of locations, how many people are ideal, etc.

If you get around to checking out the website and have any feedback, we'd love to hear it. Thank you for your kind words!

Photo of Jean-Marc Mercy
Team

Hello @Kyle Emile. It's an interesting idea. I am curious to know how many people have participated in the free intelligent conversations so far. How do you intend to measure the impact of your idea in the lives of users ? How do you make the idea sustainable over time? Looking forward to your feedback!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Jean-Marc Mercy thanks for your comment!

To date, we've had about 800+ global volunteers join our events to hold up signs (FreeIC Conversationalist).

Our primary users are the FreeIC Conversationalist and we're measuring the impact of the idea on them through surveys. We use 3 surveys: one before the event, one right after the event, and one 2-3 months after. These surveys measure changes in behavior and attitudes. We recently started doing these surveys, so our sample size is small, but based on the feedback we've received we're optimistic about the future!

In regards to financial sustainability, we've worked with Enterprises and Higher-Ed institutions to build out paid programs (indoor events, learning and development courses, team-building trainings) that they use to bring the principles and lessons of FreeIC into their institutions. As we grow, we want to scale the number of institutions paying for these programs and use that money to fund the movement.

In regards to growth sustainability: our events are volunteer led, in that individuals sign up and organize and lead events in their city. As we increase exposure, we believe more and more volunteers will sign up to lead the movement in their city.

Photo of Vicky S.
Team

Your idea is very interesting! I have a couple of questions:

- Are there any topics that the "mediators" will refuse to discuss? I.E., topics that are highly controversial and/or sensitive in nature?

- If not, then what steps would the "mediator" take in order to deescalate a conversation that could potentially lead to an undesirable outcome (verbal or physical altercations, etc.)?

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

1) There is no topic off limits. Whether a topic is too sensitive or controversial is left to the discretion of the FreeIC Conversationalist (person holding up the sign).

2) Our deescalation and conversation exit strategy is covered in our training before the event. It specifically covers how to transition out of conversations. We also take preventative measures to minimize physical altercations by hosting events in public places with a lot of visibility and being within earshot distance of each other.

The reason we have no limits on topics is because we believe that the exchange and evaluation of ideas is our greatest mechanism for individual and collective development. For that to happen, there needs to be a place where people know they can talk about anything. Our goal is to create a place where no topic is taboo and where people can speak freely without the fear of harsh judgment.

Photo of James Patton
Team

Thanks for sharing your project. Whats kinds of capacity building/skills are covered for those who sign up to lead or volunteer at these events? It might be worthwhile to explore conflict resolution and deescalation skills in preparation for potential spoilers or persons less interested in meaningful engagement.

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Great question James:

We train our FreeIC Leads (those organizing the events) through our onboarding process, where we equip them with the tools and resources they need to successfully host events.

Part of the tools provided in this onbaording is our FreeIC Playbook (https://freeic.org/playbook) that we have Leads share with volunteers (FreeIC Conversationalist) who sign up to attend events. This Playbook is designed to teach volunteers the skills they need to have conversations at our events. It includes tutorials and instructions both in video (https://youtu.be/uVtV0e0cFts) and written format (http://freeic.org/how-to).

For building more in-depth conflict resolution and deescalation skills, we're working to partner with OpenMind (https://openmindplatform.org). They're a free interactive platform designed to help individuals build their skills and capacity for having conversations that individuals can complete before attending an event.

Photo of Andrew
Team

I like that this is reaching people in public spaces that most bridge-building efforts don't reach. An important part of the overall picture of reducing polarization in the US. Keep up the great work!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

I'm glad to hear your appreciation Andrew.

Through having conversations across groups we can begin to mend the polarization. We think that there's a lot of opportunity for conversations in public spaces. Most just don't have a tool that allows them to signal to others that they're willing to talk—and that's where we come in!

Photo of Andrew
Team

Yep well said. Looking forward to working with you.

Photo of Kate
Team

I'm a college student on a liberal campus and sometimes it can be difficult to have conversations with others because we have such similar perspectives and beliefs. Therefore, I really respect the idea of talking to anyone about anything. This appears to be a great way to practice communication skills and expand an understanding of people. Great work and an exciting idea!

Photo of Kyle Emile
Team

Thank you Kate!