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Public Conversations Project, Inc.

 46 Kondazian Street
 Watertown, MA 02472
[P] (617) 9231216 x 24
[F] (617) 9232757
[email protected]
Jessica Weaver
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 Printable Profile (Summary / Full)
EIN 22-3432160

LAST UPDATED: 11/20/2015
Organization DBA Public Conversations Project
Former Names --
Organization received a competitive grant from the Boston Foundation in the past five years No


Mission StatementMORE »

Public Conversations Project fosters constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

Mission Statement

Public Conversations Project fosters constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

FinancialsMORE »

Fiscal Year Sept 01, 2015 to Aug 31, 2015
Projected Income --
Projected Expense --

ProgramsMORE »

  • The Public Square

Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2011 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2010 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2009 (%)

For more details regarding the organization's financial information, select the financial tab and review available comments.


Mission Statement

Public Conversations Project fosters constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

Background Statement


The Public Conversations Project was founded in 1989. It began as a question family therapist Laura Chasin asked herself -- and her colleagues at the Family Institute of Cambridge -- after watching a televised debate progress from disrespectful to angry to chaotic. Essentially: could the same methods that help families have safe, constructive conversations in counseling sessions also help people talk with each other in situations where there are deep differences in identity, beliefs, and values?

After two years of formal field research on the highly contentious issue of abortion, what is now known as the Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) approach took form. Since that time, Public Conversations’ practitioners have refined and adapted Reflective Structured Dialogue for use with many other issues, in varying contexts and multiple countries.

These include:

  • same-sex marriage and faith communities
  • immigration in America
  • gun rights in Massachusetts and Montana
  • gender, race, socio-economic class, wellness, sexual orientation, and mental illness on college and university campuses
  • transpartisan dialogue in Washington, D.C.
  • inter-religious tolerance in Nigeria
  • science and faith
  • peace-building efforts in conflict-torn regions overseas


Impact Statement


Here are three of our most notable accomplishments from the past year:

1. Development of strategic plan: under the leadership of Interim Executive Director Kim Comart, Public Conversations developed a two to three year strategic plan. The development of the plan included in-depth interviews with Public Conversations stakeholders, including workshop alumni, founders, practitioners, and former clients. The plan identified key staffing needs around marketing/communications to raise the organization's profile, and expanding the donor base. The plan also identified three target markets to guide business development.

2. Hiring of executive director: After a lengthy search process, Public Conversations Project hired Parisa Parsa as its new Executive Director. Parisa brings years of experience in intercultural facilitation and multifaith leadership as a former Unitarian Universalist minister. In addition to Parisa’s hiring, four new staff were hired in program management, administration, marketing/communications, and development.

3. Impactful dialogues in the US and abroad: in the past year, Public Conversations facilitated dialogues across the country (and the world) that had a significant impact on participating communities. Here are two of the most significant: in Montana, Public Conversations facilitated a dialogue around guns, second amendment rights, and community safety. Based on a multiyear partnership with the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Nigeria and UMass Boston, Public Conversations also developed a hybrid dialogue model that will guide interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims to combat religious violence.


Needs Statement


1. General operating funds: Having laid forth a vision for dialogue to gain national visibility, and under the helm of new, energetic leadership, Public Conversations is at an inflection point. The organization seeks general operating support to ensure that its infrastructure is able to support the expansion of programs across the country: $75,000.

2. Funding to train young practitioners: Transmitting the skills and knowledge of our experienced senior practitioners to the next generation is an essential organizational goal. Dedicated funding for this effort would ensure a well-trained cadre of young dialogue facilitators. $50,000 (Note: this would cover seminars, workshops and local pro bono project work).

3. Funding for local dialogues: Providing local political and non profit leaders with access to our approach to meeting design and dialogue would be a valuable contribution to civic life in Greater Boston and amplify the local impact of the Public Conversations Project. $25,000


CEO Statement

Over the past 25 years, the Public Conversations Project (PCP) has grown from a quiet experiment by a small group of family therapists to an international organization that “prevents and transforms conflicts driven by deep divides in identity, beliefs or values.”

 Abortion. Sexual orientation within faith communities. Competing priorities over forest management in Maine. Diversity on college campuses. Reconciliation in post-civil war Africa. These are all issues in which PCP has played a decisive role.

The interventions that family therapists use to help families break destructive communication patterns, increase respect and develop trust are the basis of Reflective Structured Dialogue, PCP’s unique approach to conflict management. By providing a strong structure that creates a sense of safety, PCP makes it possible for participants to tell their stories, to listen to one another’s stories and to engage in constructive conversations that improve communications and reduce stereotyping of “the other.”

In addition to intervening directly in specific conflicts, PCP trains mental health workers, conflict-resolution experts, educators, members of the clergy, and others who see the value of incorporating PCP’s approach in their professional and personal lives.

Several publications make PCP’s approach to conflict management more widely available, as does a detailed training video,

PCP is a small organization (annual operating budget is less than $2 million) with large ambitions. The goal is nothing less than to change the way people think about and manage conflict.

The only barrier to reaching this goal is resources. PCP is honored to be included in The Boston Foundation’s Giving Commons. And PCP would be especially honored to receive funding from individuals associated with The Boston Foundation.

Board Chair Statement


Geographic Area Served


Organization Categories

  1. Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy - Management & Technical Assistance
  2. International, Foreign Affairs, and National Security - Democracy And Civil Society Development
  3. Community Improvement, Capacity Building -

Independent research has been conducted on this organization's theory of change or on the effectiveness of this organization's program(s)



The Public Square

Since its founding in 1989, Public Conversations Project has succeeded in reducing polarization and incivility in colleges and universities, churches and synagogues, and local and state government. Over this time national polarization has intensified. Through careful research and documentation, PCP has identified many of the sources of political polarization and efforts being made to reduce it. By joining existing networks, creating new alliances, working with activists to change politics from the ground up, writing, and speaking, the Public Square is taking decisive steps to reduce political polarization in the United States.

Budget  $50,000.00
Category  Public, Society Benefit, General/Other Citizen Participation Programs
Population Served US Adults College Aged (18-26 years)
Program Short-Term Success 

Results since this initiative was launched in 2010.

Strategic alliances:

·      No Labels

·      National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD)

·      Living Room Conversations

·      American Bar Association


·      Reinventing Governance conference at the Univ. of Colorado (Oct 2010)

·      Civil Discourse and Dispute Resolution, presented at national conference of the Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution (June 2011)

·      Frontiers of Democracy Conference, Tufts Univ. (July 2011)

·      Civil Discourse, a webinar presented by the Maryland Bar Association.

·      Participation in panel at ABA’s April 2012 sectional meeting.

·      “This We Can Do.” ABA Dispute Resolution Magazine. Winter 2012, Mary Jacksteit.

Community based efforts

·      Milwaukee, Wisconsin: two-day consultation to the Project for Community Transformation.

·      North Quabbin, MA/Gloucester, MA: assisting communities in creating culture change where divisive local politics prevents community renewal.

·      Austin, Texas: advise a “citizen conversation corps.”

Program Long-Term Success 

The goal of the Public Square Initiative is to reduce polarization in our political sphere. The ability of leaders at the local, state, regional and national level to work effectively together, to compromise, to make decisions and to break through gridlock are all measures of whether the Public Square has succeeded.

From our research and work with other groups, we understand that changing the political climate will require work at the local, grass-roots level, at the highest level of national leadership and at all points in between. Working at the grass-roots level with groups such as Living Room Conversations and No Labels, and at the national level (National Institute for Civil Discourse), PCP is supporting individuals, groups and organizations that share our goal of changing the national political climate.

Program Success Monitored By 

The kind of large-scale social change we are attempting to create is difficult to measure. However, we consider these as indicators of success:

·      The growth of the network of individuals and groups who are working to reduce political polarization;

·      The role PCP has played in increasing the size of this network;

·      PCP’s role as a connector between groups and individuals who are working to reduce political polarization;

·      Opportunities to speak about reducing political polarization; and

·      Opportunities to write about reducing political polarization.

As part of our network-development, we watch carefully for these indicators of success.

Examples of Program Success 

Many minds are moving in the same direction. As PCP becomes aware of individuals and groups who are also working on reducing political polarization, we link them together to amplify their impact.

A recent example of this linkage is the connection we made between Living Room Conversations and New Hampshire Listens. We are involved with both groups, became aware of how they can help one another to reach shared goals around reducing polarization. Combining Living Room Conversations process and New Hampshire Listens facilitators is a realistic and effective way to get people to talk across divides in New Hampshire. And PCP’s role as the connector between these two groups made it happen.

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

The philanthropic world changed drastically with the economic downturn in 2008. Like many nonprofits, the Public Conversations Project has looked long and hard at what is necessary to ensure our long-term sustainability. Balancing this with our commitment to our social mission has been a major challenge.

We are following dual paths, working actively to build up our fee-for-service work while continuing to engage with large public issues that are often deeply divisive. While our best-known work occurred in the wake of shootings in two health clinics, the approach that made this work successful has translated well to other issues and contexts, from environmental issues to conflicts around sexual orientation in religious communities to post civil-war conflict in Africa.

Because the Public Conversations Project is a relatively small organization, and much of our work has been done within intimate groups, finding the best route to effectiveness and impact when we become involved with big national issues is a challenge. We have a number of strategies to meet this challenge:

·      We develop partnerships and collaborations with other organizations and groups. Examples of this include Welcoming America (immigration); The Democracy Imperative (public civility and engagement); and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) at UMASS Boston (conflict resolution, coexistence and tolerance).

·      We write about our work and our approach to reach a wider audience—Associate Mary Jacksteit’s article in the American Bar Associations’ Dispute Resolution Magazine (Winter 2012) expanded upon the ABA’s resolution to set a high standard for civil discourse as an example for others.”

·      While much of our work is confidential and cannot be publicized, certain programs, such as The Family Dinner Project, which was recently featured in the Christian Science Monitor, can be discussed publically and benefit from press coverage.

Driving all of our decisions is a deep commitment to the value of dialogue. We know it helps people and groups who are stuck in stale, polarizing, and unproductive conflicts find new ways to talk and relate to one another.

Changing the conversation is one of the most effective “change agents” available!


CEO/Executive Director Ms. Parisa Day Parsa
CEO Term Start Jan 2015
CEO Email [email protected]
CEO Experience

 Parisa brings decades of experience in facilitation, interfaith leadership, and nonprofit administration to Public Conversations Project. Born into a multifaith family in Shiraz, Iran, Parisa’s career has taken her from the shelters of Boston to the streets of San Francisco and back again to Milton, where she served as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist church for a decade. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, she is deeply conversant in the multiple languages of faith and culture that are present in diverse communities. In addition to acting as the administrative, spiritual, and fundraising rudder of her congregation, Parisa served in a leadership capacity for the regional Unitarian Universalist Association, providing congregations with tools for effective leadership development and change management.

True to her commitment to meaningful exchange across communities and cultures, Parisa is also a trained intercultural facilitator. She has spent the past two years gathering nonprofit teams and congregations working to develop skills at culture change toward greater intercultural relationships within their communities, a skillset deeply aligned with the mission and values of Public Conversations Project.


Co-CEO --
Co-CEO Term Start --
Co-CEO Email --
Co-CEO Experience --

Former CEOs and Terms

Name Start End
Laura Chasin Aug 1996 June 2006
Cherry Muse 2006 --

Senior Staff

Name Title Experience/Biography
Dave Joseph LICSW Vice President, Program An experienced dialogue practitioner, trainer, facilitator, mediator, and consultant who enjoys focusing on constructive conversations and conflict management, Dave has facilitated dialogues around intra- and inter-religious differences, class, abortion, marriage equality, domestic violence/healthy marriage/responsible fatherhood, and many other issues in the United States and in Africa. He co-founded and headed the Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island, and has directed mental health and addictions treatment services at community health centers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
John Sarrouf Director of Program Development John was first exposed to the work of the Public Conversations Project while studying in the masters program in dispute resolution at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Since then John has facilitated dialogues on issues such as sustainability, gender, Israel-Palestine, religious pluralism, and technology and sexuality. He served as the Assistant Director of Difficult Dialogues at Clark University, where he taught dialogue to faculty and students. John teaches in the departments of Communication and Peace and Conflict Studies at Gordon College. John’s private consulting work has focused on mediation and transforming conflict in small work groups and non-profit boards. To all of his work he brings a background of 15 years in the theater as an actor, director, and administrator. 
Robert R Stains Jr. Senior Vice President Bob Stains has been active in Public Conversations Project’s work of creating constructive conversations among opponents on issues of sexual orientation, religion, abortion, gender, social class and race. In addition, he trains other senior practitioners in the PCP approach and provides consultation to academic, civic and religious leaders. He consults to the Interpersonal Skills Component of the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School, sits on the Board of Directors of The Democracy Imperative and serves as a Guest Scholar Practitioner for the Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement Program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA. He also maintains a private mediation, training and consulting practice in Danvers, MA.


Award Awarding Organization Year
-- -- --


Affiliation Year
Massachusetts Nonprofit Network 2009
Member of state association of nonprofits? Yes
Name of state association Massachusetts Nonprofit Network

External Assessments and Accreditations

External Assessment or Accreditation Year
-- --


Over the years we have developed partnerships and collaborations with many other organizations and groups including Welcoming America (immigration); Interfaith Mediation Centre, and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) at UMASS Boston (conflict resolution, coexistence and tolerance).

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments


Staff Information

Number of Full Time Staff 7
Number of Part Time Staff 1
Number of Volunteers 8
Number of Contract Staff 0
Staff Retention Rate % --

Staff Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 6
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 1
Other (if specified): 1 Persian
Gender Female: 4
Male: 4
Not Specified 0

Plans & Policies

Organization has Fundraising Plan? Under Development
Organization has Strategic Plan? Yes
Years Strategic Plan Considers 3
Management Succession Plan No
Business Continuity of Operations Plan No
Organization Policies And Procedures Yes
Nondiscrimination Policy Under Development
Whistle Blower Policy Yes
Document Destruction Policy Yes
Directors and Officers Insurance Policy No
State Charitable Solicitations Permit --
State Registration --

Risk Management Provisions


Reporting and Evaluations

Management Reports to Board? Yes
CEO Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually
Senior Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually
Non Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually


Board Chair Ms Kay Calvert
Board Chair Company Affiliation Public Conversations Project Board Chair
Board Chair Term Oct 2013 - 2015
Board Co-Chair --
Board Co-Chair Company Affiliation --
Board Co-Chair Term -

Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
Barbara Braver Retired Voting
Sarah Buie Director of the Higgins School of Humanities and Director, Difficult Dialogues Initiative, Clark University Voting
Kay Calvert President, Kay Calvert Consulting Voting
Laura Chasin Board Chair, Public Conversations Project Voting
Charles Freifeld Managing Member, AlphaMetrics Capital Management, LLC Voting
Tom Gerace Skyword Voting
Bob O'Hara No Labels Voting

Constituent Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Youth Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Advisory Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Board Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 8
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): 0
Gender Female: 5
Male: 3
Not Specified 0

Board Information

Board Term Lengths 3
Board Term Limits 2
Board Meeting Attendance % --
Written Board Selection Criteria Yes
Written Conflict Of Interest Policy Yes
Percentage of Monetary Contributions 100%
Percentage of In-Kind Contributions 100%
Constituency Includes Client Representation Yes

Standing Committees

  • --

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

The Board of Directors of the Public Conversations Project has always been highly intelligent. As the organization made key strategic decisions in 2008 and 2009, the board was a valuable part of the process.

Today, the Board has realized that it needs to needs to step up in other ways, and it is successfully meeting this challenge.

·      The Board of Directors has successfully made the transition from being a founding board to a governing board.

·      It has committed itself to growth and renewal and is taking active steps to recruit new board members who bring necessary skills and connections, and a passion for the mission.

·      The board has a growing sophistication about what it means to be a member of the Board of Directors and how board members can best serve the organization.

Our greatest governance challenge is succession planning. The current Board Chair, Laura Chasin, was the founder of the Public Conversations Project. She recognizes the importance of bringing in new leadership with a fresh perspective. This recognition is driving much of our work around recruiting new board members and establishing more robust governance procedures including:

·      The creation of an Executive Committee.

·      The creation of a robust committee structure.

·      The engagement of several key board members in the recruitment and nomination process.

·      The creation of a stronger infrastructure for board members, including the development of our current Board Policies, Board Member Job Description and MOU for Board Members.

While good governance is ultimately the responsibility of the Board of Directors, supporting the Board in this responsibility is an important part of the work of the staff, the CEO in particular. Our current governance practices are a work in process; there is reason to believe that the infrastructure we have created, in combination with the very focused attention directed toward board recruitment, is already strengthening the capacity of the Public Conversations Project to fulfill its mission.

Foundation Comments



Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2011 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2010 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2009 (%)

Fiscal Year Sept 01, 2015 to Aug 31, 2015
Projected Income --
Projected Expense --
Form 990s

2011 990

2010 990

2009 990

2008 990

Audit Documents

2011 Audited Financials

2010 Audited Financials

2009 Audited Financials

IRS Letter of Exemption

IRS Letter of Determination

Prior Three Years Total Revenue and Expense Totals

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
Total Revenue $1,693,880 $1,125,677 $1,572,651
Total Expenses $1,276,397 $1,183,065 $1,240,623

Prior Three Years Revenue Sources

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
-- -- --
Government Contributions $0 $0 $0
    Federal -- -- --
    State -- -- --
    Local -- -- --
    Unspecified -- -- --
Individual Contributions $1,504,173 $901,920 $1,373,285
Indirect Public Support -- -- --
Earned Revenue $182,975 $189,138 $158,773
Investment Income, Net of Losses $5,774 $29,505 $34,379
Membership Dues -- -- --
Special Events -- -- --
Revenue In-Kind $153 $601 $2,042
Other $805 $4,513 $4,172

Prior Three Years Expense Allocations

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
Program Expense $844,442 $818,601 $853,212
Administration Expense $229,929 $240,412 $254,358
Fundraising Expense $202,026 $124,052 $133,053
Payments to Affiliates -- -- --
Total Revenue/Total Expenses 1.33 0.95 1.27
Program Expense/Total Expenses 66% 69% 69%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue 13% 14% 10%

Prior Three Years Assets and Liabilities

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
Total Assets $2,592,495 $2,161,663 $2,237,234
Current Assets $1,697,444 $1,247,653 $1,777,272
Long-Term Liabilities $0 $0 $1,053
Current Liabilities $63,797 $50,448 $67,578
Total Net Assets $2,528,698 $2,111,215 $2,168,603

Prior Three Years Top Three Funding Sources

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
1st (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
2nd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
3rd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --

Financial Planning

Endowment Value --
Spending Policy N/A
Percentage(If selected) --
Credit Line Yes
Reserve Fund Yes
How many months does reserve cover? --

Capital Campaign

Are you currently in a Capital Campaign? No
Capital Campaign Purpose --
Campaign Goal --
Capital Campaign Dates -
Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount --
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? --

Short Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities 26.61 24.73 26.30

Long Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2011 2010 2009
Long-term Liabilities/Total Assets 0% 0% 0%

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments

Financial summary data in charts and graphs are per the organization's audited financials.  Contributions from foundations and corporations are listed under individuals when the breakout was not available.


Other Documents

No Other Documents currently available.


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