Shades of Purple: Dialogue across difference

Shades of Purple: Dialogue across difference in greater Minnesota is a conversation program led by Project Optimist (formerly The Optimist). We’re coordinating a series of community events that bring greater Minnesotans together to discuss controversial topics.

The goal is to spur community engagement, model civil dialogue and amplify moderate voices. We know that a lot of nuance around important issues gets lost in the noise.

The Shades of Purple events will feed into a podcast series and written stories published by Project Optimist. The stories will share insights from the events that the rest of Minnesota (and the world!) can learn from. Project Optimist will also create and share tip sheets on how to broach difficult topics.

Where will they be held?

The dialogues will take place in person and virtually in Minnesota’s small cities and rural areas. We’re starting in St. Michael and plan to expand to St. Cloud, Long Prairie, Little Falls and beyond. We will partner with service groups, libraries, museums and other local organizations.

What will happen at the events?

At the heart of each gathering is a moderated conversation in which people share the personal experiences that shape their views. Participants will be asked to agree to ground rules and show respect for others.

The events will include food whenever possible and a simple, collaborative art project.

The events will borrow from models used by Essential Partners and Spaceship Media, two organizations with experience leading conversations on controversial topics. Locals will help determine the topics during the preparation process.

What happens after the events?

Project Optimist will invite participants to continue their conversations in a moderated Facebook group. A podcast producer and reporters with Project Optimist will follow up with participants to gather highlights and reflections on the process. They will create journalism to reach a broader audience and convey wisdom gleaned from the events.

How can you help?

We’re looking for participants who are willing to share their experiences and listen to people with different perspectives. We’ll have a survey for you to fill out ahead of time to express your interest.

We’re looking for partners too!

  • Service groups to help with preparations: local surveys, recruitment and promotion.
  • Libraries and museums to provide historic context on local issues.
  • Businesses that can donate food or space.
  • Sponsors to help cover the cost of running the events.
  • Sponsors of the podcast to be named in each episode.

Contact Nora if you would like to be involved as a partner: 320-247-5899 or

Thanks for your interest!