A Place-based Approach to Online Dialogue: Appreciative Inquiry in Utrecht, the Netherlands during the Coronavirus Pandemic
AbstractDialogue has a unique place in Dutch society. In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in New York, the first Day of Dialogue was held in Rotterdam. The event was organised by the municipality with the aim of creating greater social cohesion and mutual understanding between local people of different backgrounds, using the principles of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In 2008, this became a week-long event, which has since been replicated in 100 municipalities throughout the Netherlands by a network of local dialogue organisations. In some cities, these organisations now hold dialogue meetings all year round. Utrecht in Dialogue (UID) is one of these organisations, working with government, business and civil society partners to create events that speak to Utrecht residents since 2008. True to its mission, UID welcomes loyal participants, first-timers, speakers of different mother tongues, long-time Utrecht residents, newcomers: anyone who wants to engage in this dialogue practice. When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020, UID moved all dialogues online and continued to coordinate Zoom dialogues on at least a weekly basis. Thanks to the online format, a growing contingent joined meetings from other places in the Netherlands and even abroad. Several participants would never attend a face-to-face meeting. Yet even as the virtual format gives rise to a more geographically dispersed audience, UID remains highly local in its focus on community cohesion and mutual understanding; the community-building strategy is centred around the city districts, as are the topic choices and partner network. This article explores these structured online dialogues as a place-based practice, by means of ethnographic observation of ten dialogue meetings. The research thus contributes to an understanding of the role of online dialogue in creating local community cohesion, of online and offline dialogue and to the specific practice of AI dialogue in the Netherlands.