Peter Loughlin Qoute:

“Just a note to let you know that the Study Circle experience for the last 4 weeks was rewarding. I was somewhat neutral going into the process but I frankly had great reservations as to whether a dozen strangers could come together and develop a consensus. That is indeed what happened after a great deal of give and take – but always with great courtesy and respect for all participants. It was a great experience and increased my faith in human nature and the citizens of Portsmouth. Thank you for all of the effort that you put into the process to make it happen.

Kisses and Disses – Morey Stettner, Portsmouth
Portsmouth Herald, November 10, 2005

KISSES to the Portsmouth Listens group for hosting a fantastic event on November 2 for citizens to meet City Council candidates. The format, where rotating groups of residents met with three candidates at a time for substantive conversation on the issues, was the purest form of democracy.

Steve Zadrevic Qoute

“It is the norm of the community to demand a democratic process” – Steve Zadrevic, Assistant Superintendent of the Portsmouth School District

Isabella Cotrupi

“Regardless of ability or willpower, there are some times when the collaboration of ideas will result in a product of enormous superiority than those accomplished on your own. The project has taught me to draw upon and utilize the strengths of my peers. I have learned that while it is impossible to be an expert on everything, collaboration can bring out the genius in everyone and if you are willing to set aside your own desire to do it all, the result will be all the better for it.” – Isabella Cotrupi (Participant in the Portsmouth Listens City Budget Dialogue as a Portsmouth High School sophomore member of Sam Tombarelli’s Honors American History Class)

Jim Splaine – Letter to the Editor

To The Editor,

I was very impressed by this year’s list of Portsmouth candidates for all offices. We have a rich pool of good people who want to serve our community. What a gift for all of us.

I was especially delighted with the Portsmouth Listens candidate forums. I was able to go to the one for City Council candidates, and again – as two years ago – I found the interactive format to be excellent. I went with the intention of finding my final two Council candidates, since by then I had seven on my list. I did, and one I added was Esther Kennedy. I had never met her but in the 20 minutes or so we had sitting at one of the tables with half a dozen voters and two other candidates she showed class, competence, and confidence. I found myself being excited – I was even shaky for a moment, I think! But it was just with enthusiasm that I had found a wonderful new Councilor.

I usually don’t make a judgment to vote for someone with just first impressions, and actually I had seen her speak previously, but I’m so pleased she won. Is a Mayor Kennedy in Portsmouth’s future?

All the candidates who ran should be thanked. All my choices didn’t make it, but we have a good Council with diverse interests. I’ll miss John Hynes, Joanne Grasso, Harold Whitehouse, and Steve Marchand, but I bet we’ll see them still involved, since they’re all “young” in their own ways.

I’d really list to see the new Council adopt the Portsmouth Listens approach at meetings once a month, where the Council and those citizens attending can divide and meet in circles – talking with one another in smaller discussion groups. When I was Assistant Mayor in 1990, I proposed the “public comment” rule that was adopted, and I think that it has worked very well through the years at enhancing the opportunity to listen to peoples’ concerns. But while the public comment sessions tend to be one-way communication, Listening Circles would fill another important role, and should be tried.

Thank You,
Jim Splaine
Former Assistant Mayor and NH State Representative

Liz Good

I didn’t get a chance to thank you for all of your efforts in making last night happen. It was a huge success and I am encouraged that this conversation is the beginning of some good changes coming for New Hampshire and the nation. Your team was very attentive and sensitive to the issues and it made for productive discussion. And yes, thank you for not keeping us there until 2 a.m.! I was still sleep deprived from the previous evening.

I’ll look forward to the report.


Liz Good

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Dialogue

Matt Leigninger

Portsmouth and Portsmouth Listens was one of over 130 projects nominated from across the globe. Matt Leighninger, Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, nominated “Portsmouth Listens” for the prestigious Reinhard Mohn Prize because:

“All across the country, the need for productive public engagement is more obvious than ever – but it is equally obvious that engagement initiatives run solely by government, or by school systems, are very difficult to sustain. That is one of the reasons why Portsmouth Listens is such a valuable example: an all-volunteer cadre of organizers, recruiters, and facilitators, supported by a broad array of community organizations and institutions, has mobilized citizens time after time, over a ten-year span, to take on virtually every major decision facing the city. From school bullying to school construction, from land use planning to budget planning, the most controversial issues in Portsmouth have been dealt with in a reasonable way by a broad cross-section of citizens. Portsmouth Listens gives us one potential vision of the next form of democracy, owned by none, open to all, supported by all.”

Portsmouth Herald Editorial – May 6, 2011

A May 6, 2011, Portsmouth Herald Editorial cited the following impacts:

  • The Master Plan Review “was democracy in action, empowering one of the largest collective groups of citizens in the city’s history. Beyond the contributions to the master plan, Portsmouth Listens established a blueprint for citizen involvement that has been repeated multiple times since 2005”
  • The Renovate or relocate the Middle School dialogue “was an invaluable contribution to the city and one that broadened the conversation to give the greatest number of residents a chance to weigh in on a decision that will shape city education for decades to come”
  • “One of the greatest benefits of the most recent (City Budget Dialogue) study circles was in the involvement of 13 students from Sam Tombarelli’s sophomore honors American history class at Portsmouth High School. Helping our young resident get an early start on the democratic process and community involvement can pay untold dividends down the road… a number of Portsmouth Listens participants have gone on to become active in city government.”


This is such great stuff. Thank you for sharing this, Jim.

I am so glad to be part of this. Three years ago, in my own work of community charrettes, I introduced the small-group format when we were in Exeter, looking at the neighborhood around the train station. The energy was amazing (and, I have to say, quite palpable), and we have used this format since in our charrette program around the state. Giving folks a chance to say what’s on their mind in a safe setting, and to have it recorded and acknowledged is game-changing for them. We have you all to thank for that.

It is such an honor to be recognized by the Orton Foundation. Kudos to you, Jim, and to you, John, as well, for having the wisdom to see the value of this, and for the faith that it takes to persevere. Working with you two and having the added wisdom of Jeffrey and Bill is just great, especially as I can apply all lessons learned to an even greater good (our work at Plan NH).