In 1989, troubled by the rancor of a televised discussion of abortion, Laura Chasin convened a group of colleagues at the Family Institute of Cambridge. They asked themselves the question, "Can family therapists'' methods for working with conflict be useful in the public arena?"
A series of dialogues between pro-life and pro-choice individuals led to PCP''s groundbreaking work, begun in 1995, after the rampage of a gunman in two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts killed two people. PCP convened three leaders of the pro-choice movement and three leaders of the pro-life movement. These women continued to meet in secret for five years. Their relationships helped calm a troubled community. In an article after the first-year anniversary of the shootings, Globe reporter Don Aucoin wrote, ''''Has the past year brought the lowering of voices ... called for by Cardinal Law, Governor William Weld and others? The answer seems to be a qualified yes, at least among some activists."
Pro-choice and Pro-life leaders discuss their series of dialogues at the Omega Institute, 2005
With support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Project became a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1996 and moved into its own home in Watertown, Massachusetts. In addition to its work on abortion, the Public Conversations Project has been involved in conflicts involving sexual orientation and faith traditions, Arab-Jewish and interfaith relations, environmental concerns, social class, population and women''s health,and the red/blue divide.
In 1996, the Public Conversations Project added training to the services it provides. Since then, over 1300 individuals have received training in facilitating dialogue and other related subjects. Its core training program, The Power of Dialogue, has been offered in the greater Boston area, and in other locations including Seattle, Philadelphia, and Alburquerque.
The Public Conversations Project published an on-line guide, Constructive Conversations About Challenging Times, in 2001. In 2006, two books, Fostering Dialogue Across Divides and Constructive Conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, were published.
In 2006, Laura Chasin, who had served as Executive Director for ten years, resigned to become the Chair of the Board of Directors. Cherry Muse has joined the staff to help guide the Public Conversations Project through its next stages of growth.
The Public Conversations Project has received three awards for innovative contributions to the field of alternative dispute resolution:
• Society for Professionals in Conflict Resolution: 1997
• American Family Therapy Association: 1999
• University of Massachusetts Program in Dispute Resolution: 2000