Red Blue Dictionary | Red Blue Dictionary History
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Red Blue Dictionary History

Note: The idea for a term dictionary like this has been talked about in the dialogue and deliberation community for years, since the need for it seems so obvious. We’ve been doing our best to collect this history.  If we are missing any part of it, please contact Jacob at

1987 – The famous Inigo Montoya said to his boss Vizzini, after he kept using a nuanced, but obscure word: “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”


2001 – Thomas Schwandt publishes, “The Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry” –a hermeneutic inquiry into the landscape of various meanings for important terms in the field of qualitative researcher (now in its fourth edition).  Dr. Schwandt is a member of Jacob Hess’s dissertation committee and plants the seeds for his own hermeneutic inquiry.  Schwandt’s popular text later becomes the model inspiration and precedent for the evolving Red Blue Dictionary.


2009 – At conference titled “Engaging the Other” including Joseph McCormick, Michael Ostrolenk, Max Pappas, Walt Roberts and Debilyn Molineaux.  Max asked Joan, “I know what that word is – but I’m not sure what you mean by that word?” – and someone said, “we need a dictionary!”


2012 – Jacob Hess & Phil Neisser publish “You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong”: Conversations between a Die-Hard Liberal and a Devoted Conservative”  (Dulles, VA: Potomac Press) – featured on This American Life the week before Obama’s re-election.


2012 – That fall, Jacob & Phil joined Joan Blades and Amanda Kathryn Roman from Living Room Conversations in a workshop at the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation conference in Seattle, entitled “Expanding Liberal-Conservative Dialogue in America: A Strategizing Session. Amanda Roman again raises the idea of a term dictionary as a way to expand the profile of dialogue – and make it more accessible to more people.


2014 – Joan Blades invited Jacob Hess to join Living Room Conversations as a partner. Over the course of that year, they explored and prepared to launch the preparation work for the dictionary – reaching out to members of the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation to recruit collaborators. It was this team at Living Room Conversations – including Debilyn Molineaux, Joan Blades, Ralph Benko, Mary Gaylord, & Katie Page – incubated and hatched the idea with financial, emotional and intellectual support.


2016Living Room Conversations invested some seed money for two months of part time work to get the dictionary off the ground. These first two months involved confirming participants (both general contributors and formal members of the editorial team), selecting a list of initial words, and drafting the initial entries.


From March to October, this team worked on an entirely volunteer basis to complete the first release of the full dictionary of nearly 400 terms. This included adding Conversation Catalysts and Dialogue Guides.


In September, we partnered with to publish and host the dictionary definitions, giving us a great platform to share our work broadly and continually grow and evolve that work with feedback from the community. Through this partnership, our terms were used by the Christian Science Monitor in its Politics of US weekly series and integrated into the non-profit AllSides for Schools program.