Transforming MIT into a Listening Campus

The MIT Center for Constructive Communication (CCC) is leading an ambitious, campus-wide effort that combines the ancient wisdoms of human conversation with emerging digital technologies to transform MIT into a “listening campus”– a campus that promotes a culture of respectful dialogue where students, staff, faculty, and Institute leadership can share their personal experiences across boundaries. RealTalk@MIT promotes a strong commitment to limiting inflammatory speech and ensuring that no one set of voices is raised over another

Highly participatory in nature, RealTalk@MIT involves community members in numerous ways: through participation in small-group facilitated conversations – initially focused on students – that help to provide a supportive, trustworthy, and often relaxed environment for sharing our personal stories and experiences rather than opinions. Other important ways for community members to participate will involve working with CCC on organizing and facilitating conversations, designing conversation guides, and engaging in post-conversation sensemaking. The hope is that these activities will help to build a culture of listening and dialogue that 1) promotes a sense of shared understanding, empathy, and trust; and 2) brings us together rather than reinforces the “side-taking” and binary thinking that too often divide us.

The Why

“Through RealTalk@MIT we stand committed to ensuring that the many stories of our diverse community will be heard – and respected – as an important step toward building a culture of listening and shared understanding.

This approach is integral to MIT’s identity as a university that sees the most difficult problems not as obstacles, but rather as challenges to overcome.

This is who we are as both individuals and as an institution.”

-Deb Roy, CCC Director

Individual Privacy is a Top Priority

When a group agrees to have a recorded conversation, the recordings are stored in a private repository that is governed by transparent data-sharing and access policies. All conversation participants have the ability to control the visibility of their own voice and words. They may also opt to use voice anonymization for increased privacy or permanently delete their contribution to the conversation.

A Quintessentially MIT Approach

What makes RealTalk a uniquely MIT endeavor is the application of technology to scale dialogue. Human-steered AI and data visualization tools developed by CCC researchers are integrated into a conversation platform for trusted connection developed with, and operated by, CCC’s closely affiliated non-profit Cortico. This allows us to surface patterns and themes across the conversations. With the consent of the participants, conversations can be recorded and individuals decide if their input – often personal stories – can be shared more widely. Over time, these stories can be revisited for inclusion in discussions of broader community concerns. By helping to “connect the dots” of individual conversations into a larger social context, we will work together to build our community’s “civic muscle” and advance constructive civic discourse.

A Broad Campus-Wide Outreach

Building on its successful spring 2022 pilot (below), CCC’s expansion of RealTalk@MIT focuses initially on students with affiliate and dorm-based conversations in spring 2024. This effort will followed by a large-scale conversation program in the fall among first-year students as participants – and undergraduate facilitators trained and certified by CCC. Moving into 2025 and beyond, RealTalk@MIT is expected to scale to include graduate students, staff, and faculty; additional departments, labs, and centers; and affiliate and alumni groups.


In spring 2022, CCC launched a RealTalk@MIT pilot with the support of the MIT Values Statement Committee and the Office of the Provost. This pilot included more than 160 community members who participated in 50 small-group conversations led by 44 facilitators across the Sloan School of Management, the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Media Lab, and the Undergraduate Association. The idea was to develop the RealTalk system and test the use of conversations as a vehicle for listening to others, creating a Living Values Statement, and for improving decisions that impact the quality of life at MIT. Conversations prompted people to share personal stories that related to MIT values: What needs to be celebrated and what causes friction? What needs to change? How might we imagine the future of MIT? 

This pilot successfully laid the groundwork for establishing a culture of open communication and active listening, provided participants with a sense of empowerment, and established a successful model for providing the necessary trust and privacy so essential for moving forward. Over the following two years, the Sloan School and the Media Lab have continued this work. The current expansion of RealTalk@MIT builds on this initial work.


Be Part of the Solution

The past few months have been some of the most challenging for college campuses, with tensions stemming from the continuing conflict in the Middle East rising to a near boiling point. Some students feel so threatened that they are fearful of leaving their rooms. While certainly not a magic bullet for addressing the myriad of complex issues in the world today, which include but are certainly not limited to the conflict in the Middle East, RealTalk@MIT seeks to provide an impartial, non-judgmental space for all members of the MIT community to have an opportunity for constructive dialogue within and across campus groups.

The immediate opportunities for community members are through participation in a facilitated conversation, or to be trained as a conversation facilitator. 

Sign-up sheets to join upcoming conversations will be available soon. 

Please reach out to if you’d like to be trained as a conversation facilitator or have additional questions about RealTalk@MIT.