How to Facilitate Inclusive Decisions

Erika McCalpine, Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at Oregon State University-Cascades (image via Ms. McCalpine)

Erika McCalpine is a dynamic advocate for social equity and inclusion in the Pacific Northwest. She’s Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at Oregon State University-Cascades as well as Executive Director of the University’s Strategic Diversity Initiatives.

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to speak with her about how to facilitate inclusive decisions. Here’s her advice:

1. Don’t make assumptions.

When you’re dealing with a diverse group of people, you’re also dealing with a diverse group of experiences. You never know the life histories of the people coming to the table. You don’t know their triggers. Some in the room have experienced things you can’t even imagine. Go slowly and be gentle.

2. Compensate participants equitably.

Asking people to provide input without compensating them is essentially telling them you don’t value their participation enough to pay them for it. Their time and labor aren’t being given as a favor.

This doesn’t mean a $10 gift card!

Instead, compensation should be equitable for the facilitator and the participants. (This doesn't mean a $10 gift card!) Pay participants the true value of the time and mental and emotional labor provided to you.

3. Follow up.

The conversation shouldn’t end once the decision has been made. Follow up with the participants to tell them the outcome of their ideas. Let the participants know exactly how their feedback influenced the decision. Don’t let their input disappear into the void.

4. Know when to walk away.

Sometimes facilitators are not given the tools to manage a decision-making process inclusively. There will even be cases where facilitators are causing more harm than good. In these cases, it is best to walk away.

For example, sometimes a decision has already been made and the “feedback session” becomes bad-faith participation theater, designed to make the client appear to be listening to the community while actually giving the community no power over the decision.

In this case, the facilitator is abetting a lie told to the community (that their feedback will influence the decision) and exploiting the community (by using their time and labor for a purpose not to their benefit).

[A] decision has already been made and the “feedback session” becomes bad-faith participation theater….

In those cases, it is your ethical responsibility as a facilitator to recognize this harmful dynamic and walk away. Sharing your reasons with the client, with colleagues, or with members of the public may also be appropriate, depending on context.

5. Check your privilege.

If you are a white facilitator, it is imperative that you understand how your whiteness impacts your facilitation, the experience of participants of color, and the decision outcome.

Be aware of how you present yourself in the space. Pay attention to details such as the formality of your clothing, use of inaccessible jargon and terminology (including in documents you provide), and the emotions you project. It’s important to remain even-tempered even if participants themselves become upset or angry to ensure a psychologically safe space.

[B]ecause of the abysmal track record of white people working with diverse communities, people of color will likely have lower expectations….

Also, because of the abysmal track record of white people working with diverse communities, people of color will likely have lower expectations of your ability to facilitate in a way that reflects their diversity. In order to change these expectations, white facilitators must have high expectations of themselves and high standards of their own behavior.

6. Do the internal work.

White facilitators working with communities of color need to be particularly careful about their own biases and triggers about the people they are working with. These beliefs, emerging from our life experiences, lead to harmful facilitation behaviors.

To counter this, you must be actively aware of your biases and triggers. Understand your prejudices and check yourself. If not, you might unintentionally obstruct the decision-making process. A facilitator who responds with anger, silencing, avoidance, or dominance because they subconsciously feel threatened has broken the seal of safety required of any inclusive decision-making process.

Self-awareness born of internal work, self-education, and healing from one’s own trauma is imperative….

This self-awareness born of internal work, self-education, and healing from your own trauma is imperative. It is your responsibility to ensure you do not hinder your ability to connect with participants and successfully facilitate inclusive decisions.

What are your lessons?

What lessons have you learned about facilitating inclusive decisions? Tweet them to us @DoBigGood or share them with the author by emailing brianna @ dobiggood . com

Brianna Walton is Media Coordinator at Do Big Good, an inclusive decision-making firm that helps private, public, and social sector clients make decisions with their stakeholders. Learn more at www.dobiggood.com.

inclusive decision-making // www.dobiggood.com

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