Equity-Centred Community and Stakeholder Engagement

“Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone a pair that fits”

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Engagement is more than simply informing stakeholders of key organisational decisions. It’s about nurturing relationships, building trust, and cultivating shared visions. Engagement is a complex process of thinking and planning, preparing and implementing, and responding and managing. It’s no surprise that in traditional methods of engagement, some voices get drowned out in the noise. The onus is on organisations to invest in more equitable processes, making sure those who are “hardly reached” in traditional methods, have an opportunity to be heard.  

Articulous have been working in this space for years. Organisations call on us because we know what it takes to meaningfully engage with communities and stakeholders. To give a platform to those who might otherwise not have an opportunity to speak.  In 2011, we developed a framework for IAP2 Australasia to help engagement professionals put equity at the centre of how they plan for engagement. The framework aims to advance equitable practice and representation in community and stakeholder engagement. 

Traditional vs Equity-Centred Engagement 

Traditional methods of engagement are often one-size-fits-all. A once-off chance for communities to speak now or forever hold their peace. Think three community forums and a follow-up email. In these situations, it’s often the loudest voice that gets the last say. True engagement on the other hand is an ongoing and intentional process of working with stakeholders and communities to shape decisions and actions through truth, transparency, and trust. Equity-centred engagement takes this one step further. It asks us what we can do to ensure someone’s participation in the engagement process isn’t determined by their race, age, gender, disability, sexuality, place of birth, class, income, education, or immigration status.

Engagement is an Ongoing Process

Being Equity Centred

Being equity centred goes beyond stakeholder engagement.

It can be applied to how we live work and play. It can have far-reaching effects on our own lives, the lives of others, as well as greater society. There are many ways we can be more equity centred as engagement practitioners.

Here are three to get you started:

Awareness

Being equity-centred starts with awareness. Reflect on how organisational or personal attitudes, values and beliefs might impact on how you engage with others. What biases and assumptions might need to be addressed?

Empathy

Empathy allows us to engage with others at a deeper, more meaningful level. Take the time to have meaningful interactions with others in ways that make sense to them; in a space that allows them to be open and forthcoming.

Ethics

We need ethics to keep the engagement process open, honest, inclusive, far-reaching, respectful, fair, collaborative, and informative. Without ethics people lose faith, they feel used, marginalised, unheard, and irrelevant.

 

When done right, equity-centred engagement will remove the barriers that marginalised and underrepresented groups traditionally experience. That’s why we developed a framework for IAP2 Australasia to help engagement professionals put equity at the centre of how we plan for engagement.

The Equity Framework for Participation and Engagement

The Equity Framework for Participation and Engagement can help identify factors that may contribute to inequity in participatory and engagement processes. It considers a range of factors at an individual, organisational (or institutional), and community level that may limit participation. Identifying these factors can help us to enable equitable participation in problem solving and decision making. Importantly, it also means that a particular racial or social group does not systemically receive the negative impacts of decisions.

Using the Framework

Organisation or institution-led engagement and participatory processes are usually designed by experts and professionals who have some level of privilege.

The Equity-Centred Framework provides a lens for equitable practice that will disrupt the paradigm. This means we might need to change: 

  • the topics we discuss
  • the people we engage
  • our methods
  • our skills
  • our intercultural understanding, and 
  • our own biases.

Highlighting Different Experiences

The framework does not prescribe the actions or solutions to address inequity. Instead, it provides a tool set for co-designing end goals by participation and engagement practitioners, organisations and the community. It brings the experience of those who have lived with social, racial, economic or environmental injustice to the centre of how we plan participation and engagement.

Assessment Tool

The framework can be used to assess and then address our mindset, our own or our organisation’s practices and processes, and the outcomes of our work.

Factors that impact on equitable participation in engagement processes

Articulous, in partnership with IAP2 Australasia have developed a specialised Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Engagement course that will challenge you to explore these barriers, systems and structures that impact on engagement so you can expand your own practice. It’s suitable for practitioners with any level of engagement experience. Find out more today.

The Wrap-Up

Equity-Centred Engagement is complex. It challenges us to consider what might impact and contribute to inequitable or exclusionary practices and outcomes. We will be challenged as we continue to look beyond what we’ve always done and what’s always worked, to what we’ve probably always missed.

At Articulous, we firmly believe that every participation and engagement practitioner must be equity-centred in their practice of engagement to ensure equitable representation in the democratic process.

As engagement specialists, it’s our job to advise, strategize, and facilitate engagement for oftentimes complex and controversial projects. That’s why we are the go-to firm for government and private sector organisations across the country. Find out how we can help you.

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