Engaging with equity-deserving communities: Ensuring inclusive and respectful dialogue in a virtual world
Part 2: Pillars of inclusive engagement: flexibility, adaptability, and impact

In part 1 of this series, Tips and strategies for inclusive engagement, we shared some key considerations for hosting virtual engagement that is respectful and responsive to diverse communities. In this second installment, we connected with Krystyna Lloyd, VP of Communications and Engagement, to learn about the pillars of inclusive engagement, and how we’re continuing to adapt as we look to a hybrid model of virtual and in-person engagement, particularly for equity-deserving communities.

A lot of facilitation is about adapting to changing circumstances and dynamics. Can you share one way that you have had to adapt your facilitation plan on the fly? What were the outcomes?

Our Federal Indian Day School (IDS) Community Support Program requires us to go into communities and serve claimants both in-person and virtually. We connect community members to claims assistants to assist them through a detailed narrative about the harms they experienced during their time at Indian Day Schools. We were hired to ensure that the process of collecting individuals’ stories was thoughtful, compassionate and more importantly, trauma-informed. The face-to-face component was essential due to limited internet access or poor connectivity in those communities but also, it adds a layer of comfort and empathy for the claimants.

Depending on the circumstance, we had to adjust our process and at times, it would involve telephone conversations with claimants when face-to-face or virtual connectivity was not an option. In those circumstances, because of a lack of verbal cues, we employed validating language and engaged in active listening to reassure claimant that they are being heard and supported.

Understanding the technical capacity of participants can help you identify how to foster dialogue. Can you use traditional methods, or should you employ more creative tools to foster dialogue? For example, you can leverage Google Jamboards for a group that is comfortable with virtual brainstorming (see the example below). Or use the built-in chat and ask prompting questions to encourage people to share at their own pace – allowing facilitators to capture the input of those who may be less technology savvy. As a facilitator, you must be responsive to those with their cameras on and for those who have their cameras off. Given the lack of visual cues, you must employ active listening and validating language for those you cannot see you. A best practice is to have a technical support person on your facilitation team dedicated to capturing comments in the chat and keeping track of the discussion groups.

Using a simple online brainstorm tool like Google Jamboards can encourage people to share their thoughts without the pressure associated with speaking in front of a group. It also allows for building on one another’s feedback, which can be helpful for topics that are challenging to discuss.

 

Sometimes virtual engagement is not enough. What other tools and techniques can we use to invite equity-deserving communities into engagement sessions?

We find that speech boards can be helpful for certain projects to capture feedback from equity-deserving communities. For example, we used speech boards for the work we conducted for the City of Edmonton’s Neighbourhood Renewal project. We used covered boxes and provided Sharpies where people were able to stop, reflect, and contribute. We asked people a specific question during the visioning phase of engagement, such as “What are your three wishes for your neighbourhood?”. We strategically placed the boxes in locations where people naturally congregated while being conscientious about physical distancing and safety. This was a great alternative to online engagement.

Another strategy that proved successful during COVID-19 was gamifying engagement. Recognizing that many families were at home, we mailed materials to them and encouraged families to do activities and return them by mail. We found that younger individuals would get excited about reaching different “levels” of engagement and being rewarded when they completed the tasks. The rewards were a good way to recognize people for taking the time to participate and share their feedback. This technique worked well in Northern communities as well where connectivity is an issue and gathering in-person was important.

How do you measure success for equitable engagement? What are the ideal outcomes?

Number one is doing a pulse check at the end of the engagement session. You can do this by asking participants how they are feeling, did they feel supported during the process and additional support that can be provided after the session. For example, during our community visits with IDS claimants, we ensure that we have healing supports available, such as mental health professionals, elders, and knowledge keepers. This is crucial when you are dealing with highly sensitive content. You can never anticipate how somebody may be triggered or feel unsafe. Sometimes it is best to introduce another team member to support de-escalation as this can help provide different set of ears to listen to them.

Collaboratively setting goals and ground rules is another great way to support equitable engagement. This can be as simple as a short brainstorming activity to opening your session and inviting people to share what would make them comfortable. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to do our very best to foster and sustain spaces that feel safe, comfortable, and inclusive – and that will result in better decisions, experiences and outcomes for everyone.

Tell us what you think!

We would love to hear your experience. Please share this article on LinkedIn or other social media platforms and tag us with your thoughts on inclusive engagement. We care deeply about this work and want to keep learning from our colleagues and community members.

About the Authors

Sarah Bradley brings longstanding experience with community-centered communications and engagement in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors to her work as a Senior Consultant in Engagement. She appreciates every opportunity to collaborate with and learn from project partners to conduct meaningful engagement processes that lead to outcomes that reflect community input.
Rhianne Fiolka currently works as a Public Engagement Consultant on urban planning and equity-related projects at Argyle. Rhianne is passionate about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and consistently integrates social justice into her work.
Neetisha Seenundun is a Senior Consultant with over 10 years of experience in engagement, communications, media relations and reputational risk management. While having spent most of her career with corporate clients, she now works predominantly with Indigenous communities on a variety of communications and engagement projects.
Krystyna Lloyd brings over 10 years of experience supporting businesses, governments and organizations in making responsible decisions through meaningful engagement. She creates space for honest conversations and diverse perspectives about complex – and often controversial – projects while ensuring key interests and ideas are heard and reflected in final decisions.


Keep reading: Indian Day Schools community support: The challenge of trauma-informed communication

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