In my last blog post, I shared some of the broad approaches that KPC has used to work with clients on projects that focus on diversity, equity, access and/or inclusion. Here I share more about what these terms mean to me (at the moment, because I feel like I’m constantly learning more), and how they show up in our work.
DEAI is often spoken about and written about as though it is a single thing. In reality, D, E, A, and I are different but related concepts. The KPC team meets monthly to talk about these topics, our own evolving understanding of who we want to be in this space, and ways to apply what we are learning to our work. We are intentional about playing an active role in setting goals that can be used to evaluate diversity, equity, access, and inclusion efforts as well. This often involves evaluation that is focused on early stages of the program planning process to demonstrate the successful use of intended practices. In the examples that follow, I share my current ideas for how to define diversity, equity, access and inclusion, along with examples of current evaluations we are conducting related to each.
Diversity can be defined as the constellation of similarities and differences in social demographics, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of individuals within a group. Currently, KPC clients define diversity in relation to gender, race, ethnicity, native islander status, and rurality. Within the context of many of these projects, diversity is defined as a long-term outcome. For example, clients often hope to create programs that eventually contribute to diversifying the gender, racial, or ethnic composition of those who work in a particular scientific discipline. Evaluation of these projects tends to occur years before that end-goal can be reached, and so is focused instead on precursors that set the stage for longer-term success. For example, current evaluations are documenting the use and success of specific recruitment processes to ensure that programs are working with their intended audience and not just those who were most readily available and interested. These kinds of data confirm a program’s fidelity and commitment to diverse audiences. They also provide accountability and create a space for co-learning with like-minded partners who are similarly invested in continued iteration to improve programs and strategies that support diverse participants.
Equity can be defined as providing fair and just treatment across community groups. Many of the projects that we evaluate are designed in response to inequities that clients are attempting to address. Equity-based projects allocate resources differentially, and in an effort to support equality in outcomes for all groups, and particularly for those who have been marginalized historically and currently. In our experience, equity goals are usually created in conjunction with goals related to inclusion. We define inclusion in relation to the use of practices that intentionally consider, invite, integrate, and reflect a range of perspectives and people to create a welcoming environment. For example, KPC clients are currently building relationships with local neighborhood and community groups who have not been included in decision-making in the past. We are supporting this work by using an equity approach that prioritizes the voices of those from marginalized groups over those from dominant groups. The procedures for front-end listening sessions were then designed to understand the needs of these community members and to begin to build relationships. We prefer that listening sessions are conducted by community members rather than by either KPC or client staff, and in locations that are familiar to and comfortable for the community group. Listening sessions are ideally a first step toward building relationships that support the inclusion of authentic perspectives and local connections long-term, and so we also work with clients to consider how the listening sessions might result in a community advisory board or other permanent structure that can support continued and reciprocal engagement. The success and impact for these types of projects is then determined by the longevity of the relationships being formed and the extent to which community feedback is integrated into a client’s plans moving forward.
Striving for inclusion is an ongoing goal for most clients (and for KPC as a company). We are currently conducting culture audits of curricular materials to verify the use of inclusive practices. For example, clients often include statements in project descriptions related to the cultural relevance of their materials for an intended audience, or the use of culturally-responsive practices in designing a program. In these cases, we draw attention to this language and then work with clients to consider what it looks like in practice. What specific examples are intended to be particularly relevant to the intended audience? Did those audiences contribute or verify the relevance of those examples? How did members of the intended audience help design the program and its ideas about how to define success? KPC culture audits are designed to take a snapshot of curricular materials, to identify strengths and gaps in relation to the relevance of the materials for an intended audience, and to make recommendations to fill those gaps. The impact of this work can then be verified with program participants as part of summative evaluation efforts.
Regarding access, there are also two perspectives that I consider in our current work. First, there is evidence to support the idea that simply providing access to programming is not enough to achieve goals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since 2020, we have not partnered with new clients who have access-only goals, and we have worked with existing clients to attempt to move their projects beyond access-only approaches by including goals related to diversity, equity, and/or inclusion.
Access can also be defined in relation to accessibility or providing equitable access to programs for community members of all ability types. We are currently evaluating two projects that have accessibility goals. Both are using universal design principles to guide their work, and in both cases, we are helping to track the intentional application of those principles as a measure of success. One of the two evaluations is also gathering feedback from audiences with disabilities to ensure that the activities are meaningful and accessible to them.
I have attended several training and conference sessions over the past several years that focused on diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. It wasn’t until 2020 that I started to notice evaluators sharing their own definitions of these terms, and became aware of the ways they engage clients in conversation to learn about whether and how their own definitions were similar or different. I am lucky to have several colleagues who are doing fantastic thinking and work in these areas. I think they had been talking about it long before I was able to hear it and understand the active role they played in this space. It has taken me even longer to become comfortable voicing definitions of my own. I’m glad to have finally done it and grateful to the KPC crew for contributing to my thinking and this blog post along the way.