Episode 48, 43 min listen
Many communities undertake a coordinated program of actions and initiatives to strengthen inclusion and reduce disparities. If you want to see that type of results-focused action in your community or are already part of such a program, this episode is for you. This episode is part of our series of discussions where my colleague, Emma Winiski, and I discuss the Practice of Building a More Inclusive Community. We've identified six practice areas. In this episode, we focus on the practice of Program Work.
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-Other Episodes in this Series
First episode in this series, focused on the practice of Self Work: Inclusion Starts Here
-Interviews That Informed Our Thinking
An interview with Krystal Reyes, Chief Resilience Officer for the city of Tulsa, OK: Tulsa, Where Urban Resilience and Equity Intersect and their Equality Indicators.
An interview with Sherri Chisolm and her work at Leading on Opportunity in Charlotte, NC: Achieving Economic Mobility for Charlotte
An interview with Gery Paredes Vásquez, the Director of Racial and Gender Justice at the YWCA Madison, WI: Values-Driven Racial Justice with the YWCA
An interview with Kristy Kumar, Equity and Social Justice Manager for the city of Madison, WI: Finding Joy in Working Toward Equity
An interview with Judith Mowry, Senior Policy Advisor on Equity Strategies and Initiatives for the city of Portland: Toward Equitable Community Services
An interview with the MORE Justice Team in Columbia, SC: More Justice
-Books We Referenced
My bookshop.org link to Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block
My bookshop.org link to The Connected Community: Discovering the Health, Wealth, and Power of Neighborhoods, by Cormac Russell and John McKnight
Amazon link to Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight
My bookshop.org link to The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, by Marty Linsky , Alexander Grashow , and Ronald Heifetz
Emma Winiski is a recent graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, where she worked extensively with city governments to address the opioid overdose epidemic and develop 911 alternative response programs. Previously, she was a Research Analyst in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Emma has been working with Ame at State of Inclusion since 2018 when she was an undergraduate at Furman University.
Ame Sanders 00:11
This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better, and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I'm Ame Sanders. Welcome.
Hi. This is Ame Sanders.
Emma Winiski 00:37
And I'm Emma Winiski.
Ame Sanders 00:39
This episode is part of a series of discussions around what Emma and I are calling the Practice of Building a More Inclusive Community. Through all of our wonderful interviews and our discussions that we've had over several years now, we've identified six practice areas for building a more inclusive community.
In episodes 31 and 32, we shared an introduction to these practices and an overview. As we develop content around each one of the individual practice areas, I'm going to drop them in amongst our normal interviews, which will definitely be continuing. In the first episode of this series, Emma and I talked about the practice of self-work. If you're new to that podcast, that was episode 44. We titled that episode "Inclusion Starts Here," as we both believe inclusion truly does start with each of us doing our only self-work.
Now in this episode, Emma and I are going to focus on the practice of Program Work.
-What is a Program?
Emma Winiski 01:41
So, to start off, what do we mean when we say "program"?
Ame Sanders 01:45
Emma, thanks for asking that question. You know, a lot of our listeners are part of nonprofits and think of programs as services or service delivery. In this case, we're using the word program a bit differently. So, let me share a working definition.
We're talking about programs as a collection of projects and initiatives that work in a coordinated and evolving way to deliver a specific outcome or result. Let me say that again. We're talking about programs as a collection of projects and initiatives that work in a coordinated and evolving way to deliver a specific outcome or result.
So, we're definitely not talking about services or service delivery. Some people can also be a little unclear about the difference between a project and a program. So, maybe we should talk about some of the characteristics of a program. First, programs are result-oriented. So, a program is not deliverable-oriented. So, it isn't about installing something or building something, it is oriented towards a result. Typically, a breakthrough of sorts, such as a specific and broad equity issue, like better health outcomes, or a specific target for economic mobility.
Programs are also typically made up of several coordinated projects, initiatives, and other coordinated actions under this big umbrella of the program. And as such, they're a lot bigger than most projects that you might come across, and they work more as a portfolio of related projects and actions. You probably remember in the introduction when we talk about building a more inclusive community as being a wicked problem. That's exactly the kind of solution that wicked problems require. They require multiple initiatives, where you learn and do and evolve over time.
The other thing about programs is they are durable. So, they continue for a pretty long time. They're not permanent structures, typically, but they are longer-lasting and durable. Because achieving the kind of breakthrough results that you target with a program often takes a number of years. Sometimes the projects or initiatives that are underneath them may not be successful. So, that's the other thing about programs is that you have to have a process where you get feedback, and you learn over time, and you choose the projects and initiatives and actions that are underneath them, as you learn over time.
-Triggers and Motivation
Emma Winiski 04:16
So, from what you've seen and the people you've talked with, what motivates the community to create a program around equity and inclusion? Yeah, that's a good question. What motivates them? Sometimes what we've seen is it can be a disturbing incident. Yeah. So, when you were speaking with Reverend Mills, he talked about the murder of George Floyd acting as a catalyst to sort of establish REEM.
Ame Sanders 04:38
Exactly. Sometimes it's a report that comes out about the community that has some embarrassing or unexpected findings.
Emma Winiski 04:48
A long time ago, you were talking with Charlotte, and Raj Chetty's report on economic mobility placed them at the bottom of the list for economic mobility, and that motivated them to take a closer look at outcomes for their children.
Ame Sanders 05:03
Yeah. So, when I met with them when I talked with Sherri Chisolm at Leading on Opportunity in Charlotte, one of their motivators was this surprising report from Raj Chetty's work on economic mobility that placed their community pretty low. I think that they knew there were some issues, but it really put a spotlight on that. I will say Greenville County, where I am in South Carolina, also had a similar reaction to their report that they saw from Raj Chetty's work.
So, sometimes it can be a report like that, that shows some unexpected or embarrassing findings. Things don't align with how you view your community.
But sometimes you get a leader. Maybe it's a new leader, or maybe it's a leader who has turned his or her attention to this. We've talked with a few people where the main instigation for the work that they took on was from a key leader in the community, maybe a mayor or a political leader, or someone who was just recognized as a key leader. Reverend Mills talks about that some in the work that REEM is doing--that they had a couple of key leaders in the Greenville area come together around this.
I'll also say, sometimes it's the oldest motivation in the book, which is competition. Maybe the community realizes that they have an opportunity, but they're not stacking up well against their peers, and they want to see something be different. Maybe it's an incentive, the opportunity, to have something happen, or maybe it's a significant loss that they faced, and our missed opportunity. Sometimes, but less often, a need bubbles up from the community. When we talked with Judith Mowry in Portland, Oregon, she talked about an advocacy group working with their local university that developed a report highlighting disparities. And that report is what prompted her local politicians to take action. There are a lot of reasons communities choose to take on this work and to create programs to do so.
Emma Winiski 07:06
I think in that same vein, it might not be competition, but a lot of cities can be examples to others. So, thinking about an equity scorecard or even just collecting metrics, and using data to inform some program work on equity and inclusion, I think seeing other cities who have stitched together different datasets or are using different ways of measuring outcomes and monitoring programs can also be a catalyst to say, "Hey, I think we can do that too. Maybe we should look at our own practices as well."
Ame Sanders 07:06
So, for sure, it can also be aspirational. They can see what is happening around them and say, "We could do that. We could be better as well." But we need to be careful about motivations because the emotions around a disturbing incident can dissipate and recede over time. You know, that embarrassing report can fade in the background, and people can forget about it. Leaders often change, especially political leaders and competition can shift a little bit over time.
Finding that durable and long-lasting motivation is really important because these programs themselves, hopefully, if they're successful, are long-lasting.
-Why Work as a Program?
Emma Winiski 08:20
Yeah, those are million-dollar questions--how to sustain energy and effort in the DEI space across time, because it's important, but multigenerational work. So, why do you think some communities choose to organize their equity and inclusion work as a program?
Ame Sanders 08:39
Yeah, so there are a lot of reasons, but I'll give you two or three that we've seen that I think are pretty common.
One is visibility. Sometimes communities want to build a program of specific visible and targeted actions and policies to drive change, as well as to build visible awareness and accountability across the community. So, they're building this program to act as a champion or a catalyst, and they want that to be seen within the community.
Then sometimes, they do it because they see it as a safe space. So, they may perceive that it is better to try things, experiment with things or bring change to the community, from outside the actual service delivery organizations. So, that's another reason that communities do this.
But another reason they do it is to drive or catalyze systemic change from the outside, in. So, this can be necessary sometimes when a particular area that you want to improve is pretty entrenched and requires a fair amount of outside pressure to make a change. The program is certainly going to have to engage people in the area where the change has taken place. But, perhaps that area won't change on its own and needs some of that outside impetus and momentum. So, the new team is being asked to act or this program team is being asked to act as a catalyst, as a change maker, as an instigator of sorts. That can be tricky work.
Emma Winiski 10:12
Yeah. When we were talking about what makes a good adaptive leader in the intro episode, I think I was saying from some of the things I've seen, adaptive leadership really takes an intuition and a strategy about when to work within and outside of systems. It seems like a program can also help organize that leadership in this way, too. So, how does the community go about this kind of work? How do they get started?
-Organization, Governance, Goals
Ame Sanders 10:39
Yeah. I have a background in program management and project management, professionally. What I'm going to say here, a lot of it is program management 101, but I want to make sure that I'm explicit about this. There's no real surprises here in terms of what is needed to get started. We see these elements in pretty much all the programs that we've looked at.
So first, this kind of work typically requires sponsorship from individuals or organizations that are well-placed in the community. It can come bottom up, but programs typically don't come up that way. They typically start from the top down, from what Reverend Mills called pretty much the grass tops. A lot of communities will then decide to create program teams either as a new organization (stand it up as a separate organization), a new team or initiative within an existing organization, or a specific sub-structure within a broader change initiative.
So, for example, there are some communities that have a transformation for their community that includes economic development and a lot of activities. They will roll into that their equity and inclusion work. But REEM, for example, in Greenville, is attached to the United Way and has three key organizations as a sponsor. So, they'll organize it and build it a little bit differently, but almost always, there is a separate structure that houses this work. The new teams will be tasked with leading this work on behalf of their community. The organizations serve in their community, as we've already said, as a catalyst or as change makers. These organizations will also establish a governance structure of sorts, and it depends on how they have been formed as to what kind of governance structure they will have. Sometimes it's a board if they are a separate nonprofit. Sometimes it is an advisory structure or a steering committee.
They'll also often name or hire a well-connected and visible leader for this work. They will establish a program management office or support team for the work. They will confirm the scope and the goal of the work. So, they will clarify what we often in the corporate world called BHAGs or big, hairy, audacious goals. So they'll clarify that goal. The goal can be stated as an aspirational goal or as a specific target.
Emma Winiski 10:40
Yeah. So, for Charlotte's Leading on Opportunity, they have stated, "within a generation, every child in Charlotte-Mecklenburg will have an opportunity to achieve social and economic success." So, it's really broad, and it's well communicated, but there also needs to be some specificity as far as what economic success and social success means.
Ame Sanders 13:42
And what it looks like on the road to achieving that since they've set such a very long, aspirational target.
Emma Winiski 13:48
So, I've heard the pros and cons of having a separate organization focused and dedicated on DEI goals because I think, at its best, it can do some of these things that you're talking about. Then there's also the risk of people who are within the system being like, "Oh well, they can handle that. That's, something else that someone else can handle." Can you talk a little bit about the trade-offs between having a totally separate DEI program or organization or group running the program versus intentionally and explicitly including DEI in every single initiative?
-Sponsorship and Geography of Change
Ame Sanders 13:48
That's another aspect of it. What's really important here is pressure testing your level of sponsorship pretty early on. You know, what are they really interested in? How big a change? How committed? What risks are they willing to take on? How risk-averse are they?
Then understanding your playing field that you have as a program manager. The physical geography, that's obvious-- how you define your community, but also the geography of change. Where are changes supported? Encouraged? Maybe the community is not quite ready for changes in other areas, so there might be some no-fly zones if you will, that you choose not to tackle with this work.
So, I'm going to go back to my corporate life, because, in the corporation, you might have someone who is the director or executive of DEI work. But the real strength in the organization comes when the leadership of the organization, and the managers within the organization own that work. The DEI leader is a resource for them, in some cases, may be a catalyst, but more of a helper for them, an expert, to help them execute that well.
In a community, one of the reasons we've identified the six areas of practice is that we think a program is only one part of what a community needs. As we talk about the subsequent areas of practice, like coalition work and systems work, we will also cover this topic that you just asked about, which is, of course, this work has to happen inside organizations and from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. So, in this case, the program is created to act as a catalyst or change agent within the community. But it is most likely by no means the only activity that the community will be taking on. And it certainly is not the only place where ownership for this work would reside.
Emma Winiski 16:30
Yeah. This is just affirming that areas of practice and the lack of mutual exclusivity are so fitting for this work because what you just said, is just reminding me of the groundwork area of practice. When you were talking about the inside out, I'm like, "Oh, this intersects with the system's work as well." So, it's starting to crystallize how a community, if they're committed to this, is going to be working in all of these different areas of practice. So, what kind of work have we found these program teams doing?
-Community Needs, Barriers, and Assets
Ame Sanders 16:59
Conceptually, the work that the program teams are doing are pretty classic in terms of program management and change management. So, they're going to be diagnosing--trying to figure out where they are now when they get ready to start. So, that includes things like listening, researching, analyzing data, producing reports, maybe launching local studies that are specific to their community.
One of the examples that I love is the work that Leading on Opportunity did with the Brookings Institute to better understand social capital in their own community--what did that mean? Only after understanding that better were they able to identify initiatives and projects, and actions that they wanted to take to address that.
Emma Winiski 17:45
Yeah, and REEM has the Equity Index, and so they also were able to establish a baseline of what's going on and what might have typically been unseen.
Ame Sanders 17:57
Indeed. But also, as part of this diagnosing, it's about understanding barriers to change. So, surfacing what those hidden wounds, maybe fears or anxieties about the change, baggage from the past, or things that might be holding the community back from making this change. That's all part of diagnosing.
Emma Winiski 18:18
Would a community needs assessment also fall into this category as well? Like a community survey where you sort of say, what are folks identifying as what they need?
Ame Sanders 18:28
Yeah, for sure. We've seen that in some of the initiatives that we've looked at, where if you take More Justice in Columbia, South Carolina, for example, that has some characteristics of program work. One of the things they do is a cycle of house meetings, where they listen to the community to identify what are the areas of priority. Absolutely. So listening is a big part of this diagnosing.
-Theories of Change
So, the other thing these programs do is researching and developing theories of change, researching solutions, and benchmarking. So, you might find solutions that work in one area, or you might find a solution that a community has tried, but these are only going to be hints for you because your community is different. Your resources, your assets are different. So, you'll need to think about how that might be adapted to your community and your situation.
Emma Winiski 19:18
Okay, and so here, communities might spend a lot of time thinking about what their theory of change is, they need to find a way into the system that interrupts the status quo, and then a way out of existing self-reinforcing situations. So, thinking about what is happening beneath all of the conversations, and what might be at stake would also help inform developing this theory of change. Is that right?
-From Theory to Action
Ame Sanders 19:48
Exactly. Then the other thing, kind of back to your question a minute ago, or your point a minute ago, is prioritizing. So, good programs know they can't do it all. So, they will be targeted. They're very specific about what they're working on. They're gonna focus on what they can do both near term and longer term. They're going to try to set a reasonable balance typically between short term--what you might call quick wins, even though some of them may not be super quick--quick wins and longer-term actions. That's critical to gaining momentum within the program.
As you already mentioned a few minutes ago, Emma, momentum is critical for programs. There's a lot of inertia, and you can think of it as a flywheel. The more momentum you can build up, the better it is going to run. Momentum is key. So, the other thing that program teams do is early on, these teams identify a set of initiatives. They use that priority work to identify a set of initiatives or projects that they're going to pursue to deliver specific results, generally over a specific timeframe. This is a point where the governance structure is key. Understanding what's driving this and what our sponsors are really looking for, as well as their risk tolerance and commitment, their limit. Your funding is another aspect of this because all of this is going to take resources. How much maneuverability do we have? How big is our tent that we're working under? Are there any existing initiatives in the community that we need to either partner with or fold into the work that we're doing? How are we going to define our mission and our success? Always, we should begin with the end in mind.
So, we want to be able to visualize that and see what that would look like. Testing for and ensuring alignment and commitment, and ownership is pretty key at this point. Well, then programs can get about the work of delivering on those initiatives and projects. So you know, it isn't ever easy to move from PowerPoint to execution.
The best program teams, they are really good at this. They make this kind of transition smoothly, but it is a difficult transition. That means convening and mobilizing work teams around specific projects or actions, getting your funding lined up, collaborating with existing organizations and processes. Good programs also assess and steer over time. We already talked about the fact that some projects or initiatives won't be successful. You'll need to find something else to fill their place. Your playing field is going to change over time. Your goal may even evolve over time, and so you need to be able to monitor and adjust as you go forward. Also, you want to celebrate your successes. I've talked about the fact that this is a long journey, so taking a moment to celebrate accomplishments, wins, and successes along the way is important. Teams, as I said, have to stay nimble.
Then the other thing that good programs do is they relentlessly, relentlessly communicate. They're communicating across, they're communicating within their own teams with each other. They become a sensing organization of sorts. They communicate across the folks that they work with. They are both communicating with and listening to their community. They're communicating with their governance and steering committee or their board. So, there is a ton of communication work that goes on here.
Emma Winiski 23:24
Yeah, I don't think this point can be overstated enough. To do equitable and inclusive work, you have to involve the voices and the input from community members. They're the ones who are ultimately going to benefit and so failure to include them in this process undermines any big goal that you have. You know, there's that phrase, "Don't do anything about me without me," and I think it goes beyond that to say, "We're going to share power."
So, maybe that's through focus groups, surveys, online forms, making meeting notes accessible, public meetings live streamed, so people can stay involved. But it also means making progress reports and findings visible and transparent. So, not just saying we're going to do this and then falling off, and the community is like, "Alright, did you do it? What happened? How did it go?" But building public awareness through campaigns or community meetings, data walks is something that we spent a lot of time talking about that I think helps bring the community and to say, "Here are some findings, but what resonates with you? What doesn't? What might we be missing?" I think this is a good way for program leaders to show some humility and engage with the community.
-Community Involvement and Ownership
Ame Sanders 24:45
This is probably a good place for me to talk about community involvement. John McKnight and his approach to asset-based community development always remind us that we should focus on a community's gifts, not their deficits. So, a community understanding their gifts and assets is crucial to success. Also, Peter Block, in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, tells us that community work is by its very nature inclusive. With the principle he shares, he reminds us that citizens who use their power to convene other citizens are what create an alternative future for our community. He also reminds us that the small group is the unit of transformation.
Good program managers in this work are always thinking about how to bring more of the community around this work, how to build momentum, and then they are also constantly thinking about communication. These things are always in their hearts and minds. So, really good program managers, and well-run programs can know what it means to get what, I would say, real. They are able to move from vision to commitment, from theory and strategy to execution, from engaging a few to engaging many, as Emma was just saying, and they stay nimble as they drive towards a moving target and as they work on ground that may be shifting underneath them.
So, over my career, I've worked with a lot of programs. I've studied programs. I have led programs. And I have coached program and project leaders. Some things I see that are unique about equity and inclusion programs that I'd like to talk about for a minute. So, first is the scale. These are really big programs, and they require clear priorities. They require a lot of discipline to stick with the targets that you choose and the initiatives that you choose. Because there's a desire to do everything and to make some progress everywhere because the need is so great.
So, it requires a lot of discipline, given the scale of the change that you want to see over time. It also requires, as Emma was already talking about earlier, a very high amount of adaptive change. So, it requires a lot of adaptive leadership, working across the entire community.
Emma Winiski 27:13
I think another thing about adaptive leadership and sort of everything we've been talking about is these folks have such a vision for their community that supersedes any ego or personal achievement or status. So, while these are often very well-respected, well-connected figures in their communities already just to be able to organize this or be chosen as a leader of this initiative or program, they also have such a commitment to seeing their community be a better place. I think that is another really important piece of how these adaptive leaders are able to build and sustain the momentum that's necessary for this work.
Ame Sanders 27:51
That's such a good point. We have met some incredible leaders.
-Time Horizon for Change
The other thing that's unique about this particular kind of work is the time horizon across which it takes to make this change. We've already talked about that in a few places. But if you just think about Charlotte's example, in a generation, that's their goal. In a generation. That's a long time. And so it means this momentum, this sustaining of work.
Emma Winiski 28:19
Yeah, that's a really long time, but it's also realistic. I think sometimes people right now in the DEI space feel so much pressure to do something that they often want a quick fix or a finite goal. I like Charlotte's generation timeframe, because when you first hear it, you're like, "Oh, that is a long time." But to make the type of change, for children across social and economic factors, you need at least a generation. Not that there won't be successes and progress along the way--there should be. But to really have a measurable improvement, I think you have to have a timespan that's really, really long, and can be intimidating.
-Visible and Invisible Systems
Ame Sanders 29:03
The other thing that these programs do is they deal with fairly complex and very entrenched issues, as you're saying. I think back, not to pick on Charlotte, but the example of their work around social capital. Sometimes, it's not just entrenched in systems that are very visible, but it can also be entrenched in systems that are really not visible to most of us. Then they're working to make a change across a very broad playing field in a system like building social capital within the community that is not very visible. It's pretty much an invisible system.
-No Single Right Answer
The other thing that's unique about these initiatives is that they have little or no hierarchical authority as a lever that they can use. The other thing is, you'll often find people who hold quite varied beliefs about what is the right answer, or what are right answers to some of these problems, and that hold different values than from one another. This adaptive leadership is required to move between that. I think what you'll find is that these are bigger than even, you know, some of the largest corporate mergers that you might come across in terms of programs. This is really daunting work, but it is possible, and it can be done.
Emma Winiski 30:27
When you were talking about this work being complicated, because people have a lot of different ideas about what success means, that just sort of emphasizes why the diagnosis stage is so important and the communicating with folks actually in the community, because, you know, you could design this excellent program and execute it. But, if the community is like, "We didn't want a park here. What we want is access to public transportation," you're still missing the point of what the community needs and what they would actually benefit from.
So yeah, this work sounds like it will be very complicated, very challenging, and take a long time. So, what have we seen as benefits for a community in pursuing program work as an area of practice?
-Benefits of Working as a Program
Ame Sanders 31:16
So, some of the areas of working as a program that are beneficial is, first, it's energizing. So formally, and publicly establishing a program or an entity like this can be visible, can be hopeful. It's a matter of going on record with the work. It's concentrated. Having coordinated program efforts can really increase a sense of urgency for progress. It's pressurized. It applies pressure to the areas where you want the community to change from the outside-in as we talked about, and outside the standard hierarchy, and maybe outside of some, perhaps dysfunctional reward systems.
Emma Winiski 31:58
Yeah, I think Greenville and many other communities across the country are taking a hard look at some of the policing work and thinking about, we call it the criminal justice system, but for many people, there's no justice involved. So, what would it take to actually have a system that is restorative instead of punitive? How might a community look if we were to believe in that type of change?
Ame Sanders 32:26
So, they can apply pressure from the outside as we're talking about some of those big changes that you want to see. They're also focused. So, even though this is big work, and these are complex changes, this is a targeted approach. So, you have a specific goal in mind, with specific initiatives underneath that so it is focused.
And, we mentioned this earlier; it's somewhat safer in terms of being outside of the normal hierarchy, and the ability to experiment and try things without that affecting your everyday service delivery or jobs. You create change just by taking on this work. So, just by deciding to do this, already, you are working to build smarter and more capable inclusion and equity champions throughout the community through their involvement in this program, and of course, through delivering results.
Emma Winiski 33:20
So, you've just given us a little bit about what some would call program management 101 pointers, which were helpful for me. What have we learned from our experience, research, interviews, that might help a community make their program around equity inclusion more successful? Since we don't have unlimited time, can you talk about some of the things that you think they should think about?
-Caring for and Growing the Team
Ame Sanders 33:41
Yeah, so there are a few things we haven't talked about yet. One we haven't talked about much is the team that's doing the work and what their everyday job of doing the work is like. Emma, you know, for all of the big actions and changes that these leaders we talked with her pursuing across their community, it's important to remember that community equity and inclusion come about and emerge from the smallest actions, from personal relationships and everyday interactions. It's in the smallest or micro-actions and interactions that we live into the future of our community.
This came across really loudly and clearly to me in discussions I had with people from Madison, Wisconsin. In the interview I had with Gery Paredes Vasquez, from the Madison YWCA, she reminded us that relationships are everything in this work, and that we have to daily model the future we wish to see.
Then Kristy Kumar, in a separate interview, who leads this work for the City of Madison, was pretty pointed when she reminded me, and she said, "We're not where we are for lack of plans, right? We haven't yet reached racially equitable societies for lack of plans and research." She couldn't have been more direct when she said that. But she went on to say the reason we're not there yet is because we haven't necessarily been taught, or allowed to do an embodied practice, where we are connecting the joy and the dignity piece, the belonging piece, the care piece into our work. So, caring about one another and doing our own self-work as we pursue these bigger changes is so important. And honestly, most of us have to grow into that.
Emma Winiski 33:42
Yeah, and I think the goal is collective growth over time, among team members, within team members, knowing that, yes, I'm engaging in self-work. But also, as an added benefit, this should be helping the growth of my peers and my teammates too.
Ame Sanders 35:49
Indeed. And also, you'll have to face and deal with bias and prejudice within the team. So, don't be surprised about that because it exists for all of us. We also all have blind spots. So, the team can have blind spots as well. So, there's some need to work on that as a collective team. Of course, we already talked about the fact that this is durable and long-lasting. So, this idea of working on attrition, with the team over time, even imagining that there will be more than one leader of this work.
Emma Winiski 36:23
Managing risk and the safety of people involved in this work can also be folded into that point. So, of the actual team members, but of their families and their smaller communities as well as important to consider.
Ame Sanders 36:36
I will also talk about pacing versus burnout. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It is going to need to have the right kind of pacing so we don't burn out the team members that are working on this right at the get-go and that we can pace ourselves. Another point that I want to make, so we talked about the team doing the work. The other thing I want to mention is taking on what I already alluded to about large complex and sometimes invisible systems.
-A Word About Changing Systems
Emma Winiski 37:02
It's important to remember that these systems aren't necessarily broken. They were designed to work how they are operating, which has led to inequities and injustices. So, when we start looking at change, what are the incentives that have helped keep the status quo in place, both in policy and in regulation, but also in leadership and the way things are done? So, identifying those, challenging those, and dismantling those is all a part of the work that a program team will have to take on.
Ame Sanders 37:36
And Seth Godin recently had a post where he talked about invisible systems. He talked about like we were talking about the invisible system of social capital, of how individuals build social capital within a community. I'll steal a quote from him.
He says, "Systems almost never change voluntarily. They rarely change because some of the participants in the system decide that they would prefer new rules. Systems change when their inputs change, and when their rules change."
So, the other thing for these teams to keep in mind is that the world is going to try to stop them, slow them down, and keep the change from happening. There are all of these motivations and incentives in place that keep the system working exactly as Emma described as it was designed or has evolved to become in our community today. Inertia is real and constant. There are some great forces of gravity that are working against this--our caste system, implicit bias, and even racism. This is going to require constant and significant effort to keep and grow momentum.
Emma Winiski 38:45
I would say especially racism. So, we've already talked about how the horizon for this is long, but team members should be prepared for changing interest or momentum ebbing and flowing, and not take that as necessarily a community is no longer engaged in this work, but as an opportunity to say, "Of course, the landscape is changing. How do we adapt and change with it?"
Ame Sanders 39:10
So, patience and constancy of purpose are key to this work. I'm going to revisit a point that we made earlier, which is how to find the right balance of outside in pressure and changes through the program and what we'll talk about in our systems work in a couple of more episodes, about inside-out change. You can't ever be too far outside because you have to engage with the existing organizations, the existing structure, the existing systems, and processes.
You can't ever be completely outside, and no change actually happens from outside. All the change ultimately has to happen from within the system. You can apply pressure from the outside, you can bring solutions from the outside. But all of those changes ultimately have to happen within a particular arena or a particular system. They have to be absorbed and accepted by that, or they're going to be spit out. So, how to have this work live going forward is about this balance of outside in and inside out.
Emma Winiski 40:15
Yeah, and it doesn't mean that once the change is achieved within a system, it's set in stone, and we're done. Good systematic change includes ways to continuously engage and share power with people who are impacted by the changes from top to bottom, inside out.
-Expect the Unexpected
Ame Sanders 40:32
The other thing I'll mention is to expect the unexpected. So, we always have to be with these programs, and because this problem is particularly wicked, we have to be vigilant for unintended consequences from the work that we're doing. We also have to be vigilant for influences from the outside, but as well for sudden breakthroughs or wins that came unexpectedly or by surprise. So, look and listen for those and adjust your course based on that.
-Celebrate Progress Along the Way
The other thing that we want to be careful of is we don't want to declare victory prematurely. We need to celebrate and recognize progress. You know, as humans, we're all wired up for that. Most of us need it, not everybody, but most of us need it to keep going. However, we've also seen a lot of ways the country really wants to put this question or these questions around equity and inclusion behind it. A lot of people want to say we're already there, we've already found our way there. But this is a long journey. So, we want to celebrate progress but keep moving towards real, measurable, and lasting change.
Emma Winiski 41:41
On the last point, celebrating victories is very important to maintain team morale. Then also always remembering and embodying a learning mindset, a growth mindset, and some intellectual humility. There are always more to learn from others. There are always ways to improve building in time for reflection with team members, introspection with yourself, I think, is another way that teams can continue this work in the long run.
Ame Sanders 42:12
Yeah, Emma, I totally agree with you. So, before we wrap up, I want to mention one thing. In addition to these episodes that we're publishing, we're working on developing some methodologies and tools, and resources that might help communities with their equity and inclusion efforts. Podcasts, they're not the way to share those. We'll figure out the right way to share them as we develop them.
But if you're a team that could benefit from some of these tools and methods for your work, don't hesitate to reach out. They're being developed right now, but perhaps we could provide something or collaborate on something that could help your team progress. We're willing to freely share what we have so far.
As always, Emma, thanks for being part of these discussions around the Practice of Building a More Inclusive Community.
This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share the podcast or discuss these ideas with others. If you'd like to hear more about the practice of building an inclusive and equitable community, head over to theinclusivecommunity.com and sign up for our newsletter. Also, feel free to leave us a review or reach out we'd love to hear from you. Thanks so much for listening, and join us again next time.
Co-Host: Emma Winiski
Host: Ame Sanders
Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson
Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski
Sound: FAROUT Media