Aug 16, 2022 12 min read

The Practice of Building a More Inclusive Community - Intro Part 1

Episode 31, 18 min listen

Intro Part 1 - In this new State of Inclusion podcast sub-series, we will use what we've learned from all of our conversations, along with our research, to suggest an approach, a practice for building a more inclusive world one community at a time. In this first episode I'll introduce you to Emma Winiski, my partner in this work and this series. We will also introduce four foundational or cornerstone concepts that underly The Practice of Building a More Inclusive Community.

We are very interested in hearing your feedback on these intro episodes. Also, we are actively looking for a few communities that might be interested in exploring these ideas further and perhaps working with us to help test and tune some of these concepts. If you have comments, feedback, or are interested in learning more - email us at



Getting to Better in My Hometown

Building a Practice of Community Abundance - with De'Amon Harges

Equity Warriors - Emma Winiski

Find additional resources on Adaptive Leadership.

There are many great resources about wicked problems, but this site has a good introduction.

Find resources for asset based community development at the ABCD Institute, at DePaul University.


Emma Winiski is a second year Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School. Previously, she worked as a researcher in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where her work focused on substance use disorders. In 2018, Emma started working with Ame at State of Inclusion as she finished her undergraduate degree at Furman University.



Ame Sanders  00:11

Hi. This is Ame Sanders from State of Inclusion. If you've been listening for a while, or maybe even if you just discovered the State of Inclusion podcast, you may know that for the last several years we've been on a journey-- a journey of research, discovery, and most importantly of conversation. In these conversations, we've heard how individuals all across the country are working to make their communities more equitable, more inclusive, and more just. We've talked with people who are working with and within their city governments, in museums, in nonprofits. We've talked with people who are working across their faith community. We've talked with artists, librarians, filmmakers, and we've talked with people who are acknowledging the past and are focused on remembrance and healing, as well as people who come at this work with a decidedly forward-looking orientation.

In this new State of Inclusion podcast series, we will use what we've learned from these conversations along with our research to suggest an approach, a practice for building a more inclusive world one community at a time.

I'm joined today on the first episode of this new podcast series by Emma Winiski. Welcome, Emma.

Emma Winiski  01:32

Thank you! Happy to be here.

Ame Sanders  01:34

So, Emma works behind the scenes to help me put the podcast together and today she's going to join me on the audio portion of the podcast as a thought partner, a collaborator, and join in the conversation. So Emma, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Emma Winiski  01:51

Yeah. So, my name is Emma Winiski. I'm the Podcast Coordinator here, but I've been with Ame and with State of Inclusion since 2018 when I was a senior at Furman. So, we've been working for many years togethe and I've really, really enjoyed this work. Outside of this, I just finished my first year of the Master's in Public Policy Program at Harvard, and before then I was a researcher in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute in DC.

Ame Sanders  02:20

Yeah, so Emma has been working with me since 2018. So, she's been part of our research and part of all of our podcasts that we've done. In fact, she was my first podcast interview.

And, I guess I should admit to the audience that you're the reason we even have this new series, because I remember there was a point in the process where I was trying to figure out what direction to go next and what interviews to line up and you help me line up our interviews and I asked you about that. Do you remember what you told me?

Emma Winiski  02:54

Probably not verbatim, but I'm guessing it was something like, "You've talked to a lot of really, really interesting people doing really, really important work. And I think for the listeners, sort of distilling those down into something that is more actionable, is probably a good idea at this point."

Ame Sanders  03:11

That sounds a lot like what you told me. Maybe not verbatim but really close. So, it is what prompted me to work on this series and to put down some of the ideas from the conversations that we've had with all these wonderful people. There has been a lot of wisdom in these conversations that we've had. So, I hope that we can do some justice to it in terms of summarizing and synthesizing what we've learned and putting it in some sort of order for people to be able to consume. I just want to thank you for being a thought partner, as we've gone along in this and I'm looking forward to talking to you about these things that we found so far in the in the podcast.

Emma Winiski  03:48

Yeah, thank you. I really, really enjoy this work.

-Overview of New Sub-Series

Ame Sanders  03:52

Okay, so let's talk about this new podcast series. In the coming episodes together, Emma and I will synthesize and share the ideas that we've heard from our conversations and found in our research. But what it is not is it's not finished, it's not tested, it's not proven. All of those kinds of things that you would hope eventually we would be able to do. What was clear to me before, but I would say is even more clear to me now, is that there is no formula, no recipe for making a community more inclusive and equitable.

You know, every community is unique and different. Every community has their own set of resources, their own starting point, their own history, and has their own ambition. So again, there's no recipe or formula, but I believe it's somewhere between this idea of a recipe or formula, and just random acts of inclusion and equity, there is something for us to talk about. I think there's something that we can lay out and share together that can help us approach this work in a smarter way. So, I don't have to tell you guys who are listening, this work is complicated. It's difficult and it's often unclear. In some cases, and especially for some people, it can be dangerous. The amount of work that you put in doesn't immediately translate to the same amount or equal amounts of output. So, progress seems to come in fits and spurts. Sometimes you work really hard and you don't see any progress. In fact, you feel like you may be backing up. But then all of a sudden, you see your community take a big step forward. The work of building a more inclusive and equitable community also requires trust. And Stephen Covey is credited with saying that "change moves at the speed of trust."

Sometimes in a community, that means the trust has to be built or it has to be rebuilt if it has been broken. We also have to realize that this work is multi-generational. This is something that has been going on long before Emma and I started working, or any of the folks that we've talked to started working. We can build on the things that have gone on before. This work exists in a context of people who are working alongside us in different ways towards the same objectives and people who are working towards entirely different objectives. This work will also continue long after we're gone. So, I don't know if this intimidates you or scares you a little bit but it does me sometimes. But I think it's shouldn't stop us. It shouldn't stop us at all. So, if it is our goal to build a more inclusive and equitable community, then where do we start?

-Four Common Foundational Concepts

In this new podcast series, we will introduce you to six areas of practice that make up the practice of building a more inclusive community. Before we start, it's important to share four common foundational or cornerstone concepts. These inform and shape the nature of each of the practices. You could say they are the foundation the practices are built on. So, first is the domain or where we're going to work. Emma, we had a lot of conversations--I don't know if you remember this--about whether we should work at the community level, the state level, the federal level. Do you remember our discussions around that?

Emma Winiski  07:10

I remember going through and providing feedback on some potential interview questions for an interviewee and I kept saying, "More federal. More federal. Like, where's the policy?" I think I was very much influenced by my location in DC. But, the answer is it's everything. It's not one or the other. I think the beauty and the importance of the podcast is its giving voice for people who are working in their local communities with all of the unique aspects and challenges that they have.

But, the podcast provides a format to draw some themes that folks across the country and in different sectors who are committed to this type of work are still facing. So, you can see some of the specific things that only someone really embedded in a community can discover. And then you can say, "Oh, we had a similar type of problem in my community. We approached to different ways, maybe the outcome was different." Obviously, community work is so important, and you need some federal policy to back it up as well.


Ame Sanders  08:16

Yeah. So, it's clear you need work in all different levels. This work that we're doing at State of Inclusion, though, as you've alluded to, is community-centered. That doesn't mean that there isn't work that's needed at federal level or in the regional level. But this conversation is a local and community-based conversation. I want to be clear to about what we mean by community.

So, I picked up a definition of community that says a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other (so interdependent) and interacting with each other. So, I think that's really important.

The other thing about communities and the reason I focus on those is it is where our hearts are, that's where our families are, and it's where we make our lives every day. And it is where, as Emma suggested earlier, you can discover things at the community level that you can never see at the national level. So, there's an opportunity to make certain types of changes that cannot be made anywhere else. We are all part of a community and we all bear some responsibility for making it better. We also bear responsibility for it being less than it could be. The other thing about community is when you're local, you can't blame it on someone else. You can't say someone else didn't do this, somebody should have done this. It is your community and it is your responsibility.

Emma Winiski  09:42

The part of that definition that I really like is "interdependent organisms." I think that sometimes, even at the community level, or you know, city town level, it can sometimes feel like your life or your actions are very, very separate from your neighbors, your neighbors across town or people who go to a different church or school than you. This definition is very explicit about the fact that whether you realize it or not, the choices that you're making do have an impact on those around you. So, the quicker that we can acknowledge that, yes, our wellbeing is tied to the wellbeing of others and our lack thereof is also tied to the less than thriving situations of others, we can get this collective mindset, that I think is really foundational for this type of work.

-A Wicked Problem

Ame Sanders  10:32

Yeah, that's really well said. So, the first foundational element is that this work is community-centered.

The second foundational element is how we view the problem because how you view a problem or challenge determines how you organize yourself and how you go about addressing it. When thinking about this challenge of building a more inclusive and equitable community, and yes, let's say combating racism and bias, I would put forth that this is a wicked problem. If you haven't studied this, wicked problems have a few defining characteristics.

First, the solution depends on how the problem is framed and vice versa. So, the solution and problem are intertwined with one another in terms of the frame or the lens that you take to consider it. The stakeholders that are involved in a wicked problem can have wildly disparate worldviews and different values that help them evaluate alternatives in different ways, the constraints that the problem has, and the resources that are needed to solve it may change and evolve over time. Also, wicked problems have this notion that there isn't really a definitive solution. So, a wicked problem is really never completely solved.

So, as I said, I believe this challenge of building community inclusion and equity is a wicked problem. Approaching a wicked problem requires a broad-based, iterative, experimental, and evolving set of solutions. It will not be solved through a one and done approach or through a command and control approach. There is in most cases, not a right or wrong answer or solution, only what Reverend Mills in my interview with him called "getting to better." It is work without a clear finish line and where you must always watch for unintended consequences.

-Requiring Adaptive Leadership Style

The third foundational element that I want to talk about is about the leadership style that is required for this work. Emma brought this to the table for us when we were pulling our thoughts together. And it's the concept of adaptive leadership from Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. In their analysis, problems can require two types of solution. On one hand, there are technical solutions, meaning that the solution is known and can be applied to a situation to get known or predictable results. In that case, the problem definition is pretty clear. They say for those kinds of problems, the power or the locus of power that you need in order to address those types of problems, or bring about those types of solutions is authority. I worked in the corporate world and I saw a lot of these kinds of problems in my work, and you may have too.

The second type of solution that they talk about are adaptive solutions. Adaptive solutions require learning. The solution requires learning and the locus of power are the stakeholders that are involved in the situation. And basically, adaptive solutions require leadership and leadership is required when logic is not the answer. When you need to have people make a change or do something different, but they're not being swayed by logic or facts or data. It's in situations where people need more. They need more in order to move forward, and adaptive leadership suggests that you connect with the values, beliefs, and anxieties of the people that you want to move. So, Emma, I know this one you brought to me and I was really excited to have the opportunity to study this. Do you have some things you want to share?

Emma Winiski  14:14

Yeah. I think that sometimes this distinction isn't even mutually exclusive. So, I do a lot of work with substance use disorders. Thinking about that as a technical challenge, we know that low-threshold access to health care, to medications to treat opioid use disorder or other substance use disorders, stable housing, other social safety net things, are evidence-informed practices that do help folks. So, I think sometimes there's a technical solution to thinking about how might we reduce opioid overdoses in a city. There's also the adaptive part. There's a ton of stigma. Some people might not feel as if they should seek treatment, or that maybe it's a moral issue. Even something that is backed by evidence might not be politically popular or publicly popular.

When a problem requires adaptive leadership, it means that they should be working in both of those planes--acknowledging that there's probably some technical solution or there's learning where you can draw from but also realizing that that's not the singular answer to the problem.

-Asset-Based Orientation

Ame Sanders  15:32

I think that's really important to bring out. So, in this work that we are focused on in trying to help communities become more inclusive and equitable, there are technical solutions in some areas, but there is also a lot of adaptive work to be done. The fourth foundational element I want to put out there is about the belief system or lens through which we will tackle this work. I want to challenge you guys, as I challenge myself, that we focus less on gaps or what's missing or what's not working, and focus more on assets.

I had a great interview with DeAmon Harges some time ago. DeAmon works in the asset-based community development space. It was really encouraging for me to talk with him about how things can change when you look around you and you recognize all the talents and assets that are available to you right in your own backyard, in your community, and you begin to think of your work and those positive opportunity and opportunity-oriented things, rather than just as barriers, gaps, or problems.


So again, our four foundational elements are that:

  • Our work is community-centered,
  • We recognize the work of making a community more inclusive and equitable is a wicked problem requiring specific types of approaches,
  • Our solutions will have both technical and adaptive elements, but most importantly, as leaders, we will need to bring our adaptive leadership skills to this work,
  • And then fourth, that we will always strive to begin and build from the assets that exist within our specific community.

It is so important to keep these in mind as we move into our next episode, where Emma and I will introduce you to the six areas of practice that make up the practice of building a more inclusive community. Thanks for joining us today.

This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. Join us again next time, and if you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others or leave us a review. We'd love your comments. Thanks so much for listening.


Host: Emma Winiski

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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