Engaging with Diversity Opinion Piece – Stephanie MacDonald

Stephanie MacDonald

No hablo inglés” could have been the end of the conversation. Instead, I gave it a go to explain our consultation on local climate change action in my rusty Spanish. The outcome was, a recent migrant felt like part of his new community and got to have their say; for the project we heard the views of someone who may have been easily overlooked.

Engaging with diversity is an opportunity for richer discussions and better decision making in our communities. This is not professional strength of mine, but I believe planning for conscious inclusion of diverse voices in engagement is a responsibility for engagement practitioners and we can grow this through building our own awareness, skill base and sharing examples of good practice.

Diversity is more than language. Seeking different views and experiences will vary across regions but you can look at it through any number of lens such as ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexuality, disability, rural/urban, or socio-economics. Collecting data from 1635 submitters in 2018 highlighted that the residents my organisation heard from tended to be older, and were more likely to be Pākehā/ NZ European than we should expect. One of the Core Values of IAP2 is “Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process”. If the voices we hear are not representative, how confident can we be in the views that inform decision making? I think we can do better.

At the NZ IAP2 Symposium earlier this month, Michele Feenan described “awareness and attitude” as first steps to building cultural competence. Invest the time in stakeholder mapping to understand the players in a project, issue or area and seek to understand the cultural practices and social norms important to them. There are plenty of resources at our finger tips, like StatsNZ for a snapshot of your local demographics. Welcoming Communities is an initiative working in six regions across Aotearoa to support new migrants. Locally, it has been humbling and inspiring to connect with the strong and growing networks that I had been unaware of until recently. Welcoming Communities advise and learn about the existing networks in my own town. Diversity Works is a membership organisation that provides tools and training and even a few free online resources.

With colleagues Caroline Lim (WBOPDC) and Claire Fletcher (ECAN) we recently hosted a workshop where engagement practitioners shared some great examples of diversity enhancing engagement. The following are just a sample of what we heard:

  • Ditching the PowerPoint for face-to-face discussions on tenancy services for communities where English was a second language. Participants were able to better understand how the changes applied to them and initiate meaningful dialogue with the agency.
  • A community firewood project involved multiple community groups including the Helen Anderson Trust for adults with intellectual disabilities, residents, NGO’s and even the army to cut, stack and deliver firewood to those in need. Homes were warmer but also the community felt proud they had made a contribution to the initiative. “There was no one here with a disability today” was how the event was described.
  • Another organisation celebrated World Intellectual Property Day by inviting in powerful women to speak and explore the issue through a gender lens. This was a first in their industry.

These case studies all shared positive outcomes for the project, a deeper understanding for the organisation engaging on the issue and grew a more inclusive community. When we listen to the same experienced advocates and lobbyists who have the skills, experience and resources to take part in community engagement we only ever know part of the story. Ensuring we strive to hear from a wide range of voices is a challenge for myself-and a journey I’m excited to go on.

Opinion piece prepared by Stephanie Macdonald. NB- These views are my own and do not necessarily represent my organisation
5 July 2019