Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. —Malcolm Forbes
Bringing together diverse stakeholder perspectives is at the heart of collaboration. It’s how we truly come together to address a local challenge, understand barriers, identify solutions, and take collaborative action. Over the long term, it’s also how we build and facilitate momentum and a power base for real and lasting change.
Here are some questions to consider when bringing together diverse perspectives:
Different people from different parts of the community have different views. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman describes something called “What you see is all there is,” or WYSIATI. He points out people tend to make decisions based on the information they have, not information they don’t have. This video shows how the adult brain makes decisions based on assumptions and not facts, especially when time is a constraint. The effectiveness of your collaboration will grow as people from throughout the community share their personal experiences. Intentional engagement of the full community helps us collectively see what no one individually sees alone.
There are many ways to consider the range of experience and knowledge within the collaborative:
- Racial, ethnic, linguistic, geographic, economic, family type
- Mix of expertise, including “lived experience”
- Essential sub-systems and the early childhood system
- Vertical layers within organizations (consider a school system with board members, superintendents, preschool teachers, and parents)
- Community—leadership from business, religious groups, elected officials, and influential community members
It takes active participation by people committed to collaborative action to produce sustained systems change. Through community engagement, we bring together a community’s strongest assets—people’s skills, talents, and resources that increase their collective power.
Building one-on-one relationships with key stakeholders—the people in your community who can get things done—may be the most important tactic. “Getting outside of your building” and meeting with parents and providers is one important way to ensure you’re considering a wide range of perspectives. Collecting data through surveys, focus groups, or other interview techniques can also help inform the collaboration.
It’s important to use meeting time effectively to draw out diverse perspectives. Here are a few resources that can help you get started:
You should engage diverse perspectives through every phase of your work—from discovery, planning, and implementation through to sustainability. Keep in mind that it may not be possible to engage all of the people with these diverse perspectives at regularly held collaboration meetings. Think about alternatives, such as hosting parent subcommittee meetings on weekends, at breakfast collaborations, or at night to accommodate varying schedules. Reducing participation barriers and encouraging all voices helps create value for all collaboration members. Periodically survey community members to determine whether meeting times and locations are convenient. Check in quarterly to confirm the right voices are engaged. You should also encourage current members to invite additional stakeholders to maintain wide representation.