Creating space for transformative conversations

Beyond Inclusion: Equity in Public Engagement

May 21, 2020

Inclusion is integral to ethical and effective public engagement. Hearing from people with diverse lived experiences leads to more innovative ideas, better decisions and stronger democracies. However, many groups of people remain under-represented in engagement processes due to systemic barriers and inequities.

Beyond Inclusion: Equity in Public Engagement proposes eight principles to support the meaningful and equitable inclusion of diverse voices in public engagement processes across sectors.

Invite participation within an authentic and accountable engagement process 

Authentic public engagement does not have pre-determined conclusions or expected outcomes. Decision-makers are genuinely interested in the public’s input and responsive to what they hear. Clarify the degree of influence participants can have on the final decision in order to set realistic expectations. Follow through with commitments and communicate outcomes transparently to foster trust in engagement processes.

Plan early and proactively

Design the entire engagement plan with the aim of maximizing inclusion and equity, including budgets, timelines, scoping and framing, outreach and communication, process design, evaluation and follow-up. Anticipate and address inequities or potential barriers to participation before community members are discouraged from participating or are forced to advocate for themselves.

Establish respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples

In recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral ties to the land and their inherent rights, advance reconciliation and decolonization by equitably addressing the impacts of past and present-day colonialism, honouring and centering Indigenous knowledge and worldviews, and fostering trusting, reciprocal and collaborative relationships with Indigenous Peoples, when specifically engaging Indigenous Peoples, or when engaging other communities on ancestral Indigenous territories. 

Engage the internal diversity of a community

Community members who share one aspect of their identity or experience may hold very different perspectives on an issue and may face different barriers to participation. Apply an intersectional approach to engagement to hear from diverse members of the communities who may be impacted by a decision.

Work in reciprocal relationship with communities

Equitable public engagement is founded on trusting, respectful, collaborative and reciprocal relationships with communities. Dedicate time and resources to relationship building and share power to co-create mutually-beneficial and accessible engagement processes.

Tailor engagement plans to the context

In consultation with partners and participants, tailor engagement plans to suit the particular topic, objectives, location, available resources, key audiences, and individual participant needs. Distribute resources equitably in order to meet the needs of those who face the greatest barriers to participation.

Commit to ongoing learning and improvement

After establishing a baseline understanding of inclusive, equitable and accessible engagement practices, develop capacity over time by engaging in reflection, evaluation, and ongoing professional development.

Advance systemic equity 

Power inequities, colonialism, and systems of discrimination or oppression (such as racism, sexism, ableism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, etc.) fundamentally limit participation in democracies and impact interactions within engagement processes, institutions and communities. Question longstanding norms, structures and power relationships, and work to advance diversity and equity in systems and leadership.

Download your free copy of the Beyond Inclusion guide to learn more about these principles alongside:

  • Concrete strategies to help enact these principles and address barriers.
  • Suggested approaches to common challenges practitioners face.
  • Real-world case studies illustrating the principles in action.
  • A discussion of what inclusion, equity and accessibility mean within public engagement.
  • A list of further resources to support inclusive engagement

Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue developed the Beyond Inclusion guide through a participatory research and consultation process from 2019-2020 involving community members, engagement practitioners, and representatives from governments and civil society. While we began with a framework of inclusion, participants emphasized the importance of equity—building reciprocal relationships and sharing power with communities to co-create accessible and meaningful engagement processes.

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