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by Vanessa Cagno, Senior Strategist


Those working toward social good — whether public projects, NGOs, impact agencies, or private organizations addressing equity within their own business practices — readily acknowledge that external goals must be modeled by internal policies. Simply put, equity begins from within. It seems rather straightforward that you can’t authentically say you’re creating change over there if you’re not practicing what you preach in here.

However, identifying our blind spots (e.g. implicit biases) isn’t always obvious, even for a field dedicated to championing access and eliminating structural barriers. Maybe especially so. We are deeply entrenched in a cis, white, able bodied, neurotypical work culture (not to mention everyday society) that rewards the loudest boldest voice in the room — and that’s a lot of programming to rewire. Even when engaging in something as intentionally collaborative as a workshop. 

So, how can facilitators drive more equitable workshops, and how can this mindset infuse both the inputs and outputs of our work?

Here are four key areas to consider before even clicking that Zoom link:

  1. Representation — Who is in the (virtual) room? 

  • Does your invite list represent the intended audience, population, or stakeholders of the objective at hand?
  • Are the appropriate decision-makers included? Consider who should be in the room to secure buy-in and keep momentum going after the workshop ends.
  • Is there complementary expertise in the room that can provide points of view across work streams, skills, and experience?
  1. Expectations — Are you clearly setting expectations?

  • Does the workshop itself cover attendees’ relevant priority items?
    • Try: Soliciting attendees’ top objectives or questions before finalizing the agenda
  • Explicitly state the desired outcome at the top of the meeting (e.g. identifying pain points, gaining insightful feedback, aligning on priorities)
  • Don’t expect to come up with a final solution by the end of the workshop
  • Establish the rules of engagement and desired behavior
    • Such as: Pausing to let others speak after you’ve already shared your thoughts; raising your hand (in-person or virtually) instead of interrupting a peer; building upon rather than dismissing another’s idea
  1. Safety — Are you creating an open and empathetic space to share ideas? 

  • How are you encouraging this safety?
  • How are you supporting non-dominant and less senior voices (assuming a hierarchical role structure)?
    • Try: Looking out for interrupters and redirect focus to the speaker
  • Is everyone afforded and encouraged an opportunity to share, without being put on the spot? How can their thoughts be captured if not in the moment?
    • Try: Anonymous sharing
  1. Inclusion — Are you accounting for different internal processing and external communication styles?

  • Try:
    • Distributing background information and prompts ahead of time so participants can prepare at their own pace
    • Building quiet/silent periods in the agenda to:
      • Process prompts and new information
      • Share ideas non-verbally
        • Via chat: Invite guests to utilize the chat function on your conferencing platform of choice 
        • Via polls and prompts: Slido is a free Google extension which ties seamlessly with Slide presentations, allowing attendees to participate in a variety of brainstorming tools using a simple QR code
        • Via virtual “white board”: Zoom and Google have similar features (White Board and Jam Board, respectively) that allow groups to asynchronously tag “sticky notes” and comments to a shared slide. Figma, Miro, and Mural are also free resources to facilitate moments of quiet (and independent) collaboration
    • Allow a post-workshop period for participants to gather and share any additional thoughts that can be collected and reflected in next-step decision-making
      • Depending on the size of your workshop, soliciting and consolidating feedback can be as simple as following up with an email, a shared Google Document, or as methodical as sending a survey (Google Forms, Typeform, and SurveyMonkey are all great options)

Perhaps most important of all to keep in mind when designing a workshop is to approach the process with humility and a curiosity to learn along the way. Just as we don’t aim for perfection while workshopping, our sensitivity to nurturing more equitable environments will improve with time, intention, and a whole lot of constructive feedback.