Transcript: Participatory Systems Change for Equity: Centering Community Wisdom and Collective Action to Transform Child-, Youth-, and Family-Serving Systems
Welcome to today’s webinar, Participatory Systems Change for Equity: Centering Community Wisdom and Collective Action to Transform Child-, Youth-, and Family-Serving Systems. My name is Lan Nguyen and I’m an associate with the California Center for School Climate at WestEd, and I’ll be the moderator for today’s session. Before we learn more about the Participatory Systems Change for Equity framework, we wanted to ground the session by speaking both to the realities and possibilities of what it means to be a family-, child-, and youth-serving agency today. As our organizations, whether they’re schools, districts, institutions of higher education, regional and state agencies, community-based organizations, nonprofits, and/or foundations, rise to meet the needs of our communities, the importance of working more collaboratively with one another and in partnership with communities to effectively address complex systemic challenges is increasingly clear.
This is especially important given that child-, youth-, and family-serving agencies that attempt to improve their systems often employ a range of strategies, including needs assessments, initiative inventories, vision setting, intervention design, and impact evaluations. Though these efforts represent a significant opportunity for systems change, they’re traditionally designed to emphasize and establish order and control, hierarchical management, and top-down decision-making. Participatory systems change invites community members and system leaders to collectively identify, design, decide, implement, and assess priorities, actions, and investments that work toward eliminating systemic oppression and generating system conditions that promote equity, opportunity, and well-being. The Participatory Systems Change for Equity framework aims to provide a foundation upon which to enact these approaches.
To prime us for today’s session, we wanted to collectively get an idea of the role of participatory approaches in this work. We’ve got two polls for you. The first poll is, “What percentage of states encourage or require staff training for parent outreach?” If we can go ahead and launch that poll, that would be great, and we’ll give you all a moment to consider the options and select your responses. The second question there is. “What percentage of states encourage or require districts to include parents or family members in school planning and decision-making?”
I’m not sure if I’m quite seeing the results there myself, but the correct answer for the first question is. . . . Oh, there it is —32 percent. The correct answer for the second question is 76 percent. Just something to think about. What was your thought about that versus what the correct answer was?
As we mentioned before, today’s session is based off of the Participatory Systems Change for Equity: An Inquiry Guide for Child-, Youth-, and Family-Serving Agencies. This guide, again, is available in the Linktree for you to read further at a later time. The guide was a collaboration between the California Center for School Climate [CCSC] and the national Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety [CISELSS]. I’m pleased to introduce today’s speakers who represent both the California Center for School Climate and the national Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety. With us today, we have Shazia Hashmi, Rebeca Cerna, Amber Valdez, Natalie Walrond, and myself, Lan Nguyen. With that, I’d like to pass it to our first speaker, Amber Valdez.
Thank you, Lan. Hello, everyone. It’s great to be with all of you in community today. On the next slide I’m going to share a bit about the continuum of participation. Key to participatory systems change efforts is attending to gradations of participation. Not all systems change initiatives are participatory, even if they are intended to be so. Here’s an illustration of the continuum of participation. You may have seen other representations of this continuum, including Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation, the Student Voice Continuum from Californians for Justice, and others. The continuum ranges from non-participation to tokenism and extraction to various degrees of participation.
Non-participation includes manipulation, decoration, for example, community members being treated as decoration at events and in communications materials to bolster a cause. Tokenism and extraction include placating and forming and consulting, for example, community members being provided information, their assigned roles, and informed about how and why they are involved. Then degrees of participation involving collaborating and leading together, for example, community members holding leadership roles on committees and governance bodies and participating in shared decision-making with system leaders.
Before we dive into the framework, we want to invite you to think about this question as we’re sharing the content with you today. We invite you to think about some recent systems change efforts that you’ve been a part of, and where these efforts might fall along the continuum of participation that we just shared from non-participation to tokenism and extraction to degrees of participation. Next is a visual representation of how our team at WestEd is thinking about opportunities to transform systems in partnership with the very people who are impacted by child-, youth-, and family-serving systems, including young people, families, community partners, educators, system leaders, and others. We refer to this as participatory systems change for equity. Over the next handful of slides, I’m going to walk us through the framework at a high level before handing it over to my colleagues, Shazia Hashmi and Rebeca Cerna, to offer a deep dive on the elements of the framework. If you’d like to follow along at your own pace, you can view the framework on page five of the participatory systems change for equity guide that’s shared in the Linktree provided in the chat. You can also access a PDF of the slides in the Linktree as well.
Here we offer a working definition of participatory systems change for equity, which is an approach to systems change that centers community wisdom and collective action to dismantle oppressive systems and generate conditions for equity, opportunity, and well-being. The approach draws from indigenous epistemologies, methodologies of the oppressed, community organizing, participatory action research, continuous improvement, design thinking, liberatory design, and other participatory methods.
Beginning with the center of the framework, the most inner circle of the framework represents the why of participatory systems change, which is to transform systems for equity, opportunity, and well-being of young people, families, and communities by partnering with communities to see how systems have been designed to oppress the very people they’re intended to serve, and by working together to bear witness to the impact of this reality on people, including the undermining of the health and well-being of young people, families, and generations to come. Using this collective understanding to then create something better together, we believe it becomes possible to build equitable, responsive, and sustainable systems that truly contribute to thriving communities.
The orange ring outlines the seven elements of participatory systems change for equity, which are the key components of any change process. They are: Connect in Community, See the System and Center Community Experiences, Dream a Vision for the Future, Decide Priorities and Goals, Generate Change Approaches, Align to Hold Change, and, finally, Learn Together and Grow Change. The key difference between participatory system change for equity and other change processes is that each step in the process is done in partnership with those who are directly impacted by child-, youth-, and family-serving systems. Participatory system change for equity invites community members and system leaders to collectively identify, design, decide, implement, and assess priorities, actions, and investments that work toward healthier systems and thriving communities.
Next, the magenta ring speaks to the importance of attending to technical, adaptive, and emergent change throughout the change process. Technical or explicit change includes policies, practices, and resources—or the things that you can see. Adaptive or implicit change includes relationships, power dynamics, and mental models, which are the things that live in conversation and interpersonal connections and in our individual paradigms, which are sometimes harder to see. Emergent change refers to the dynamic iterative nature of change, acknowledging that change isn’t linear and that we are constantly learning our way into more meaningful, impactful change, and that it is important to attend to the complex nature of systems change at the individual, interpersonal, and systemic levels. When we roll out big interventions at scale—from data gathering to sense-making, to design, to implementation, to evaluation—and do so without partnering with communities who are impacted by these interventions, we cannot expect the interventions to be truly transformative. The intervention may change some things, but not every change is a positive change. In essence, the change effort will fail to reach its full potential to contribute to thriving communities.
The green ring on relational trust represents the importance of change being done in community, and that change is held together by relational trust. The elements of the participatory systems change for equity, or any change process, are held and strengthened by relational trust and the relational trust that exists within a community. As many change theorists and practitioners have emphasized, change moves at the speed of trust.
The outermost circle of the framework are the guiding principles for a participatory system change for equity. They include sharing power and centering self-determination. For example, have you talked to a young person about how to improve a system that’s supposed to serve them? They are brilliant and will blow your mind with innovative ideas or with ideas that are fundamental to true transformative change.
Elevating community strengths and attending to place, no one places the same. The priorities in one community are not necessarily the same priorities in another, nor should the change process itself be designed to be exactly the same. Building individual and collective capacity and recognizing interdependence. We cannot change the world alone and we all need the skills, knowledge, and resources to participate meaningfully. Promoting culturally responsive and sustaining change. Let’s sustain our roots, hold onto oral histories, rituals, cultural practices as pivotal to meaningful change, prioritizing transparency and accessibility. No one can participate meaningfully if they don’t have the information, resources, and tools to participate. Finally, illuminating oppression and taking liberatory action, always taking a hard look at what’s working or not working for our young people, families, and communities. Our collective thriving really depends on it.
Next, I’m going to hand it to my colleagues, Shazia Hashmi and Rebeca Cerna, who will take us through a deep dive on the seven participatory systems change for equity elements. Shazia will begin with elements one through three, and then Rebeca will cover elements four through seven. Throughout the deep dive presentation, we’ll have some opportunities to listen to some examples of participatory systems change efforts in schools, while the polls and examples that we’re using today primarily highlight the education sector, we invite participants to think about systems change efforts in and across child youth and family serving sectors and agencies. With that, I’ll turn it over to Shazia. Shazia, please take it away.
Thanks, Amber. All right, in the spirit of centering community voice today, we’d love to start off with a story from the California Center for School Climate audio gallery. This clip, just to preface before Lan hits play, it really illustrates the type of participatory design process that is often described as taking too much time, money, and effort for school leaders to take on. We really wanted to have everyone listen to an example of this in action.
Audio Clip: Principal Nguyen of Oakland’s EnCompass Academy:
When we started the design process, we took three years to do it. We did not know it was going to take three years. We tried to evolve according to the development of the team, and that is really important because so often you bring people to the table and it’s very tokenized. And if you bring family members to the table, the power dynamic with educators are such that, and especially cross culturally, some families feel like they have to defer to the educators in the decision making. So, it’s really important to slow down the process so that we can listen to one another, know about each other’s families, so that, when we are actually making decisions, power dynamic is more balanced.
And then we also want to make sure that our team was representing the four directions. The four directions is really from the East, the South, the West and the North. A lot of the other design teams that I was seeing during the small schools movement at the time were not led by people of color. And the ways of approaching the work was still a very Western approach of, “Let’s just move forward. Efficiency over community.”
And so, we wanted to make sure that we had our Indigenous folks, our Asian Americans, our African American, our Latinx, our European Americans really just hold space in a way that, as bell hooks would say, is really to move from margin to center, really bring the epistemology, the ways of knowing, into the room in the way that we envision and develop the design. We know that education starts with the self. It’s guided by family, engaged in community and rooted in the ancestors.
All right, just to give you a little bit more background on that clip, you just heard from Principal Nguyen of Oakland’s EnCompass Academy. She founded this school in 2004 with a commitment to creating equitable family-school partnerships through a community-centric design. Before the school even opened, she led a process of engaging with over 200 families through a door knocking campaign in order to assess local assets, priorities, et cetera, while also recruiting parents and caregivers and other community members to participate on the school design team. In the clip we just listened to, she talks about the power imbalances she was trying to actively disrupt during this process. This effort really proved instrumental in building trust early on by demonstrating to the community the school leadership really had a genuine interest in the experiences and strengths of the community itself. Today, I’m going to dive into the first three elements that we’ve identified as key components to participatory systems change.
Element one, as you’ll see on this slide, is Connect in Community. We designed this guide to help teams of system leaders, educators, and other school staff and community members engage in collective reflection and inquiry. And in keeping with the guiding principles that Amber mentioned a few minutes ago, attending to place being one of the principles, this guide really stresses that these elements are situated within larger processes. So, technical strategies, adaptive strategies, emergent change processes, because this is a complex system that we’re talking about. Any child-, family- and youth-serving agency, any change effort will involve a lot, so that’s why we’re doing a little bit of a deep dive into these elements today.
The elements kick off with connecting the relational trust that comes with community building across roles, departments, and positions of power, as well as racial, linguistic, and cultural differences crucial to designing equitable participatory change efforts. To build this type of trust, teams should create shared spaces that build connection, understanding, and belonging, while also attending to power dynamics and identifying community interests so that ultimately the change efforts can be responsive to the community’s interests, needs, opportunities, et cetera.
On the next slide, we have some overarching principles within the elements. For connecting in community, we are always emphasizing that you need to attend to power dynamics, and the way to do that is to engage in active listening, more of an equitable improvement cycle, continuous improvement method, that really stresses the importance of developing and practicing community agreements and prioritizing connection and belonging.
In the next slide we talk about the second element, which is see the system and center community experiences. For this element, teams are really reminded of the importance of taking the stance of learners to better understand the system we are all working in currently. This will involve gathering data on past and present experiences including how systems have impacted community members over time and across different groups. Teams really need to take a strengths-based approach to surface community assets and aspirations before diving into community needs. As change efforts often run the risk of “solutionitis,” which is when we try to solve or fix communities without achieving a fuller understanding of the experiences of students, families, educators, and other community members. Once this data has been collected, teams can convene community members to engage in a collective process of sense-making and sharing emerging findings.
On the next slide, we, again, provide some overarching principles to this element, the need to work together in gathering data, identifying community strengths and needs by taking a strengths-based approach, and continuing to share emerging findings throughout the process so that it doesn’t feel like leaders are coming into a community, taking data out, and never really attempting to meaningfully engage participants at a deeper level and be transparent about what the process looks like at every stage that we’re talking through today.
On the next slide we have element three, which is to dream a vision for the future. Once teams have established the type of relational trust that we talked about and the data on community experiences, strengths, and aspirations, as well as that shared understanding of the current system, they’re ready to collaborate on a vision for the future. For this element, teams will dream with young people, families, community partners, and other system leaders to ensure that the vision being built represents the assets and needs of the community. We know that these efforts can’t possibly include all community members though. Teams should really consider how they can communicate brainstorms, generative ideas, for shared vision with the broader community. Whichever way you’re able to involve all these different community partners, it’s really important that your vision actually speaks to the experiences of who you’re attempting to serve. In the next slide, we, again, have a few principles for this element: needing to dream together, clarifying the shared vision so that it is truly a shared vision, and making sure that you’re communicating this vision for the future, disseminating it widely. With that, I’m going to transition to my colleague, Rebeca, to talk us through the last four elements of participatory systems change.
Thank you, Shazia. Again, my name is Rebeca Cerna and I’ll be taking you through the remaining elements of the guide. I’ll also be starting with the clip. This clip is from the Beyond SEL audio gallery. In this audiocast clip—it’s from Forest Park Middle School, which is located in Illinois—you’ll either hear the voice or read the captions of Dr. Tiffany Brunson, who was the principal at the time of the recording. It’s a two-minute clip, it provides a window into how empathy interviews helped the adults at Forest Park Middle School learn more about how their everyday actions were resulting in disproportionate discipline patterns for a specific segment of students. With that, we’ll play the clip.
Audio Clip: Dr. Tiffany Brunson:
Dr. Tiffany Brunson (13:05):
There was a particular group of young men that seemed to always be the ones being written up. We drilled down even to that data, who are these students and why is this happening and who’s writing them up, just trying to get a better sense of what was happening.
Then I’ll tell you, one of the questions that we asked the students on the team, “Well, why do you think this is happening? Why do you think this particular group of students, Black boys?” The insights they have given have been amazing, that some students are not treated the same because maybe the teachers don’t look at them or they don’t view them as the same, or the same behavior, because it is attached to this particular group of students, is not viewed as the same.
One of the young men that I was able to interview, I said, “Well, was the process fair?” and he said, “I agree that I broke a rule, but I did not think that the teacher handled the situation fairly. I think she could have pulled me to the side and had a conversation with me as opposed to embarrassing me in front of the entire classroom.” I asked him, I said, “Well, how did you feel?” He said, “I felt cornered, I felt embarrassed, and I had to show everyone.”
Just that moment, of how that could have been different. Just saying, “Do you think the process was fair?” He admitted, “Yeah, I was goofing off. I’m 10, I’m 11,” but at that moment, that adult in this relationship, the power structure, and he felt powerless. I still get chills when I think about that. He said, “She could have been more polite to me, even though I was wrong. I’m a kid.” There was nothing else I had to say about that, other than, “You are absolutely correct.”
Sharing stories really helps us to practice that perspective taking, which is what happened when the principal and other staff were doing these empathy interviews and really taking into consideration how we might prioritize goals, in this case for a middle school.
To start off with element four on this next slide, element four is about teams working together to identify priorities and goals that align with the vision that has been determined by the community. It’s about prioritizing should be based and rooted in understanding the experiences, the assets, the aspirations, and the needs of the community members to help teams organize their collective thinking and their dreaming. The next slide, this includes revisiting what has been learned to ground emerging priorities and goals as they shift. Some questions to consider might be, “Is it clear which root causes or which causes might be contributing most to the challenges that are being experienced by a community? Have these causes been confirmed in partnership with community members?” In the audio clip from Forest Park, they used empathy interviews to gain a better understanding or insight into the root causes of their disproportionate discipline practices. Something else to consider is power. Is our decision-making process attending to the power dynamics and really elevating the voices and the experiences of those most marginalized? Part of what Forest Park Middle School did in their work was indeed to elevate the voices of the students who were being most impacted by their disproportionate discipline practices that was happening at the school.
As we move into element five on this next slide, we’re focused on change, working collaboratively to generate ideas on how to move from where we currently are to a place and a vision that is informed by the community. This involves designing new services and practices to help disrupt the inequitable practices and systems that are currently in place. It’s about prioritizing, it’s about re-imagining.
On this next slide, as we work on ideas to identify changes, some things to consider could be: “How has your team worked with communities to identify which existing policies or practices or services are working? What do we need in order to strengthen and expand to really serve the community?” Also, to consider how our young people, families, and community partners and system leaders, how are they engaged in co-creating a theory of change for what we’re trying to do? Alignment and coherence is key to this work.
Element six on this next slide focuses on this alignment of change efforts to ensure that these efforts aren’t duplicative or that they’re not redundant. It’s about working to identify all of the initiatives that are currently existing at a site, at a school, at a district, and how you can make them work together to avoid initiative fatigue. Next slide.
Some things to consider about how existing policies or funding opportunities or partnerships can be aligned to support implementation and sustainability of these change approaches. Some possible questions to consider could be: “Are there existing policies or practices or resources that might advance or that might hinder the change efforts that we’re trying to work towards? How are you including those most impacted by the system and the decision-making of how resources are being allocated to support these changes?”
On this next slide, we’re arriving at the last element, element seven, which is about learning together and growing change. This is rooted in the principles of continuous improvement efforts to ensure that community members have opportunities to adapt and change efforts that are based on ongoing learning. What’s important is to consider how success and evidence are being defined in partnership with the community. It’s not about us imposing a definition of what we think success should look like, but it’s about working in collaboration with them. This can involve, on this next slide, co-creating how we will measure change. How are we going to measure change? How are we going to implement learning routines? How are we going to work together to iterate and to scale our approaches over time while we might be piloting something? How are we going to scale it to expand? We should consider what feedback loops are in place to inform continuous improvement efforts. Are change approaches being tested? Are they being iterated and scaled over time? Are ongoing learning routines informing these changes that we’re doing in this expansion of change efforts that we’re doing? This brings us to the end of our seven elements, and then with this, I’m going to pass it back to Lan.
All right, thank you. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the last 34 minutes that we’ve been together, with the understanding that this is an introduction and overview of the framework. We just wanted to offer up a poll based off of how you’re responding now or your understanding at this moment in time. The poll question that we have for you is just based off what you’re learning in this moment. Which of the elements are most important to you right now? You can select up to two. We’ll go ahead and launch that poll and give you a moment to answer that question. Great.
Okay, it looks like we’ve got a scatter, but connecting and community is coming up as really important to folks and then seeing the system and centering community experiences. Great. Thank you all so much for participating in that poll. We’re going to transition to the moderated Q&A portion of our time today. If you haven’t gotten a question in the Q&A function quite yet, please go ahead and do that now or put them in the chat. With that I’m going to hand it over to Natalie Walrond.
Hi, everybody. Lan, thank you so much. Okay, that was a lot of content, so much rich content and I hope you all will have the chance to click through that guide and read through it a little bit more slowly. There’s some really fabulous reflection questions. It’s something that, I think, can be really meaningful if you read it individually or if you read it in teams. Then also just want to mention in the Linktree that you’ll find we have a listening guide if you want to go back through this webinar with your colleagues again to help you pause it and stop and process things.
As Lan mentioned, please add any quick questions you may have in the Q&A or in the chat. I am going to… You know what? Yeah, I’m going to kick us off with a first question and give everyone the chance to add in some questions. . . . I see one has come in. Thank you so much for that. All right, panelists, get ready. Here we are. I would love for you guys to think about some of the successful participatory change approaches that you’ve seen, and to Amber’s point, initially, it may be things that you’ve seen in the schools and districts and county offices with which you’ve worked, the state agencies with which you’ve worked, but it could also be in other child- and youth-serving sectors, right? As you think about those, I would love to hear you reflect on where you saw them start, because these elements, there are lots of different entry points. I’d love to hear you share where you’ve seen some of these child- and youth-serving agencies start, and then what their lessons learned were.
I’m happy to jump in with an example. I’ll provide a statewide example. In California, the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative is part of the state’s master plan for kids’ mental health, which is an historic investment by the state of California that takes a whole child approach to address the factors that contribute to the mental health and well-being of our children and youth. At the core of the initiative is re-imagining and transforming the way the state supports children, youth, and families. And by centering the needs of young people and uniting in the efforts of the agencies and organizations that serve them, the CYBHI is seeking to ensure that kids and families can support their emotional, mental, and behavioral health needs when and where and in the way they need it most.
This initiative is a great example of a statewide effort that’s attempting a participatory approach to systems change. There are at least 20 work streams that are a part of this multibillion-dollar initiative, and community partnerships are baked into the design, the implementation, and the evaluation of each of these work streams and for the initiative at large. For example, the initiative has facilitated listening sessions and collective sense-making sessions with young people, with educators, with providers. Also, the evaluation of the initiative includes the co-design of the evaluation itself, the implementation of the evaluation, and also partnering on how the evaluation findings will be used. That’s one example at the state level.
Oh, sorry, go ahead. Go ahead, Rebeca.
Thanks, Natalie. Since Amber gave an example of a state level, I’m going to give an example of one from a school. There was a school site in… It was a district, actually. A district in California, and there was a couple of schools that had come together because they were wanting to explore their school climate data and look at it a little bit more deeply because they hadn’t done it as teams, like staff within the school. We were collaborating with them in this process and then we asked them if they could also invite family members and students to a session around having conversations around their local school climate survey data. And they did, and there was elementary schools, high schools, middle schools that were coming together with seven sites. During this session it was like this aha moment that they’ve never been in collaboration, working with parents and family members and students all at the table with district and school staff asking about data and what does this mean in digging deeper.
That was a way of really thinking about this is what the data is saying like, “What do you think?” Then automatically being able to engage in conversations with the students and getting input from them in a way where everybody is sitting at the table like equal partners. They had this one particular school who had fifth graders at the table, had this aha moment like, “Oh, I never thought of asking them these questions.” It was like this moment that, “Oh, we need to work, we need to do things a little bit differently.” Then their process continued. This was last school year and they did make some changes over the year, but that was just an example of how they embedded participatory practices in their data use efforts.
Awesome. Shazia, do you want to chime in?
I think I have a few examples that aren’t particular to districts, but just off the top of my head, thinking of when I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to listen in and see the efforts in the local community to advocate for an anti-racism policy that was district wide. This was in Albemarle County, and it came out of, again, a grassroots effort from community members, students who were noticing that the curriculum that they were receiving was not representative of their experiences, their assets, their strengths. This effort is one of the amazing attempts that we can see across the country. We can identify various efforts where when the community comes together and has a real clear goal that emerges in an authentic need, the districts can listen and really be responsive to the needs. That’s one of the efforts that came to mind as a participatory collective process.
I love it. Thank you.
Okay. I have two questions in the queue, which we definitely have time for. We may be able to even include a third if anyone wants to add something to the Q&A.
Okay, the next question, and I’m going to read it as it is, but we might adapt it a little bit, is: “Do you have examples of places and projects where people have used this framework?” I’m going to adapt it slightly for this… I hope the person who submitted it doesn’t mind because this framework in this report is pretty new, it’s pretty hot off the presses, right? I’m going to adapt it to be about, do you have examples of places and projects where you’re talking to people about using the framework? How are you seeing people beginning to understand this guide as you’ve been sharing it across the state and across the country?
I’m happy to start. I’m going to use another California example, and part of this is the guide was supported by the California Department of Education. Anyway, they’re a huge partner in this. One key example is the California Community Engagement Initiative, which is a multimillion-dollar statewide initiative to build capacity for community engagement in schools and districts. Really building capacity to work in partnership with young people, with families, with community partners, educators, and so on, to transform our schools in meaningful ways that are relevant to our young people. The initiative—well, as Natalie said, the guide is pretty new—the initiative is using the framework to organize its learning series for schools and districts as it facilitates professional learning networks, I should say, across the state to build capacity for community engagement. The learning series is organized by the seven elements. It’s still new and we’re working through it. We are just really grateful for that partnership and excited to see that the state is seeing what we’re all seeing. And the elements, I think, are being used in a practical way through this initiative.
I’ll just add, while the guide is new, I think that the theories and all of the work behind it, it’s been there and our work has been grounded in all of these elements. It’s just that we didn’t have it written somewhere to share with the public as a public-facing document. It’s built on years of work of not just our work, but the work in the field. We were just trying to develop something that could help the field. If you look at the guide, there’s questions to think about for each element and also additional resources that you could explore for each of the different elements. I just wanted to flag that example that I shared about the school district earlier, that was happening before the guide was developed, but we’ve already been working in this space. We’ve been working on participatory efforts before we posted the guide officially.
Shazia, do you want to chime in or should I go to the next question?
I’ll just add to what Rebeca was saying. In the guide we talk about Yosso’s community cultural wealth, we discuss liberatory design, complex systems change. I love what Rebeca’s saying about… we’re drawing on the wisdom of our scholars before us, and often we see community engagement efforts that just falter. This is our attempt at really energizing and galvanizing system leaders by using all this collective wisdom and really leveraging it to respond to the needs again of community members.
Awesome. Thank you.
Before we get to the next section, just to add to what you all are saying, one of the things I love about this guide is that it has this very strong spine or, I guess, trunk that is grounded in the evidence base. Then like a Christmas tree these elements are the branches, the ornaments that are hanging off of it, right? That means that there are lots of different entry points into this work.
The next question, I love this question because we’re about to get to the real real, is what are some practical and successful ways that you’ve started this process, especially when you’re coming into an existing relationship between community and organization that’s been combative. “What does it look like when the context is a little turbulent? The relational trust is not there. What are the entry points that you can see and what does that look like?”
If you guys want me to start, I will start.
I can start us off. That question makes me think a lot about the first two elements. The first element is about connecting and community. And the second element is about seeing the system and centering community experiences. I think what’s key to any change process is whether you’ve started on element four, five or six, they’re all important and you’re constantly needing to attend to all seven, right? Connecting and community is really about building the relationships or relational trust, as Natalie was saying, to really hold the change process throughout and also sustain the change long term, right? In order to move in partnership, attending to the power dynamics and connections that we have, the interpersonal dynamics is so key. We won’t get very far if we don’t do that. Now, that also, I think, requires that we prepare our leaders to be able to facilitate change in that way.
Our work is in child-, youth-, and family-serving systems. It’s urgent, right? We need to move to the next thing. We need our babies to be able to read and all the things. It’s hard to slow down and it’s hard to, you’re right, just pause and reflect. Pause, reflect, and take the time to build relationships, I think, is really key. Preparing our leaders to do that is also really important. Then the last thing I’ll say on that is for element two on seeing the system and centering community experiences, I think it goes a long way when we can recognize, acknowledge, bear witness to what has worked and what hasn’t, right?
I bet the disagreements or the combative nature that’s being highlighted in this question, I’m sure it’s coming from something, right? At the end of the day, I do believe that folks want the same thing for our young people, right? We want them to thrive and be okay in the world. I think it’s spending time getting to the root cause of what’s really happening. How has the system been designed to not work for us, right? Or what’s happening in the relationship and why is there a lack of trust? And how has that lack of trust been built over time, right? Working on that and having the hard conversations, I think, is important.
I had unmuted at the same time as Amber because the first thing that came to mind was also this having to spend time and thinking about trust and how we really need to… It takes time, this work takes time. And really trying to figure out, “Well, what’s the root cause of this combative nature?” One of the things that I’m thinking about… I am going to see if one of my colleagues can put the link to this brief that we just recently posted on reframing resistance and how there’s an emphasis and a focus. I know, Lan, you’re not spotlighted on it, but I know that you worked on that brief and I know that you’re here, but it really was talking about distrust. If I can actually pull Lan into this, because this is hot-off-the-press brief that I can maybe pull it and put it in the chat unless one of my other colleagues who’s in the background can put it up for us in the chat real quick.
Sure. I’ll just speak to that really quickly, which is just to answer the question around what do we do? How do we start? Amber said this, but seeing the combativeness, some of those… I think we can all make the connections between this particular social political moment and how in some ways it has divided community. The first approach I would think of just on a practical level as a leader would be to be curious about that because that combativeness is often a symptom of distrust. One of the guiding principles is around listening. What does it mean to listen deeply and to not turn away from those really sharp moments, right? Oftentimes folks who are very combative have maybe not been listened to for potentially generations of communities in an education or in any community, haven’t felt listened to.
That cultivation of relational trust in the same way that maybe those deep community wounds around that distrust was not created overnight. That’s part of that slowing down to really say, “Look, we can’t move forward.” And that effort may take years to build that trust with the community. Really listening and kind of asking what’s the root cause beneath the things that are being said or some of the inflammatory things that are being said. That would just be my piece. Yeah, the reframing resistance brief is just something that we saw with lots of leaders in the field struggling with this, right?
Why can’t I get these people on board to this initiative? And if we could just get people on board, we would be great and our systems would be transformed. But it’s skipping that key piece of connecting in community, and this just approaches it from an angle of “How can we be curious about what we’re seeing? How can we have a more empathetic perspective on some of maybe these behaviors that aren’t pleasant?” But there’s just some reframing, if you will, around that. I will pause on that piece and hand it back to. . . .
Lan, that was awesome and I’m glad you’re here. Lora, please keep Lan spotlighted for the last question.
Let’s do a lightning round because I know it’s 10:55. We’re almost to the top of the hour, but there’s one more question that I want to make sure we make space for. In that poll, Lan, that you did at the end, “Which of the elements are most important to you right now? Select up to two.” Fifty percent, the number one piece, is around this conversation about connecting in community. And so our last question, lightning round, “Are there best practices around connecting to the community and intentional recruitment to ensure community voice represents the ethnic makeup of the community? We tend to get more white participation than the minority majority we see in our community demographics.” Lightning round, big idea. Are there best practices around connecting to the community and intentional recruitment?
This a big question. One thing that I think of really quick, because I know we’re almost at the end, is when you bring people together at the table, it’s not just about bringing them to the table, but we have to work towards how do we engage folks at the table so that they can participate in inclusive ways. That’s one thing.
Yeah, I can quickly say, thank you, Philip, for this question. It’s so important. I wish we had more time. Attend to the structural barriers that really limit the participation of families who don’t have access to all of the capital needed to make a parent-teacher conference or a town hall and feel comfortable speaking, like Rebeca just said.
I would add quickly, in your role, expect to be doing more of the work, right? Expect to be doing more of the work, as the people with power. That’s my piece.
And ask why, right? Really try to understand why that is. I think there’s a lot behind. . . it’s not that folks just aren’t showing up, and so it’s about reaching out and trying to understand. There are layers and layers of why, some of which I think, Lan, was speaking to earlier, which is historical relationship with whatever system is trying to engage community members. Yeah, that’s my addition. Natalie, you want to close this out?
Actually, I think I’m turning it back to Lan, but before I do, I’m going to squeeze in my lightning round, which is do not underestimate the value of one-on-one conversations in building trust, as all the panelists have said this, work takes time and part of the time is slowing down to build direct relationships, rather than saying, “I’ll invite 50 people and call that relationship building.”
Thank you all so much. Thank you to our panelists, Amber, Rebeca, and Shazia are our lead authors on the guide. Thank you so much for your brilliance and for pulling this together. I’ll turn it back to Lan.
With that, thank you to all of the presenters today and for all of you for showing up to today’s webinar. We hope you have a great rest of your day.