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Good Intentions are Important, but Not Enough

Our Immediate Plans for Forwarding our Equity Work in 2017

It has been a busy nine days or so.  On the 21st, my family and I participated in the Womxn’s March in Seattle to stand for our beliefs in an inclusive society.  This past weekend we were out again, protesting the Muslim ban and Executive Order impacting immigrants and refugees.  It’s been heartening to see so many people mobilize around issues related to equity and oppression.  It’s been important to me to show up.  But—like publishing our statement on equity—making a public statement about my beliefs only really matters if it is followed by taking more concrete steps to support meaningful change.

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Womxns March, Jan 21, 2017

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Pro-Immigration Rally and March, Jan 29,2017 (Photo: Komo 4 news)

Since putting out our statement late last year, the ORS Impact staff has been working on developing ideas for next steps on how we can enhance our work as a company, with each other, and through our projects to better advance equity and avoid contributing to historical, systemic patterns that support ongoing oppression.  We’re sharing an update of our thinking and actions to hold ourselves accountable and to share our journey to inspire others and help them build from our work.

I’ve conceptualized my thinking about how we tackle this in several ways:

  1. There’s work we want to do that’s internal to the organization.  This focuses on how we work in teams and with each other and what our organizational policies and practices are.
  2. There’s work we do that’s more externally focused. This could include ways to support others doing this work through volunteerism, pro bono work, or providing other kinds of financial or in-kind supports to social justice groups.
  3. We see our client work bridging the external and internal, because it is both about our practice of consulting as well as the social impact related to our clients’ missions.
  4. Of course, there’s an important personal side to this as well.  Many staff are on their own journey of self-reflection around racism and oppression, and this work may inspire personal work among others. While there will be ways we can support individuals’ undergoing this kind of personal transformation, our organizational work will be more focused on systems and institutional change.

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With this framework in mind, we are going to do the following in the first half of 2017:

Staff training:  We are going to dedicate extended staff meeting time over the next four months to internal training.  We need more work to ensure we are all using the same vocabulary, have some shared frameworks and are laying the groundwork for a culture that will allow us to tackle this work in an ongoing and effective way.  In addition, we will follow these initial trainings with a more intensive full-day training.  Our outcomes from staff trainings will be increased staff knowledge, shared vocabulary and frameworks, and increased internal alignment about what we want to accomplish, how, and why.

Begin to experiment with changing our consulting practices:  Our new Director, Terri Akey, is bringing experience from her prior organization on infusing racial equity into evaluation work.  We will focus staff and training time on discussing what this looks like and experimenting with and sharing what we are learning with trying some changes in our practices through project work. By July, we will have increased skills for how we can identify and apply equity lenses to our work and identified some practices that can be used more regularly in our practice.

Support for more ad hoc, staff-led exploration:  We are encouraging staff to organize and participate in book clubs or movie clubs with each other throughout the year to dig into relevant material and discuss ways it may align or intersect with the work we are doing as a company.

Examine and enhance our hiring processes:  We are embarking on some new hires and are working to ensure we broaden our networks for finding candidates and examining how we recruit, interview, and select candidates through a hiring process to ensure we have a diverse pool and continue to build out the diversity of our team overall.

These aren’t revolutionary steps, but we want to keep momentum around this work, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

So far, we have wrestled with a few things:

What can we do ourselves and what do we need outside expert help with?  We have had some internal debate over the degree to which we can self-facilitate this kind of work versus when and how to best benefit from outside expertise.  Originally, we had planned to use a curriculum ourselves during our initial training times, but have decided to find an external facilitator to bring additional expertise, mitigate potential power issues, and bring specific skills around creating a safe place for these conversations.

Which approach/framework to take?  There are a number of approaches out there, including things like white fragility and white privilege, and there is some concern about using one of those as the foundational piece, which could feel like a perpetuation of leading with whiteness.  We want to seek a consultant partner who can help us consider how to balance a broader range of frameworks and approaches to mitigate against that.

What to tackle first?  In some settings like ours, people have found it easier to start with finding ways to consider equity and justice in consulting practice first.  We’ve decided to try and make some movement on both the internal and external aspects simultaneously.  Part of this is because I think it is hard to change our practice if we don’t first build a common grounding from which to do that work.  Part of this is also because I feel like changing our internal ways of working is harder and trickier but important, and we could get distracted from that by feeling good about doing the consulting practice work first.

We expect we will learn a lot more over the next six months.  I look forward to sharing back where we are seeing progress, where we stumble, and what we plan to do next by mid-year.

(To read our first statement on issues of equity, click here.)

Missions Accomplished