As American communities become increasingly diverse and multi-racial, local governmental officials and leaders must develop progressive strategies to insure a respectful and inclusive community where all residents and citizens feel valued. Such strategies can help alleviate tensions and mitigate the types of risks we are now seeing in Ferguson.
I would like to offer some thoughts and ideas as a diversity and inclusion professional about creating more inclusive and resilient communities:
A Strategic Framework for Change
Building more diverse and inclusive communities requires a change framework. It does not happen by chance. It must be part of a longer term vision for the community. Ask the questions: As the community continues to become more diverse, do we have a process and a framework for assuring that our community is becoming more inclusive? What are our biggest gaps and what is our plan to close those gaps?
As seen in the Ferguson situation, local leadership does not reflect the demographics of the community governed. Local officials, police officers, and other public officials do not adequate reflect the communities being served. A lack of diversity and inclusion is a clear warning sign of potential danger if local leadership ignores. Leaders need to regularly communicate with their constituents, host forums and meetings to discuss gaps and to seek input from a growing set of stakeholders on ways to remedy the situation.
At a very minimum the community must look at its governance structure and leadership ranks, and develop actions to ensure that a respectful and inclusive governance structure exists. What are the gaps and how do we address? This requires listening, meeting people where they are at, intentional seeking out diverse points of view, and addresses deficiencies in the delivery of services.
Care should be taken to assess areas where certain sectors of the community are disproportionately impacted by decisions or where there is inequitable treatment. Where are the hot spots and how do we address? Community meetings, Town Hall discussions and other tools, including social media should be used to identify issues and address brewing problems.
Institutional Processes, Policies and Practices
Oftentimes barriers to change and differential impact occurs because local regulations, practices, and patterns have not been designed to be inclusive. Advocating for more diversity in elected positions, addressing historical practices and methods of hiring and promoting local leadership should be examined. What are the areas where the impact has been disproportional to particular demographic groups and communities? What is our plan to address?
Inclusive Communications and Outreach
Communications and relationships with the community are very important. All strategies including the tone of communications and the impact of decisions should be assessed for impact. If the tone isn’t respectful and inclusive this dampens and creates poorer community relations. Do we have a process for vetting sensitive communications with a diverse set of reviewers before it is released?
Local leadership should proactively work with key community leaders, religious institutions and minority organizations to build positive and productive relationships. All local appointments, taskforces, and decision-making roles should be examined to ensure that they are reflective of the community at large. Do we have a process for regularly engaging with community leaders and citizens?
Care should be taken to ensure that all communications does not appear condescending, arrogant and/ or dismissive of members of the community. A major focus should be on creating and sustaining longer term relationships with the community. Do we carefully consider the tone and unintended reactions of our communications?
Culture and Climate
Leaders must not “bury their heads in the sand” and ignore the local community – challenges, opportunities, and problems. They must be meet head-on. The local leadership should put ongoing processes in place to assess the climate and to develop action plans to address areas of opportunity. In an increasingly diverse community, relationships are important. Trust is key. Respectful behavior is demanded of all leaders which starts with getting out in the community, listening to residents, and ensuring that leadership teams in all major organizations (police, schools, governmental agencies, etc.) are reflective of the community. Are such processes and systems in place? Are they inclusive?
When such things are not in place the ultimately lead to chaos, disorder and unrest. It becomes difficult to contain frustration and anger at being disrespected, excluded, and marginalized.
The lessons from Ferguson are huge for communities seeking create and sustain resilient, vibrant inclusive communities.