A common request from individuals is the desire to learn strategies or techniques on how to reach diverse community members. These requests fall along the continuum of a genuine desire to meet the needs of the changing demographics in one’s community and not knowing where or how to start to a desire to work with a new and diverse audience “without offending them.” Successfully reaching and building sustained, authentic relationships with diverse audiences entails work that needs to take place at the personal (values, beliefs, feelings), interpersonal (actions, behaviors, language), institutional (rules, policies and procedures) and cultural (what is right, normal, desired) levels. Below are a few thoughts, strategies and techniques that can support effective and sustained efforts to work with diverse audiences.
Build and nurture diverse networks – Much of your success in reaching diverse audiences relies on building and nurturing relationships. It is important to connect with both formal and informal community leaders and help them guide and influence your work within their communities. They are the “experts” on their communities and should be honored as such. Building these diverse contacts may also assist in other ways such as identifying other issues to partner on to address, identifying future diverse employees, or learning about the history of oppression and resiliency of the people in their community.
Be willing to investigate issues of power and privilege – Many of the barriers and obstacles to working effectively in diverse communities are informed by issues of power and privilege. It is important to be open to hearing and learning how power and privilege are impacting your working relationships with diverse community members and working together to identify how you can work to share power and to use privilege to support social justice, inclusion and equity.
Work to build trust – Probably more than anything else, building trust is central to effectively reaching diverse audiences. Trust must be a mutually defined relational principle that needs continuous work and updating. It is effortful, intentional and ongoing. Developing trust across difference requires active listening that is focused on attempting to understand the realities of others and honors their realities as being just as relevant as your own. Trust is centered on the ability to reduce denial and defensiveness and a commitment to remaining in the relationship and “at the table” as the relationship develops and when tension or discomfort arises.
Prioritize building and nurturing relationships with “cultural connectors” – It is important to develop connections with individuals who can help you to better understand the diverse communities you want to reach and serve as a liaison as you navigate this new opportunity. These individuals may also be helpful in understanding and interpreting cultural differences or nuances that may be impacting your programming or outreach efforts that may be invisible to you and your organization. These individuals can be wonderful bridge builders with the community as you look to transform your how you conduct your business and more effectively reach the needs of the community.
Remain humble and willing to learn – Although you may have a vast wealth of knowledge and expertise on your subject or program, realize that it is just one set of information that may be helpful to this new and diverse audience you are wanting to work with. As an educator/facilitator, how do you position yourself to be a co-learner in your interactions with these individuals and connect your expertise with existing assets and wisdom that already exist with these individuals and in their communities? How can you also humbly change, adapt or transform the process and content of your work to better meet the realities and needs of this new audience?
Be aware of how often discussion/efforts to reach diverse audiences are problematized – Make a conscious effort to be aware of how conversations related to reaching diverse audiences are most times described within the context of challenges and problems not as opportunities connected to the very relevancy and mission of your organization. These conversations tend to focus on difficult individuals or perceived cultural deficits that cause barriers rather than systemic (organizational) rules, policies, procedures or “traditions” (written and unwritten) that support exclusion and discrimination. Centering these discussions on problems or challenges can also add to the fear that individuals or organizations may already have entering into these relationships. What would be the result of a conversation that asked the question, “What can we learn about ourselves, individually and as an organization, if we commit to understanding the assets of diverse members of our community and how we can work in partnership to address important issues affecting us all?” Each of us needs to find a voice to help interrupt “problem based” conversations and move us toward working collaboratively to build new, more inclusive systems and approaches.
Be open and curious (rather than judgmental and oft putting) – One of the most important things we can do when working with or reaching diverse audiences is to be open to learning about new ways to interpret the world, new forms of knowledge/wisdom and challenging our assumptions and stereotypes of people different from ourselves. We need to challenge ourselves when our thoughts and actions with these individuals comes from a place of “better than/less than” judgment and instead open ourselves to being curious, asking questions and taking risks which may challenge our level of comfort or our sense of superiority.
Hire and actively retain diverse individuals from the community – One important way to show a level of commitment and sustainability for your work with diverse audiences is to prioritize hiring diverse, multi-lingual, culturally aware members of the community you hope to partner with and reach. Hiring these individuals can send an important message about your commitment to the community and these individuals can also bring some valuable and needed skills to your agency. As important as it is to hire these individuals, it is just as important to have in place a plan to retain these individuals especially if they are being hired on grant dollars or other soft monies.
Hire dominant group members with culturally relevant skills – Organizations may find it difficult to be competitive when trying to recruit diverse individuals into their workforce. However, this should not be an excuse for developing processes, procedures and policies which set an expectation that all new or existing staff will develop or will possess skills needed to work effectively across differences, regardless of their background or position. Creating an organizational climate that values staff with culturally competent skills can also send a clear message about your commitment to issues of inclusion and equity that may support your work in diverse communities.
Engage with the audiences outside of your program or outreach effort – Being visible in the diverse communities you want to reach is essential to the success of your program. Your visibility should not be tied solely to your programming or outreach efforts but should reflect a genuine desire to know, understand and connect with community members in their environment and on their terms. For example, this may mean joining a community based organization or effort, attending local events or activities, or volunteering with a community based organization. Your visibility in the community outside of your particular program or outreach effort will help build trust, provide you with a larger insight into the community and possibly develop other relational currency that will support the success of your outreach effort as it begins to unfold in the community.
Be aware of and challenge your biases and stereotypes of the group – Much of the information that we are exposed to on a daily basis across and about differences is laden with bias, stereotypes and fear. We can spend energy denying that we hold these biases, stereotypes and fears about people different from ourselves or we can be aware when this information enters our thinking - challenge this thinking - and find ways to replace this information by building connected, supportive and authentic relationships with people different from ourselves.
Listen for (and work to understand) the complexities of the realities of these diverse groups – Fight the inclination to try and find simple or quick “fixes” to complex, historical and systemic legacies of exclusion, discrimination and oppression. Position yourself to listen deeply to the complex realities that make up the lives of people different from yourself and how there may be work that needs to occur at the intersections of identities such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities and other differences. Honor what a gift it is if a person different from you decides to share their reality with you and work against the tendency to disregard or minimize the impact of differences in this person’s life as it may not be your experience or reality.
Be clear, sensitive, creative and flexible in gathering data and evaluating program impact – There may be real or perceived dangers or fears of providing personal information or other data that you may need as part of your program or program evaluation. Much of these fears may be rooted in past negative experiences with “governmental” agencies seeking information or an unclear understanding of why this information is being collected and how it will be used. It is important for you to share verbally and in writing what information you will be requesting from participants, how this information will be used and why obtaining this information is important to your program (and hopefully to the participants). This information may need to be shared more than once and possibly in partnership with a trusted community partner who can help answer any questions that participants have and address any fears that may arise. Additionally, you may need to find culturally relevant methods to administer evaluation processes for your work. This may include using focus groups, using both written and oral instruments to capture impact, networking with other agencies that have worked on collecting data or evaluating programs with these audiences and discussing what did or did not work for them or working with the group to identify an effective way to gather this data.
Move from savior to partner – Too many well intentioned efforts to reach diverse audiences have fallen short when individuals or organizations, directly or indirectly, enter these engagements with a savior mentality. The individual or organization feels or acts as if by their mere presence, program or expertise, they can help save the community out of despair or disrepair and that the community lacks the skills or abilities to effectively address issues impacting their lives. We need to consider a more effective approach in working with diverse audiences which centers on working with the community to address issues in partnership, helping to make visible the assets of the community and linking community assets with those that you bring to the table. This partnership should also reflect, nurture and sustain some of the following core values including open communication, shared responsibility, ways to deal with conflict effectively, equity over equality and trust.
Celebrate Successes – It is important to take time to celebrate successes in this process whether they are big or small. It is also important to honor the intentional and hard work that goes into developing and sustaining partnerships across differences through celebrations. Celebrating successes can be another vehicle to build more authentic, healed and connected relationships across differences.
Interested in joining with others to learn and share more about reaching diverse audiences? Feel free to join me for the webinar, “Beyond the Numbers: Considerations for Working with Latino/Hispanic Audiences.” The webinar will be held on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 from 11am to 1pm (EST) and then again on Thursday, October 25, 2012 from 1pm to 3pm (EST). Participation in the webinar will be limited to the first 40 individuals.
You can connect with the webinar at https://connect.msu.edu/ec11j2/This webinar is sponsored by the eXtension Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Community of Practice (CoP)
Diversity and Personnel Specialist
Michigan State University Extension