How far does your conceptualisation of diversity and inclusion stretch in the day-to-day of development practice?

March 23, 2020

Picture sourced from: http://povertytruthcommission.blogspot.com/2015/04/nothing-about-us-without-us-is-for-us.html

After attending a recent event in Kenya, I realised that the usual practices employed when designing participatory processes are only scratching the surface of inclusivity and diversity.

African Crossroads, organised by Hivos and focused on urbanisation in Africa, brought together artists, musicians, chefs, designers, anthropologists, dancers, futurists, historians, and many other ‘creatives’ – unpacking and exploring the tastes, sounds, feelings, smells and sights of how people with very different perspectives and frames of reference ‘sense the city’. The UNDP Accelerator Labs, with representatives from 9 African countries, participated in this event to open up cross-regional learning regarding unconventional approaches to reimagine the future and identify emerging trends on the continent.

Nothing About Us Without Us

“Nothing About Us Without Us” is a slogan that has been used for years by persons with disabilities who have been marginalised from full participation in decision making. The slogan’s origins are in politics and was based on the ideal that no policy should be decided without the participation of all who are affected by that policy. 

Artists and other creatives are not generally seen as stakeholders in development practice. However, the scale and complexity of today’s challenges (for example climate change) mean that EVERYONE is a stakeholder and we are ALL affected by the decisions being made by those in power.

As development dreamers and practitioners, if we are imagining and designing a world that will be equal and sustainable for all, then all need to participate in those designs. Those beyond the periphery of development practice are often immersed in the problem space, and through this experiential entanglement have a better understanding of their needs and how to respond to challenges. In other words, the people who are directly affected by challenges are best suited to design the solutions to these challenges. This is a core premise of the Accelerator Labs – surfacing the unheard voices and delivering development BY communities FOR communities.

Creativity for Complexity

"If you change the way you look at things, the things that you look at will change" - Wayne Dyer

I have participated in, facilitated and designed many participatory processes and consultations in my career. In my experience despite aspirations of inclusivity and diversity, the resulting attendees are most often the ‘usual suspects’. The tick-box of diversity translates into the inclusion of representatives from across sectors (such as academia, civil society, government, unions and business), though with stakeholders still working within the topic under deliberation and attendance based on self-selection.

Current 'wicked' development challenges arise from complex systems which are unpredictable, dynamic, adaptive and continuously evolving through multiple pathways. There is growing awareness that understanding and solving these challenges cannot be achieved through uni-disciplinary (exclusive) perspectives.

Complexity can only be addressed by creative transdisciplinarity. Transdisciplinarity brings the inclusion of many forms of knowledge (including the diverse beliefs and values that underpin the epistemology of knowledge frames).  The inclusion of creatives, of the “coalitions of the willing”, at the African Crossroads resulted in very different inputs and outcomes in the discussions on key development issues.

There are numerous definitions of creativity, but here is one I really like from Maria Popova: “Creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our ‘inner’ pool of resources – knowledge, insight, information, inspiration and all the fragments populating our minds – that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world and to combine them in extraordinary new ways.” Finding and applying solutions that can address the complexity, rate and scale of today’s challenges will certainly require combining knowledge and insights in “extraordinary new ways”.

Artist: Kaylan Michael, Lost in the Island http://www.fubiz.net/2018/06/27/electric-and-vivid-collages-by-kaylan-m/k9/

Artist: Kaylan Michael, Lost in the Island http://www.fubiz.net/2018/06/27/electric-and-vivid-collages-by-kaylan-m/k18/

Artist: Kaylan Michael, Lost in the Island http://www.fubiz.net/2018/06/27/electric-and-vivid-collages-by-kaylan-m/k2-2/

Expanding Responsibility

The Accelerator Labs have been designed to use ‘unusual’ processes and methodologies such as sensemaking, solutions mapping, collective intelligence and fail-fast experimentation. As custodians at the helm of these methodologies, we have a responsibility to ensure these unusual methods are brought to life by the unusual suspects.

“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”
― Toni Morrison

With an expanded conceptualisation of diversity and inclusivity comes an expanded responsibility in practice. As development practitioners, change agents, activists, and all of those working towards a better world – we have a responsibility to ensure this is a better world for all beyond our own assumptions of what that world would look like. And we can only know this by creating spaces and moments where we can listen to the voices of the unusual suspects.

Going forward I will be reflecting on how the UNDP Accelerator Labs can play the important role of bridging divides between the outputs of inclusive participatory processes and policy making. If you have any ideas around this vertical integration of insights, or have any inputs on the blog, please do get in touch at simone.smit@undp.org.