Exploring Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity via Generative Engagement

I want to share some new thoughts on the Generative Engagement model. In collaboration with Jennifer Jones-Patulli, we have recently explored the use of this model in detail in two types of Adaptive Action Labs – one focused on dealing with conflict, and another focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In both cases, we use Generative Engagement as a model and method to explore tensions that emerge when people interact. In this post, I will share content from the second adaptive action lab plus a timely application next week where your feedback is welcome!

Photo credit: twbuckner (CC BY 2.0)
Angelique Kidjo engaging with her audience

First, I want to explore what generative engagement can mean in a group or organizational setting. “Generative” may need more explanation. To be generative as a group involves a rich mix of imagining, inventing, producing – all towards new possibilities, new actions, new thinking, new ways of being. To be generative is to create the opportunity for new options/things to emerge. What may emerge did not exist before – it requires the group’s collective effort. Such generativity leads to innovation and sustainability. “Engagement” is more commonly understood - to be engaged means to be involved, to establish meaningful connection. A group’s engagement can be measured by the connectedness of the members.

In combination, I see generative engagement as developing both the connections and the compelling capacity to create new and needed adaptations in the process of imagining, inventing, and producing value. In order to be relevant and have vitality, an organization needs to create ongoing patterns of generative engagement.

In my most recent post, I suggested that the promise of diversity and inclusion is to find generative ways of being together with all our differences: to notice what differences are present and to bring in differences that are missing in order to get things done. Equity adds the promise of access to social capital regardless of social standing, so that any and all input is acknowledged as having intrinsic value.

For me, working moment-to-moment to create patterns of generative engagement ensures that inclusion, diversity, and equity are integral parts of groups and organizations, that is, any human system. Yet how do we do this work? This is where the Generative Engagement model comes in. Below is an outline of what we shared in our recent Adaptive Action Lab.

Inclusion is possible through Sharing Identity. Actively sharing identity helps you see and explore boundaries. You can examine how boundaries are formed. You can identify who is inside, who is out, and why. You can also understand how shifts in similarities or differences may shift boundaries. People may be “included” based on shared identity in many ways. They may share goals, interests/affinities, location, ideas, principles, and/or demographics. Do you have additional ideas about sharing identity and emerging inclusion?

Equity is possible through Sharing Voice. Actively sharing voice is how you see and explore

Information flows - who speaks and who listens; who acts and who observes; who gives and who receives. Equity determines how individuals and groups participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Equity may be evident through information flows that are effective regardless of hierarchy or group membership. It can be supported by any engagement that involves open inquiry and complex truth. Do you have additional ideas about sharing voice and emerging equity?

Diversity is engaged by Sharing Power (where power is defined as the ability to influence and the willingness to be influenced). Actively sharing power is how you see and explore how decisions are made, and how bias, prejudice, and/or privilege show up in patterns of influencing. Diversity may be evident in the ways data, agreements, and stories show up in patterns of decision making over time, and the ways people of different backgrounds or group memberships or identities are involved in open inquiry. Do you have additional ideas about sharing power and emerging diversity?

Next week at the American Evaluation Association’s Annual Conference, HSD Associate Allison Titcomb and I will present a poster titled Seeing Patterns and Setting Conditions for Speaking Truth to Power using the concepts about patterns of generative engagement and the Generative Engagement model shared above. We will seek input from evaluators regarding how this methodology could inform:

  • Their design work, if introduced early as a way to frame questions
  • Understanding their role in how to share identity, voice, and power with clients and evaluands, and
  • Their feedback to clients, e.g., as a framework for exploring and explaining observed patterns of diversity, equity, and inclusion

If you are an evaluator, we welcome your thoughts on these questions.

If you are not an evaluator, we welcome your thoughts as well! How might you consider applying these concepts into your own work?

Thank you for your time and any input you choose to share in the comment section below!

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