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12 Strategies To Harness the Power of Inclusive Design Teams

Over the past decade, community college researchers and educators have realized the need and proposed a method for a cohesive redesign process in order to increase student completion and eliminate racial equity gaps. This work is generally referred to as guided pathways, which seeks to clarify pathways for students and ensure that they stay on their path through to graduation.

As faculty, staff, and students engage in guided pathways redesign, we recognize the deeply embedded and complex nature of advancing equity and racial justice. Because we are addressing both individual and systemic injustice, we argue that the only method for long-term and sustainable work towards equitable outcomes is through an inclusive design process.

While there are some “enlightened” or “woke” faculty, staff, or administrative leaders, the long arc towards healing and justice require a collective approach. Inclusive design teams are the only real mechanism for transformative change, in part because:

  • The average tenure of a college president is steadily dropping and current is at 5.1 years (in California).

  • Structural redesign needs cross-functional perspectives to understand the interconnection among issues and solutions

  • Equitable redesign can only be achieved when people from different cultures and backgrounds provide insight into injustice, the authentic dialogue itself helps build relationships that are essential for student success

  • When individuals build disconnected programs and policies, they may be lost upon that person no longer serving in that role

We have a moral imperative to redesign colleges for the diverse students we have today. Program and policy shifts in isolated spaces have helped those students they can engage, and we now need to learn from those interstitial programs in order to create a unified and systemic approach to equity.

Here we provide an overview of how inclusive design processes may manifest and some tangible actions to move towards inclusive designing.

Inclusive Design Teams

Inclusive design is gaining traction within the community college realm. While work by committee has often existed, many committees are composed of representatives or people within a division or program. Inclusive design teams work cross-functionally and are intentionally designed to reduce potential siloing. The concept is that such a group can take a holistic approach to systemic change. The team tends to have a specific scope and charge, and will conduct data inquiry, design remedies, and make recommendations or action plans for implementation.

Who serves on a cross-functional design team is dependent on the scope of the team. A team who is investigating onboarding and orienting students to the campus will need a financial aid staff member on the team because of the integral role that the department has with incoming students. A team charged with increasing student engagement may need the athletic director on the team, in order to ensure that the collegiate sports are well integrated into an engagement strategy.

When considering a design team, you will want to consider a broad spectrum of people from various roles and departments. Here is a short list of people who may not always be invited to the table, from our experiences: technology staff, adjunct faculty, career and technical education faculty, support programs, health services, welcome desk staff, custodial/ maintenance, librarians, tutorial center staff, advisory board members, and community members.

The team should always be made up by individuals most impacted by the decisions of the group, which most often includes students. They themselves are vital in identifying issues and co-designing solutions.

The Power of Inclusive Design Teams

Using inclusive design processes can have powerful effects for students and the community. We articulate three of those effects: fostering a holistic approach, creating ownership, and building culture.

  • Fostering a Holistic Approach – when college faculty and staff use inclusive designing, they are bringing together diverse voices, ideas, roles, and backgrounds together. The diversity needed for a holistic approach is contingent on the scope of the work. For instance, an adjunct English faculty and a Veteran’s center coordinator may have different considerations for equitable outcomes in the first semester.

  • Building A Movement – When individuals actively co-design for equitable student outcomes, the process itself allows the team members to have deeper knowledge around the issues students face, and in turn it helps them be better advocates for systemic change. Moreover, a critical mass of advocates are able to both take in constructive criticism of the work, while also building a coalition to move the work forward for its first, second, or third iterations.

  • Strengthening a Positive Culture – Every action either builds up institutional values or erodes them. When colleges use inclusive design processes, they are building a culture of inclusion, transparency, and action. Broad coalitions solving institutional issues is a powerful tool for building an open and trusting campus culture.

  • Cultivating Personal Change – Inclusive design teams are made of people who can recognize that structures and policies are only as strong as who enact them. The hearts and minds of faculty and staff are as critical as any policy, because those who have the closest relationships with students are what make the institution live and breath and help retain students when life challenges occur.

Strategies for Recruitment for Inclusive Designs

Faculty and staff recruitment can be challenging, because calling for volunteers may not produce the group we most need at the table or may over tap those who are already engaged on campus. New, fresh, and diverse perspectives are helpful. Here are a few of many potential strategies:

In Summary

College educators, administrators, staff, and students are hard at work redesigning policies, structures, and practices. Our best bet to transform the lives of students and the communities in which we live is by creating inclusive design teams. Because these teams are made up of individuals from across the college, involve students, and ensure rich diverse experiences, we have an opportunity to fundamentally shape the future of the college and increase student completion and move towards eliminating equity gaps.

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