Rethinking Stakeholder Analyses

October 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, I had the great fortune of hearing Rinku Sen (Applied Research Center), Ellen Gurzinsky (Funders for LGBTQ Issues) and Lori Villarosa (Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity) present on “Catalyzing Change and Deepening Racial Justice Impacts” at the Neighborhood Funders Group Annual Conference in New Orleans. It was an exciting session in which they talked about the current racial context in the US and ideas about how grantmaking can be done with a racial justice lens – including real stories about work some specific foundations and groups of foundations are doing. I’ll likely be sharing more over my next few blog posts about grantmaking with a racial justice lens, but wanted to start with some reflections about group processes that came up for me based on their presentation.

As a non-funder, I was listening with an ear toward things that might be applicable to group process as well. Rinku talked about the difference between using a diversity approach and using a racial equity approach to grantmaking, which started me thinking about the difference between these two approaches in stakeholder analyses of multi-stakeholder processes. A diversity approach, as she described it, would be one in which what matters is what the group of people assembled “looks” like – if there are representatives from all the groups affected, etc. – while a racial equity approach might lead one to assemble an entirely different group.

A few years ago, I examined the literature from the group facilitation “field” to examine how power differences are or are not addressed through group facilitation techniques and wrote a masters thesis on related research. One of the underlying assumptions I found in group facilitation literature was that many processes for doing stakeholder analyses talk about being sure there are representatives of all groups affected in the room – a representative approach, which assumes that representation translates into having voice. At the same time, I was reading intriguing literature from Archon Fung, who studied community organizing in Chicago and found that unless people from marginalized groups had enough representation (sometimes over half), they were less likely to speak in meetings – and sometimes didn’t regularly attend the meetings.

Thinking about this, and listening to Rinku, Ellen and Lori, raised questions about what kind of group needs to be assembled to make sure that a community process working toward equity doesn’t replicate the same power structures we are trying to undo. Which leads me to ask about your experiences of assembling groups to move a process forward. What have you found is needed so that everyone truly has a voice?

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  • Jodie Tonita says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for sharing and for inviting dialog. I love the question: What have you found is needed so that everyone truly has a voice?

    The piece around *enough* representation is key in my experience. I would go so far as saying it’s bad/destructive practice to create structures that isolate people. In my experience it leads to folks who are in the minority being asked to represent an entire community — like that is possible or appropriate. There are often issues back in home communities — of being the chosen one to attend and represent — and having to defend, bridge, etc etc in isolation.

    I like to look at the leadership team/steering committee/group leadership as a model for what the community/group/gathering will look and feel like. If there is a strong desire to include the reality of inclusion is so much deeper than mere attendance and inviting a group of people to your party. There are fundamental questions of why folks would choose to partner, what the areas of convergence are that are *mutually* beneficial, and what is the process that will support relationship development and trust building over time?

    In my experience, the most successful gatherings are where the leadership is representative of the desired participant demographics. Where they have built trust among themselves, and have grappled with the questions of why and how. From there they step out and grow the circle of folks who do the same.

    Getting clear about the rationale, benefits and process for working together up front are key. Starting with low risk/ high benefit activities and being mindful of relationship development along the way is a great way to begin the journey.

    Thanks, j

  • Linda says:

    Yes Jodie! Great comments/insights – I love especially your last statement about the importance of relationship building. And I’d add that the leadership being representative may not be enough – again, that there is true voice there as well. We can keep cracking this one more and more deeply.

  • Jen Willsea says:

    Linda, thanks so much for these insights and questions. It’s so important to have more tools and ways to talk about how to go beyond “inclusion” and “diversity” approaches so that we do not end up tokenizing on another even as we seek diverse representation in spaces that are truly transformative. I look forward to more on the blog about grantmaking with a racial justice lens…

  • Andria says:

    Extemely important points raised, most appreciative. Really asks us to examine, and act on, what is meant by equity in working with any oppressed groups…

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