By Kylie Klein, Senior Researcher & RESTART National Network Lead
Convenings and conferences provide important opportunities to discuss both emerging challenges and promising practices in the education field; recently, much of the discussion has centered around pandemic recovery. However, we often find that the people most directly impacted – students, families, educators, and education leaders and policy makers – are not present in these discussions. This disconnect, often lamented as a gap between research and practice, limits our insights. Therefore, when we had the chance to plan the RESTART Network’s first annual National Forum, we believed it was important to try to change that paradigm and include diverse perspectives.
Wanting diverse perspectives isn’t enough, though. To have people at the table and for those people to be valued for their engagement and contributions takes intentional planning and forethought, including taking proactive steps to address potential imbalances in the voices and perspectives represented. The size of an event also impacts this dynamic. In some cases, events can either be too large to create meaningful interactions or too small to adequately include a broad representation of experiences. These complexities make it difficult to create inclusive spaces.
Practical Strategies for Elevating Diverse Perspectives
The RESTART Network hosted our first annual National Forum event in June 2023, convening 52 members of the education community. The goal of the forum was to engage a community of policymakers, leaders, practitioners, and researchers to dialogue and learn together about emerging needs and current research evidence related to pandemic recovery. In planning for this event, we knew we wanted to ensure that we had diverse perspectives in our conversations and at our in-person event. Ultimately, we had participants representing 15 states and the District of Columbia, and who came from urban, suburban, and rural contexts. To foster this diverse convening, we used the following strategies.
Be intentional about who you are inviting
- Consider having goals around the diversity of the audience outlined ahead of time and progress monitor your invite list against those goals. For example, we hoped to have the following participants at our event: RESTART Network (20% of event attendees), practitioners in LEA or SEA roles (30%), education association and member organization leaders (15%), education researchers (5%), government agency/federal agency leaders (10%), and event organizers and leaders (20%). Ultimately, those who attended were similar to the audience that we hoped to include. Our event included members of the RESTART Network (27% of event attendees), practitioners in LEA or SEA roles (23%), education association and member organization leaders (15%), education researchers (6%), government agency/federal agency leaders (8%), and event organizers and leaders (21%).
- Keep track of people’s roles and organizations, and the perspectives they represent to make sure you’re creating a diverse event. During planning, ask yourself “Are these individuals able to speak to the topics we are discussing? Whose perspectives are included and whose are not included?”
Ease barriers to participation, to the extent practical
- Recognize that practice and policy leaders may need funding to participate and offer stipends to cover travel costs if possible.
- Be responsive to requests that support participation, for example provide agenda if one is needed for your invited guest to obtain approval to participate in the event. SEA and LEA leaders may need more time or documentation to obtain travel approval, and being responsive to these requests will enable conditions that allow them to join the event.
- Be open to delegates attending, as they can bring expertise and perspectives to the table By including different people than those who are regularly invited to events, you are creating an opportunity to hear from new individuals, including those whose roles may be closer to the topic being discussed or who may bring a unique viewpoint.
Foster an environment where everyone’s perspectives are welcome
- Explicitly recognize everyone’s expertise and the knowledge they bring to the table.
- Create different ways people can contribute during the event, to allow for engagement at different levels of effort. Some individuals may have time to engage in roles that require preparation such as serving as a facilitator or moderator, while other may be able to play roles at the event that require minimal pre-event preparation.
Be intentional with the use of time and use multiple engagement strategies during the event
- Consider including time in the agenda for role alike conversations and small group discussions, to give people time with like-role colleagues and to develop a sense of community
- Use topic based small group sessions to bring people of different roles and perspectives together around common interests
- Encourage networking and conversation by asking people to sit with and meet new people
- After the event, reflect and consider ways to increase or enhance diversity in future events
Ultimately, our event was a success. We had rich and engaging conversations that surfaced a variety of perspectives and ideas. We incorporated the perspectives and voices of youth by having a student perspectives panel. Participants noted that they appreciated the diversity of the group and that they valued the different perspectives people brought to the conversations. As we plan for future events, we can continue to examine ways that we can broaden our events. We hope that our experiences and recommendations can be useful to other groups seeking to hold events with diverse participants.
Interested in watching some of the presentations from the National Forum?
The archived event page has videos, presentations, and summaries of discussion group sessions.
Kylie Klein is a senior researcher at AIR, where she works with state, regional, and local agencies on research, evaluation, and technical assistance projects. Her research focuses on developing and sustaining research-practice partnerships, designing and conducting evaluations, and supporting the use of research evidence in state and local practice and policy. She serves as the National Network Lead for the RESTART Network, an IES funded pandemic recovery effort that supports four research-practice partnership teams.