Meaningful conversations with equity-deserving communities

This is part of a larger series on equitable engagement. If you haven’t read the previous parts of the series, please click on one of the links below. We have been privileged to discover and refine these best practices in our work with a variety of partners, including WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, the Ministry of Health, and the Vancouver School Board. These pillars provide a launching point for meaningful dialogue with diverse people and groups – however, they are only beginning. Overall, the series will outline equity considerations when it comes to:

This part of this series discusses how to respectfully and meaningfully engage with equity-deserving communities.

woman in a wheelchair talks to a man



respectful engagement with marginalized communities

We know engaging equity-deserving communities is essential. When done well, it leads to better decision-making, more innovative ideas and solutions, empowered community members, and stronger trust between governments and the people they serve. Engaging these communities is also difficult. If you are not a community member yourself, making assumptions or unintentionally creating barriers when developing your engagement processes can be easy.

Equity-deserving communities include those who have been historically excluded from decision-making, as well as those continuing to face other barriers to civic participation. The factors driving this kind of unfair treatment include, but are not limited to: ancestry, class, culture, ethnicity, gender identity, immigration status, language, race, physical and intellectual ability, religion, sexual orientation and social inclusion, as well as access to housing, employment, healthcare, and the justice system. We also recognize that not all equity-seeking groups face the same levels of discrimination. Some, especially Indigenous peoples and Black communities, face greater barriers to access and opportunity.

As engagement practitioners and policy-makers, we are responsible for thoroughly understanding the landscape of the communities in which we work. In practice, this means that cultural competence is crucial. Above all, engaging marginalized communities means listening first and then developing a comprehensive plan that is adaptable and flexible.

  1. Build in time to learn. Start early. Learn about the community you’re working in, its history and who lives there. It’s essential to recognize that some of these communities and groups may have preexisting relationships and prior experiences with your department, which can positively or negatively influence their participation and willingness to engage with you. Learn about the organizations and community leaders supporting these groups and reach out with the intent to listen and foster a respectful relationship. These conversations may sometimes be uncomfortable but are instrumental in building trust with marginalized groups.
  2. Meet the community where they’re at. Use the insights from your early learnings to develop an engagement modal that will meaningfully engage underserved groups. For example, if the community gathers for a weekly in-person service, engagement efforts should be customized to factor that in. Whether a focus group or facilitated workshop, the days, times and locations should be tailored to fit the audience best. Similarly, if you’re engaging a non-English speaking group, then a translator can be used to identify where the community gets their news and engagement efforts should be delivered through that medium.
  3. Follow up. Following up after the engagement process is crucial. Like everyone, community members want to feel they have been heard and that their input made a difference. It is essential to let them know that their feedback was received and considered. If that input leads to action steps in line with feedback, then you should share that, exemplifying engagement’s impact. On the other hand, if you take another approach, then share that too, acknowledging the value of feedback and emphasizing how it influenced the decision-making process.

closing thoughts

Given the unique experience of marginalized residents, their input on possible solutions is often extremely helpful, as they are uniquely positioned to propose solutions. Engaging and including marginalized groups replaces barriers with bridges, building trust, empowerment and inclusion. Engagement is at its best when a two-way conversation is happening. For this to occur, both parties need to participate constructively and authentically.

To keep digging into other aspects of equitable engagement, check out our related posts about access, contributions, and reporting and analysis.

To learn more about how we design and deliver equitable engagement programs, click here.

Written By:

Dhaneva Skogstad

Dhaneva is a facilitator, intercultural educator and communication and engagement expert committed to building inclusive, equitable and just organizations. She believes that communities know what they need best, that no single sector holds the monopoly on solutions, and that our duty as professionals - and as people - is to prioritize (un)learning.

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