Reflecting Allowed

Intentionally Equitable Hospitality & Liberating Structures

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 47 seconds

Keith McCandless, co-creator of the Liberating Structures invited me to contribute around 300 words as part of a larger article about the principles of Liberating structures in practice. I talked to him about different possibilities, and one of those we discussed was the relationship between Intentionally Equitable Hospitality (IEH) and LS. So I wrote this (it’s currently at 600+ words, but I think I could cut entire sections to make it 300 words).

 Intentionally Equitable Hospitality as Manifested in Liberating Structures 

Intentionally Equitable Hospitality or IEH (Bali et al, 2019) suggests that the facilitators of a space view themselves as hosts, responsible for welcoming every participant, questioning for whom the space might be hospitable/welcoming and for whom it might not be.  It also entails setting intentions for equity and recognizing when our efforts do not work for certain groups.

The most important LS principle for IEH is “Include and Unleash Everyone” and I find it embodied most in Conversation café, and 1-2-4-all. Conversation café ensures everyone has equal time to speak and respond before opening up dialogue. Without the time element, people with certain power or personality would dominate a conversation. I like using conversation café for discussions between faculty and students: it makes students feel heard. However, in practice, I learned that equal time does not promote absolute equity. some people speak slower, e.g. non-native speakers, and may need more time to express the same thought. Intentionally Equitable Hospitality would go a step further and perhaps give more time to those furthest from justice, those whose voices are less often heard; IEH would pay attention to the order of who speaks first and the impact of power relationships outside the meeting and how they might impact safety within a conversation.

 1-2-4-all helps with equity because it gives more reflective participants an opportunity to think on their own before sharing, and gives everyone an opportunity to listen to their own voice first, something marginalized groups rarely have an opportunity to do as they are often bombarded, throughout their lives, with the dominant view. 1-2-4-all also means participants share first in the relative safety of pairs and small groups, getting a response and refining one’s ideas before sharing more widely, a process which can reduce anxiety. In these two structures, hierarchies are suspended for a few moments,  even though they are not necessarily challenged beyond the particular meeting. Even if they are suspended during the meeting, it is important to ask how the relationships are altered beyond the meeting. For example, are conclusions reached during Conversation café later used to impact a change in practices?

Troika consulting is a special structure in terms of how it fosters equity through reciprocity. Every person gets to seek help and to offer help, no matter what their position outside that trio/triad. This tends to work better among equals or complete strangers so that power differences from the outside world don’t interfere. But it can potentially be even more powerful if participants across a hierarchy were able to form a triad and learn from each other.

TRIZ, though focused on playfulness and creativity and disruption, also promotes equity by the way it turns a problem upside-down and opens up dialogue around a challenge without requiring participants to self-disclose. I have used it ot discuss sensitive and controversial topics such as sexual harassment, which are very tricky to discuss with students in my Egyptian culture. IEH means recognizing that the structure alone won’t protect participants from being triggered by such an exercise, and so I prepare students for it, get their opinion on whether to do it at all, get their permission and give them the opportunity to opt out. By giving them the option to speak or write within their groups, they can express themselves and get their voice “heard” without necessarily speaking aloud.

Intentionally Equitable Hospitality would recognize that some warm-up activities such as Wild/Mad Tea are energizing and inspiring for some groups of people, while reflective and slower activities like Spiral Journal more appropriate for others – and IEH would recommend designing a workshop by integrating both types of activities such that people with different preferences can enjoy and benefit from the session.

Bali, M., Caines, A., Hogue, R. J., DeWaard, H. J., & Friedrich, C. (2019). Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in Hybrid Video Dialogue: The Context of Virtually Connecting. eLearning Mag (special issue). Retrieved from: 

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

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