Nontraditional voices are more likely to be active and long term members of a group if the structure is understandable to them, with information that helps them to be fully engaged. Structure refers to the logistics of the meeting, content in the meeting, materials available before and after meetings, and the way in which relationship-building occurs as part of participation. Meetings that are accessible, provide adequate information for participants to be fully involved, and are well-organized will help ensure sustained and engaged participation by members of these groups.
Consistent participation is often dependent on the meetings being easily accessible. When setting up meeting times, locations and use of technology, consider the needs of the nontraditional voices you hope to recruit, or the specific voices already participating.
- Meeting Times: Some members of underrepresented groups are able to attend meetings during work hours, but typical meeting times can be a barrier to participation for many. Late afternoon meetings that occur after school hours, evening meetings with dinner provided, or even Saturday meetings may promote more consistent engagement. You may want to consider whether there is an existing meeting you can build from or see if you can become part of the agenda of another similar group to remove duplication or redundancy.
- Transportation: Transportation can be an asset or a barrier. Consider meetings locations that are in the community, accessible by public transit and/or have free parking available. Alternatively, coordinating ride shares might also be an option.
- Locations: Not only is it important to consider whether the location is accessible in terms of transportation, it is also important to ensure the location is comfortable for all participants. For example, meetings held at county court houses or hospital settings, regardless of how nice the meeting rooms may be, may feel intimidating to some nontraditional voices. Locations should be handicapped accessible, and generally appropriate for the populations from which you are hoping to have participation. You may want to consider recreation centers, community centers or libraries.
- Interpreters: Meaningful inclusion of nontraditional voices may encompass those who are not fluent in English. Plan for interpreters including interpreters for non-English speakers or the deaf/hard of hearing community as appropriate, and consider facilitation strategies that may not rely heavily on visual cues such as color-coding or numbered lists if you have visually-impaired members. Similarly, translated documents are essential to creating an inclusive space.
- Teleconferencing: Making teleconferencing available when possible. This is helpful for participants when they are unable to attend in person due to geographic, transportation, childcare or other issues. Keeping in mind the limitations of teleconferencing, you may need to adjust your meeting materials!
- The National Organization on Disability has an excellent set of tips for successful meetings with interpreters.
New partners, nontraditional or not, need to be familiar with your organization and role in the community. Awareness-building materials can benefit all new members, not just the nontraditional voices.
You may want to create an orientation packet for all new members. Typical topics to include in orientation materials are:
- History and background of the organization;
- Mission, vision, and values of the organization;
- Goal Statement;
- History and accomplishments within the community;
- Current and planned community activities;
- Name and contact information of a community liaison or person who can help with onboarding issues;
- Scope of work and responsibilities; and
- Organizational structure and decision-making processes.
To have authentic engagement, meeting members need to feel welcome and able to express their opinions. Ways to create this space include:
- Avoid using acronyms or other jargon whenever possible. Think about the language used to eliminate a sense of intimidation. For example, if you discuss the importance of social-emotional learning in schools, take the time to briefly explain the term in meetings or include a description in meeting materials. Consider developing a glossary of often-used terms.
- Provide background information on topics covered. For example, if you are revisiting a program that was funded last year, take time to describe the purpose of the program, how much it was funded for and the expectations the program, rather than diving straight into the outcomes.
- Understand community norms and create meeting norms that align and support authentic involvement, including: Giving opinions not judgment; Listening actively and seeking to understand; Respecting others and not interrupting; Respecting confidentiality and a general right to privacy; Avoiding sidebar conversations; and Assuming positive intent.
TIP: When new members are present, conduct an ice-breaker or ‘get to know you exercise’ to enhance group cohesion.
All partners occasionally miss meetings. To support continued involvement, it is important to recognize that family events or other concerns may take precedence over occasional participation and, therefore, follow-ups and information sharing play an important role in fostering continued engagement. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Meeting minutes that clearly outline the decisions made along with the discussion leading up to the decisions can help prevent rehashing the same issues over and over as different group members attend each meeting. They will also help nontraditional voices to identify if key decisions have been made where their input would have significantly changed the course of the discussion.
- Individual follow-up by phone or email, depending on what the participants prefer, can help keep them engaged between meetings.
TIP: Make sure to identify the best person for the participant to contact if they have questions or concerns about the meeting they missed.
Nontraditional voices bring their experiences and a realistic view of how policies and programs impact their stakeholder community. As consumers of services, they will know the barriers and benefits of a proposed policy first hand. Does it meet a need? Is it duplicative? Does it fit their group’s values/is it culturally-responsive?
Authentic engagement requires approaching the community without a pre-established agenda. Your role is to ask for input, soliciting first hand experiences to help define the problem and develop an appropriate solution. This approach ensures your future work will reflect the issues identified by the community or stakeholders themselves.
Regular acknowledgement of this perspective can be reinforced by:
- Asking nontraditional voices to initiate a discussion related to their interests or concerns;
- Ensuring no new procedure is initiated until nontraditional voices have opportunity to weigh in;
- Recognizing that nontraditional voices may have a difficult time giving constructive criticism if the room appears to strongly in support of the issue;
- Acknowledging that the perspective of a service user or community member is invaluable to the process; and
- Using active listening skills and paraphrasing to ensure understanding of the perspectives offered by nontraditional voices.
There is a great deal of confusion over what state and federal confidentiality clauses stipulate regarding privacy and confidentiality. This section clarifies privacy requirements, implications, and strategies for ensuring appropriate protection of privacy at meetings. Please note that you will also need to review your organization’s own requirements outside of federal or state mandates.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is one of the most well-known federal acts with specific privacy rules. It is often cited as the reason why a group may want to have a closed-door discussion, for example, to discuss scenarios or strategize on best practices that include identifiable client data. However, HIPAA is not the only federal law that governs privacy and confidentiality. Other laws include, but are not limited to: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which place limits on the release of education-related information.
To understand the privacy implications for your group, it is important to understand that:
- If state law is more stringent, state law applies
- If state law is less stringent, federal law applies
While it is unlikely that a discussion during a meeting will address patient or individually identifiable health information as defined in HIPPA, privacy or confidentiality concerns may still remain. An additional insurance of privacy protection is a confidentiality waiver. Volunteers may sign a waiver stating that, in situations where actual evidence of a high probability of bias exists, a recusal be considered.