Inclusion is the starting point

I take part in a regular Twitter chat called #LDInsight. It’s run and facilitated by a number of volunteers who help run the @LnDConnect Twitter account. The question last week was

What are you doing to address unconscious bias in your design?

It’s a great question and you should check out the hashtag for a lot of good thinking and practice happening in this space. Here’s my tuppence.

There are a number of things we have to make sure we understand about unconscious bias:

  • Self awareness doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible to unconscious bias
  • Training in unconscious bias doesn’t mean you now don’t have unconscious bias
  • Through many forms of influence (e.g. upbringing/societal/political/environmental) our biases are formed and reinforced
  • In some cases our biases help us to make good decisions
  • In other cases our biases will try to protect against perceived harm/fear/attack
  • Narratives and persistent messaging influences bias (e.g. M&S food is better quality than Aldi)

As I’ve been reading about the area of bias and how it influences human behaviour, one of the areas I see it being manifest is in decision making. We like to think, as rational, adult, educated humans that we make decisions based on sound judgement, through calculated logic and through objective criteria. That can happen, and the reality is more often than not it doesn’t happen that way. Buying a house for example is rarely a logical choice about money, it’s nearly always about how you feel about the house. Decisions in businesses are a different kind of decision making. In those instances it’s about the policies or the principles that are being upheld. That’s what drives the decision making. So if a value or principle of your organisation is to be fair, you’re likely to make decisions that are in that vain. If a driver is commercial advantage, decisions will be made against that aim.

It’s fine to make decisions against a line of thinking as long as it’s explicit that’s what drives the decision making.

We can fall down when we do not design into the decision making process factors that will mitigate against poor decision making due to influence of bias. For example being commercial is no bad aim, but if you’re doing it by discriminating against a group, then it has to be questioned where the moral and ethical lines are drawn. Often times our decision making doesn’t actively include thinking about mitigating against unconscious bias, and very rarely are we in a position where decisions have to be made immediately. I’m not referring to medical life and death decisions, I’m referring to normal regular everyday life decisions. We can nearly always take time to think a bit further to ensure we’re being inclusive.

The other place, more specifically in L&D, that I see us not paying enough attention to being inclusive is in the design of learning solutions. Inclusion tends not to be the driver in the design of learning solutions. Instead the driver tends to be about designing a good learning solution. After all that’s either what we’re hired or commissioned to do. Designing a good learning solution feels like the right thing to do and the right thing to focus on.

And it is.

Except what I often observe is that there is little thought process in the actual design to ensure bias isn’t unwittingly influencing decisions we make about the actual design itself.

For example:

  1. If you’re writing communications for the learning solution, what language are you using and how inclusive is it?
  2. If you’re writing a case study, what’s the demographic of the person you’re writing about?
  3. If the people registered for your programme are all from a certain demographic, how are you raising that with the course sponsor?
  4. If you’re using a model or a theory, what’s the evidence base for it? If it’s a model presented as being backed up by research, what groups was that research done with? If that research supports one group over another, what’s the validity of that model?
  5. If you’re holding a conference, how are you explicitly let it be known that you want a diverse and inclusive line up of speakers?
  6. If you’re holding an open session and you have registration from a certain group, how else can you market your product so it’s accessible to more groups?
  7. If you’re co-delivering, how are you making choices about who your co-facilitators are and what bias that either reinforces or provides for different thinking?
  8. If you can’t avoid making certain design decisions, how can you design into the session acknowledgement that those decisions had to be made?

The thing is about diversity and inclusion is if you think they’re important, it has to be designed into the idea as the idea is forming. Trying to design in D&I into a solution once it’s started taking shape is harder because your product is already forming in a certain direction. Once you give an idea a voice and it starts to take shape is when our bias starts to influence what the idea ends up looking like.

I think if we approach design with inclusion as a lens, it allows for a better learning solution. Of course the learning solution should meet a clear business need and it should be well designed to deliver a good learning experience. If we also are explicit that inclusion is important for the design then we can also enable that to happen.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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