Action Labs find new solutions to address barriers to equity

In fall 2022, the University of Victoria will be launching our first Equity Action Plan. Development of the plan has been in the works since early 2021 and has included four phases of campus engagement.

“Calling it a plan is a bit of a misnomer because what we are building is more of an iterative process than a static plan,” says EQHR Executive Director Cassbreea Dewis. “This process is about meaningfully addressing barriers to equity on campus by engaging in continual reflection, and the ongoing identification and implementation of strategic actions.”

One of the tools being explored to encourage the development of bold actions is Action Labs. Action Labs put into practice an equity-centred design approach by bringing together diverse stakeholders to find new solutions to barriers at a systems level (as opposed to the individual or interpersonal level). At their core Action Labs seek to:  

  • Bring together diverse perspectives on an issue (both decision makers and stakeholders)
  • Gain insight from people with lived experience of a challenge or barrier 
  • Create a space for facilitated ideation (brainstorming)
  • Build prototypes of solutions (interventions, policy ideas, ventures, program pilots); and 
  • Test solutions to see how they work on the ground with people.
In April, a group of 15 staff, faculty and students came together to take part in UVic’s first pilot Action Lab. Action Labs typically start by identifying a pressing equity problem. In the pilot, we drew on the barriers identified by our campus community during the March engagement phase of the Equity Action Plan. The group came together for two sessions to think creatively about addressing equity barriers within UVic hiring practices.

In the Action Lab format, participants are typically asked to consider the current state of the barrier, the community concerns and feedback that have been collected, and to reflect on their own experiences with this challenge. Once participants have a good understanding of the barriers that exist and the assumptions that might be in our way to finding solutions, action labs encourage creativity and imagination to find new solutions. Ideation might include a series of rapid group brainstorming sessions supported by prompts that encourage participants not to get stuck in the details or to think outside the confines of typical limitations such as resources, staff and time.

Throughout the process participants are encouraged to think about who is in the room, who is missing and what assumptions or biases relating to their positionality (personal identity, values, and relationship to power and authority that that influence how one understands the world) they might be carrying with them. Once ideas are collected, they are refined and then prioritized. Participants choose an idea or ideas to ‘prototype.’ Prototyping is a way of testing an idea in a simple wayto get a sense of the efficacy and reception to the idea before allocating time, energy and resources. This model allows for mistakes followed by gathering feedback and making necessary adjustments.

The initial pilot group finished their first action lab session with more than 100 new ideas. In the second meeting they designed three prototypes focusing on staff training, hiring criteria and using demographic data to improve equity in hiring processes. Over the summer the Equity Action Project Team will be coordinating the rollout of these prototypes.

In the fall we will report out to the community about the ongoing role of Action Labs in UVic’s Equity Action Plan along with launching the plan itself.

Visit the EAP website for updates.

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