Embrace Inclusion and Diversity in your Erasmus+ Projects

LTA seminar in Zagreb, Croatia (Nov. 2023)

From ‘Them’ to ‘Us’ by Lawrence Andrea Joy (Project Representative/Researcher)

The National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” as a member of the IncluMusic Erasmus + Partnership Project, had the opportunity to participate based on the recommendation of the National Agency for Community Programs in the Field of Education and Professional Development, at the 2nd instalment of the Embrace Inclusion and Diversity in your Erasmus+ Projects LTA seminar, organized between November 14th and 19th 2023, in the city of Zagreb, Croatia. Our colleague Andrea Lawrence Joy, IncluMusic Erasmus+ Partnership Project Representative/Researcher agreed to share some valuable insights following the event.

Abstract: This seminar explored the nuanced distinctions between equality and equity, emphasizing the transformative journey from nominal to inclusive participation in designing projects. The discussions highlighted the need for a rights-based approach in inclusive education, focusing not only on equal and equitable resource provision, but also on individual needs and systemic barriers. Key insights from main speakers underlined the critical stages of implementation, starting from nominal inclusion to representative and transformative participation. The presentations, discussions, and study groups, delved further into principles of inclusive project design, emphasizing ethical considerations, and equitable relationships. Recognizing the pivotal role of co-creation as the essential element for shifting perspectives from 'them' to 'us', thereby fostering genuine inclusion and diversity in project implementation. 

What is the difference between equality and equity? What makes meaningful inclusion possible? Are the project goals that have been established truly in line with the needs and goals of the individuals and groups for which they are intended? How to progress from nominal inclusion which is little more than a display of altruism, towards transformative inclusion in which the perspectives shift from them to us?

These are only a few of the poignant questions and thoughts this seminar addressed and attempted to find answers to. The three days were spent in the center of Zagreb amid the company of individuals who were all seeking to develop a better understanding of what inclusion and diversity should truly look like, and how it can be achieved in project design.

Equity vs. Equality

One of the first questions we were asked during the seminar was, “what is the difference between equity and equality?” “How do those ideas play out in making inclusive education?” The following sessions of the day attempted through the presentations, study groups, and discussions to help us find the answers.

Inclusive Education demands a rights-based approach in which the main priority is to ensure that the rights of each student are met. More specifically, the right to full access, participation and the highest possibility for achievement. Inclusion requires providing for the individual within the provision of the collective. It is not enough to assume that as long as all resources and opportunities have been provided in equal measure, then inclusion and access have been achieved. There, lies the disparity between providing equal inclusion and equitable inclusion. The later, focuses on the individual needs and recognizes the resources and opportunities necessary for equal access and possibility. This is a process of increasing participation while minimizing exclusion and barriers. For it to be possible to minimize exclusion and barriers, it is important to focus not only on the individuals needs but also to focus on the system that they are part of. Identifying and working to overcome barriers and exclusion within the system, is in symbiotic relation to the individual’s needs. Such barriers and sources for exclusion occur most often in the learning environment, in the attitudes at all systemic levels, and in the methods with which the system responds to diversity and the promotion of inclusive practices. Overcoming these sources of exclusion, necessitates a concentrated and sincere reevaluation of personal and systemic perspectives, biases, and stereotypes, followed by rigorous implementation of change.

 

From Nominal towards Transformative Inclusion

One of the most impactful discussions and presentations for me personally was the discussion of Prof. Dr. Judith Hollenweger Haskell who gave a presentation on Inclusion and Diversity in our Organisations and Erasmus+ Projects. Her perspective on how inclusion and diversity should be approached in our organizations and projects, brought to light many of the pitfalls and ableist perspectives with which we all personally, and also systemically address inclusion. In the instance of inclusive practices, the discussion of participation comes in contact with the question of “to what extent?”. Knowing to what extent is it possible, both at the individual but also at the systemic level to provide the possibility for participation, requires the understanding that participation is the ability for engagement. The ability to be engaged at all levels: behaviorally and socially within ones’ environment, emotionally with ones’ interests, identification, happiness etc., and cognitively with one’s ability to self-regulate, solve problems and cope. It encompasses the competencies, the autonomy, and the sense of belonging of each individual. Therefore, to be able to fully provide opportunity for participation, we have to begin evaluating, creating, and changing the methods and approaches for engagement.

As outlined in Prf. Dr. Judith’s presentation, the beginning phases of the implementation of inclusive participation very often start at the nominal level, in which inclusion and diversity can be used within the system as a means to legitimize development plans, thereby becoming little more than displays of altruism that do not result in change. The individuals and communities we wish to provide participation to, can often be harmed in this process, as their actual needs are not consulted, much less taken care of. Following nominal inclusion, comes the involvement of individuals and target communities for instrumental participation/inclusion. In this situation the skills and knowledge of the community members is an efficient asset in the project implementation. This is effective to the extent that the needs of the individuals and communities are consulted in the process of implementation. Implementation only begins to be effective and bring about impactful change, when individuals and communities have representative participation/inclusion. In this situation, all members are given a voice in the decision-making, implementation, and policies that affect them. This possibility allows for the project and intervention to be sustainable. The most desired form of implementation is the one in which transformative participation/inclusion is made possible. In this instance all members are empowered and active at all levels of change. This results in the alteration of structures and institutions that would otherwise allow for marginalization and exclusion.

 

Principles of Project Design – The Key of Co-creation

During this part of the seminar a couple of the main speakers presented the principles and methods of inclusive and diverse project designing. After the presentations, we as participants were divided into groups based on our educational domain and were given the task of creating our own project design structure based on the principles spoken about previously. One of the main speakers, Prof. Kevin Kester, shared his presentation on Inclusion and Diversity in Project Design: Reflections from Practice, in which he shared his experience as well as the guidelines laid out by UNICEF in inclusive and diverse project design practices. The benefit of his presentation was that, while it offered a cohesive outline to follow in the elementary designing phase of a project, it more importantly gave a clear guideline of how to design a project that is in itself inclusive and diverse from its foundation. He elaborated in his presentation on the 6 principles of project design which is conceptually drawn from UNICEF Ethical Research in Fragile and Conflict Affected Contexts: Guidelines for Applicants. These principles focus on inclusion and diversity implementation from the beginning of the project. This can be seen throughout the commitment phase, the designing and implementation phase, as well as the dissemination of the results, information, etc..., down to the transparency of the budget and timeline of the project.

In building a project there are ideas which are crucial to be considered. Focusing on the power dynamics between partners, target and local community and seeing if the relationships are equitable in the commitment phase of the project. All partners and teams should have appropriate representation with regard to diversity. Reviewing the relevancy of the research questions in designing the project and making sure the proposed benefits are equitable. In implementing the project, there should be protocols set in place for conducting ethical research, where there is informed consent, confidentiality and privacy of all communities and individuals. When disseminating the project results, information, etc., a collaborative dissemination plan should be established, where any and all parties have equitable access, and are aware of how the dissemination activities will be used to enact positive change. In the monitoring and evaluation phase, feedback loops should be created, to update participants on progress and outcomes, as well as to assess unintentional impact/consequences of the project implementation. The allocated budget should be reviewed, as to whether it is appropriate and sufficient for the research and expertise necessary and the timeline should be set realistically and remain flexible in light of the complexity of working in inclusive and diverse ways.

One of the most helpful and influential parts of the seminar was, after being divided into groups based on our educational domain, we had the opportunity as a team to gather all of these ideas and principles together and create an outline of a project design. This allowed us to highlight and focus on the main concepts and essence of each phase. As a team, we shared methods of good practice as well as presentations of resources, platforms, and tools that are useful. The one single most valuable concept was that of Co-creation. Throughout studying the principles, we realized that this was the red thread which brings all of these ideas together. Without Co-creation and the direct input and participation of the individuals and communities in the making of the project, the whole process will be nominally inclusive at best. Every stage, phase, and moment needs to move from the perspective of being for them and instead moving towards the perspective of being for us. This entails that we co-create inclusion and diversity with the individuals and communities we are trying to impact. We co-create change for all our benefit. It is not about them; it is about us.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the National Agency for Community Programs in the Field of Education and Professional Development. Neither the European Union nor ANPCDEFP can be held responsible for them.