Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

09 Sep 2022, 11:00 a.m.

"The Pathway To Inclusion" - Insight From Alex Bayley

My friend Alex Bayley is one of my inspirations in working in and on open source and open culture. Alex founded or cofounded the Geek Feminism blog and wiki, for instance. They were ahead of the curve before I even realized the curve existed. Sometimes I find that I have painstakingly found my way to a hazy insight that Alex noticed, vividly articulated, riffed on, and critiqued eight years prior.

Alex has moved on from those kinds of endeavors, and some of their observations, published on their now-defunct blog Infotropism, are now only accessible via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Fortunately, they were licensed CC BY-SA, so I'm republishing a few on my blog to make them easier to discover and reference. Here's one, followed by my present-day comments.

The Pathway to Inclusion

(retrieved from the Wayback Machine, written by Alex Bayley, first published August 12, 2014 and licensed CC BY-SA)
Lately I’ve been working on how to make groups, events, and projects more inclusive. This goes beyond diversity — having a demographic mix of participants — and gets to the heart of how and why people get involved, or don’t get involved, with things.
As I see it, there are six steps everyone needs to pass through, to get from never having heard of a thing to being deeply involved in it.
Pathway To Inclusion by Alex Bayley, CC BY-SA

Pathway To Inclusion by Alex Bayley, CC BY-SA [text and expansion below]

These six steps happen in chronological order, starting from someone who knows nothing about your thing.
“I’ve heard of this thing.” Perhaps I’ve seen mention of it on social media, or heard a friend talking about it. This is the first step to becoming involved: I have to be aware of your thing to move on to the following stages.
“I understand what this is about.” The next step is for me to understand what your thing is, and what it might be like for me to be involved. Here’s where you get to be descriptive. Anything from your thing’s name, to the information on the website, to the language and visuals you use in your promotional materials can help me understand.
“I can see myself doing this.” Once I understand what your thing is, I’ll make a decision about whether or not it’s for me. If you want to be inclusive, your job here is to make sure that I can imagine myself as part of your group/event/project, by showing how I could use or benefit from what it offers, or by showing me other people like me who are already involved.
“I can physically, logistically, and financially do this.” Here we’re looking at where and when your thing occurs, how much it costs, how much advance notice is given, physical accessibility (for people with disabilities or other such needs), childcare, transportation, how I would actually sign up for the thing, and how all of these interact with my own needs, schedule, finances, and so on.
“I feel like I fit in here.” Assuming I get to this stage and join your thing, will I feel like I belong and am part of it? This is distinct from “identification” because identification is about imagining the future, while belonging is about my experience of the present. Are the organisers and other participants welcoming? Is the space safe? Are activities and facilities designed to support all participants? Am I feeling comfortable and having a good time?
“I care enough to take responsibility for this.” If I belong, and have been involved for a while, I may begin to take ownership or responsibility. For instance, I might volunteer my time or skills, serve on the leadership team, or offer to run an activity. People in ownership roles are well placed to make sure that others make it through the inclusion pathway, to belonging and ownership.
(retrieved from the Wayback Machine, written by Alex Bayley, first published August 12, 2014 and licensed CC BY-SA)

Sumana's comments

When I reread this in 2022, I love how humane and empowering it is, and more appealing and suitable for many of my projects than an "engagement funnel" model is.

I also appreciate how the separate "Awareness" and "Understanding" steps fit in with my experience of the spiral learning approach. The first time a person comes across the name of a project might be weeks or years before they have enough context to understand why it exists and how it's useful, much less how or why they'd get involved. For example:

  1. Awareness: Watching a video about easy programming projects, Sheila hears someone refer to "Beautiful Soup" as a tool for "screen scraping." They don't yet understand what that is or why someone would do it.
  2. As Sheila learns basic Python, they create a tool that grabs data from a website's API and analyzes it. They get frustrated at what the API doesn't offer, and ask a question on StackOverflow about how to get everything from the website, even stuff that's not in the site-provided API.
  3. Understanding: One of the answers explains that what Sheila wants to do is called "screen scraping" and suggests various tools they could use, including Beautiful Soup. Sheila has an "aha!" moment as they think back to the podcaster's recommendation and understand it.

Different people, at different steps along this pathway, need different information -- and if you try to address all those audiences together, in a single webpage or video, you're likely to overwhelm and turn off a lot of them. This is one reason it's good to put some human labor into finding, greeting, and conversing with people at different early stages. That way, you can learn their mental models, and figure out what they need to know next. You can use what you've learned to create targeted scalable content and tools that help them level up.

Of all these steps, I think "Identification" and "Belonging" are the hardest ones for an organizer to take care of without actually chatting with at least one person from the underrepresented group. For everything else you can find written guidance, assess aspirational examples, or analyze pre-existing data to help you fill in the gaps. But identification and belonging feel so subjective. This is a reason to keep tabs on demographic-specific interest and advocacy groups in your field (such as The Last Mile), so you can connect with them to get members' perspectives on how you could improve.


Alex Bayley
11 Sep 2022, 19:36 p.m.

Thanks for reposting this Sumana! I was actually just thinking about it the other day, for some reason I don’t recall any more. Maybe I should repost some of the stuff from my old blog onto my current one. I didn’t mean to let the domain lapse, and there was some potentially useful stuff there. ponders