Creating an inclusive and equitable research process
Audience research can lead to a sharper understanding of the mindsets, perspectives, and perceptions of the people you hope will rally around your mission. With these insights, nonprofits are better equipped to tailor their branding and communications efforts. They understand what messages resonate, what channels are most relevant, and what stories will move people to action.
Whose voices do nonprofits tend to seek out in the audience research they conduct? On the flip side, whose voices are often absent? Whose views are being centered in decision-making, and whose views don’t count? The Equity-Centered Community Design Field Guide, a helpful and free resource for designing processes through an equity lens, says, “Design is the intention (and unintentional impact) behind an outcome.” In other words, inequitable outcomes exist as a result of decision-making—consciously and unconsciously made. For nonprofits actively working on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or who seek to, it’s important to recognize that decisions made in your audience research can tie directly to your ability to advance or hinder your DEI efforts.
Here’s a glimpse into how Big Duck has been collaborating with our clients to integrate a DEI perspective into our audience research work.
In this context, diversity represents the presence of different identities in the research process. We regularly work with nonprofits seeking to learn more about what motivates their donors to give. With those insights, we are able to recommend communications and fundraising strategies and tactics tailored to the audience’s perspective. But in our research, how can we ensure that we don’t hear from a homogenous subset of donors—for example, all cis-gender middle-aged white women? Or all people in a particular industry above a certain income bracket? Even if a nonprofit’s donor base now is predominantly composed of this demographic, what might their goals be for diversifying their donor base in the future? Leveraging a lens of diversity, we can be intentional in recruiting and hearing from a pool of research participants that is more representative—in terms of gender, age, race, and other factors—of both an existing community and the community of supporters you seek to cultivate in the future.
Equity, in this context, means that the research conducted levels the playing field so that underrepresented voices are prioritized and centered. Recently we worked with a national network of charter schools that has a public commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization. We partnered to create a new vision and mission for the organization and conducted focus groups around the country to hear their community’s hopes, aspirations, and needs for the future of their schools. We set a commitment to center and elevate the voices of students, families, and alumni because we and our client acknowledged that they are the individuals most directly impacted by the school’s vision and mission. This meant that we actively prioritized their perspectives over those of stakeholders with established and formalized positions of power in the organization.
Inclusion means people with different identities feel valued and welcomed in the research process. According to Melanie Nind, author of The practical wisdom of inclusive research, inclusive research shifts away from research on people toward research with people. In an inclusive process, participants are comfortable bringing their authentic voices and sharing their lived experiences with your organization. They feel validated and affirmed by their experiences with the research process. A few practices our team uses to foster an inclusive process include providing research participants with an option for their input to be anonymous, translating research questions into different languages, and selecting research methods that accommodate a range of preferences of how comfortable people feel sharing (such as giving someone the opportunity to email a response to a question rather than sharing it in a more public setting).
Build your organization’s DEI-driven research practice
There’s a growing understanding in the nonprofit sector that honoring DEI helps nonprofits do more transformative work. In action, DEI is an ongoing practice and set of intentions that your nonprofit can bring to everything it does—from hiring, to program design, communications, and more.
Interested in learning more about integrating DEI into your communications research process? Here are some resources that our team is using to build our practice.
The practical wisdom of inclusive research, Melanie Nind
Equity-centered community design field guide, Creative Reaction Lab