Inclusion, Diversity and Equity: Best Practices in Engaging Diverse Groups and Stakeholders

Brian Graves
Brian Graves

As the almost 14,000 school districts serving American neighborhoods continue rapid diversification, the focus to provide a quality education for every student is sharpened. School districts are inundated with the challenges diversity issues present. Beyond race and culture, socioeconomic forces, language, sexual orientation, physical ability and religious preference now also come into play.

Today it is no longer enough to post information a single time on a district website to communicate with all stakeholders. Getting the right message to the right group at the right time can be a challenge. It takes research, tools, patience and partnerships to craft compelling, targeted messages that are culturally inclusive. The good news is that inclusive communication is achievable using a well-formed strategy and data analyses turned into actionable insight.

Why be inclusive? Closing the achievement gap

Make Your Messages Connect with Your Community
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Before one can begin to develop a cultural or issue-specific communication strategy, district stakeholder demographics, sub-groups, cultural values and beliefs must be fully understood. These data points, in combination with surveys and socioeconomic and academic data are imperative for success.

Student success is a core goal of all district mission and vision statements. Success in this regard is better realized as diversity gaps are closed. However, the recently released Stanford Education Data Archive glaringly highlights the racial achievement gap in almost every district across the United States. Strategic, culturally inclusive communications are critical if we are to begin closing the well-documented achievement gap.

Don’t forget to reach the sub-groups and cultures

Data-driven communications are a best practice, but not the end-all. A recent study by the MIT Sloan Management Review and SAS Institute cautions against exclusive data-driven marketing and communications. Rather, the study suggests employing a blend of information and experience to guide decisions. Numbers may look good, but data does not assure all stakeholders are reached. While structured and unstructured data can provide post-project analyses, there is no guarantee that all messaging was received and understood by a particular audience.

Don’t discount “The Old Fashioned Way”

Often, parent and student groups, community partnerships, business alliances and grassroots approaches can be utilized to share key messages and information designed to educate and inform stakeholders.

In the summer of 2014, African American students in west Chicagoland area’s Community Unit School District 308 documented their efforts to achieve the American dream in the book Reactions: A Collection of African American Essays. The book serves as a way to explain how today’s educational system both supports and, at times, fails these students. The young authors’ book and story was shared via the district’s main media channels (website, press releases and social media), and beyond that, the group appeared at community events, worked with parent groups and was invited to speak at a local university.

See, hear and learn more at the 2016 NSPRA Seminar in Chicago!

Strained budgets, limited staff and the demand for access and services complicate the challenges school districts face trying to close the achievement gap. So how should districts react? Learn how to create a district-wide culture of inclusion while building social capital using family engagement, technology and social media in our Diversity Track sessions at the Chicago Seminar this July. Check the Seminar at a Glance Schedule for details.


Brian Graves is director of communications and pr for Community Unit School District 308 in Oswego, Ill. Contact him at