Facilitation is not a neutral practice. What are the ethical commitments or values that guide your work?
Community engagement is a relational, ethical, affective, and pedagogical process, influenced by institutional contexts¹,². Reflecting on these ethical commitments is important because they inherently shape the direction of our choices as facilitators.³ In other words, our values and commitments shape our actions, consciously or unconsciously. We are guided by these commitments to push for social change.
“I think that’s one of the things that I’ve learned, is to not make my scope or dream small, my imagining small, because I’m in this medium. But, to actually be really expansive in my creative thinking around what I want to do with participants and then figuring out if there is technically a way to do it" – Khari McClelland, Community Facilitator
In our study, community-engaged practitioners told us about many of the ethical commitments guiding their work. Many commitments pre-dated COVID-19. However, the conditions imposed by the pandemic highlighted or amplified these commitments, as practitioners creatively navigated the “lived tensions” of adapting their participatory practice to new settings (e.g., online, phone, mail). Similarly, shifting to online or remote environments encouraged practitioners to think deeply about their active role in supporting communities in processing the impacts of the pandemic, and other inequities locally and globally.
These illustrations highlight many of the ethical commitments that guide community-engaged practice. We invite you to use the visuals to reflect on your own commitments or use them with groups as visual references to spark conversations. What does equity and accessibility, relationality, care, accountability, and transparency look like for your group? Or, in your practice?
To download images for use in your work, and learn how to cite them, visit the illustration gallery.
Relationality and Care
Attending to relationships and crafting the conditions for care with others (and ourselves) is an important ethical commitment in community-engaged practice. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this commitment becomes more pressing, as many communities experience heightened isolation and inequity. At the same time, practitioners may also be struggling. Practices of self-grounding, honesty, transparency and collective support become paramount for building and sustaining relationships with self and others.
“It feels like an ethical principle of relating to the folks that I work with. To be available to be moved. …. I’ve been having to really carefully think about what do I need to give myself in order to be available emotionally, to be as generous as I’d like in my daily work because I do think that facilitation is a practice of availability and a practice of attention” – Kate Klein, Community Facilitator
“We found that a lot of the meetings that we’ve had tended to become very heavy. There’s been crisis after crisis in the city’s northwest. … So, we’ve had to create alternative spaces. … like a light edition or joy edition where there’s only sharing of family members’ babies and pets and fun stuff just to counter-balance the fact that we only saw each when we’re mitigating crisis or making sure folks have enough to eat or COVID pop up tests. … That kind of light edition of our WhatsApp groups and Zoom meetings which has helped a lot of folks, especially some of our elders that are aunties who are feeling quite isolated.” – Sam Tecle, Participatory Researcher
Accountability and Transparency
Making transparent decisions and being accountable to the communities one serves is an important ethical commitment in community-engaged practice. This requires self-reflexivity regarding one’s role and one’s implicit and explicit desires as a facilitator, as well as creativity around how to redistribute power and material resources.
Navigating the “lived tensions” of power dynamics, particularly with respect to institutional constraints can be challenging but important work. Facilitating online or by phone requires practitioners to provide clear and detailed instructions which may encourage transparency. However, technology may also obscure power dynamics, which makes the responsibility of ‘holding space’ more delicate.
“I think a lot about power and how my investments in undoing or dismantling systems of violence and, also how I am implicated in them and how easy it is to opt back in at every moment …. Being able to be an individual who just successfully redistributes power and the need for consistent, rigorous humility” – G, Participatory Researcher
“The great gift and also the responsibility of holding people’s stories, so the delicacy of [this process]” – Victoria Mata, Community Artist
Foregrounding considerations around power and equitable access to participation is an important ethical commitment for community-engaged practice. Technology can both alleviate and/or amplify equity-related issues and access barriers, depending on the intersecting needs and identities of the community, and the topic being discussed. Nuanced, and specific conversations that take seriously intersectionality, positionality, equity and accessibility in online/remote settings is paramount to ensure no one is left behind. Equity plays out at local (e.g., neighbourhoods more impacted by COVID-19), national (e.g., rural/urban) and global (e.g., global north/south) levels. Micro-aggressions in online or remote settings may manifest in more hidden, yet still harmful, ways. Accessibility may include but is not limited to: technology and internet access, quality and literacy, access to private space, as well as accommodations for equitable participation (closed captioning, ASL, child-care support, image-descriptions, language translation etc.).
“A lot of the peers that we work with don’t have access to the internet or cell phones. … It’s been challenging. It’s been frustrating because a lot of the people that we truly value we haven’t been able to connect with” – Craig Boucher, Community Facilitator
“I almost feel like meeting on Zoom is just more accessible for a lot of equity-seeking groups. … We’re working with South Asian youth, and their schedules are really dependent on their parent’s schedules because often they’re in precarious work, shift work…. You know people are not stressed commuting, you know? Trying to figure out when they have to go home. So that’s been a huge silver lining I would say for me, and I can actually see myself moving forward, you know, working virtually more. …..Not having to pay myself to, you know, pay for gas … That money is actually going now, being reallocated to our community for more resources and needs and to pay for their time and honorariums.” – Ananya Tina Banerjee, Participatory Visual Methods practitioner
1. Switzer S, Flicker S, McClelland A, et al. Journeying together: A visual exploration of “engagement” as a journey in HIV programming and service delivery. Health & place. 2020;61:102247.
2. Switzer S. Beyond the End or the Means: Co-Theorizing Engagement for HIV Programming and Service Provision. Toronto: Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University; 2019.
3. Gaztambide-Fernández RA, Matute AA. "Pushing Against": Relationality, intentionality, and the ethical imperative of pedagogy. In: Burdick J, Sandlin JA, Michael P. O'Malley, eds. Problematizing Public Pedagogy. New York: Routledge; 2013:52-64.