Equity in Collaborative Spaces

screenshot-2016-12-20-22-29-51We discuss collaboration in different spaces a great deal in and outside of education. We talk about the benefits of collaboration, the importance of it, and how it can look like. But do we ever discuss the downside of collaboration?

Do we ever spend enough time to focus on how collaborative spaces can be equitable and inclusive for everyone?

A few years ago, I collaborated with a White “prominent” education leader on an initiative. I mention that he’s white, because his part played a huge role in silencing me throughout the initiative. So race here is a vital aspect, as I do identify as a Muslim woman of colour. Therefore, to have a hand in the direct oppression and silencing of women of colour, one needs to identify the systems and identities at play in the work structure.

We were aligned on the mission and vision for the project in many different ways, except one: Equity.

Like many projects I’ve led, I shouldered the workload myself. Taking initiative on starting and executing on the project tasks. I was under the impression we were clear on what all members in the group (we had other members, but him and I were the main ones working on this, since we initiated it). Apparently, I was wrong.

He emailed me the week before the event was to take place asking me to back out and cancel it, since we “weren’t aligned” on major decisions, despite my and the team’s efforts to communicate them. Long story short, I refused to cancel what was a great project. I had to carry the torch for the entire group, to not fall apart, and ensure the success of the event.

Because when things fall apart, there almost always is a person there to pick up the pieces. And that’s often the work that needs to be done.

As a result of that I learned the importance of understanding and aligning yourself with equitable practices when entering collaborative spaces.

You might be thinking: “Well, I only work with good people, who won’t do what this guy did”.

We don’t *really* know someone unless you work closely with them. Even then, you still might not fully know them.

I’ve learned that collaborative spaces first and foremost need to ensure equity before starting the work process.

Equity & Collaboration

Know who you’re working with This may be obvious but make sure you know the person really well before getting into a collaborative project that needs time, effort, and commitment. Check out their background, who they are, what their values are, and if you and them align on these values. Do some research on their experience, past projects, and maybe even a reference check. Disclaimer: Even if I had done all of the above, I still wouldn’t have had all the information that would tell me this person is probably not the right fit to work for on this project. That’s because collaboration + equity needs intersectionality. 

What does that mean?

We need to consider gender, race, culture, ethnicity, ability, and all other factors that make us people. Because those factors will determine how we fit with each other.

Cultural Competency Believe it or not, being culturally competent is an important aspect in collaboration, and for the success of the project/initiative. Determine the individuals’ attitudes, values, and knowledge of the parameters and the people you’re working with as a group, and as individuals.

Divide & Determine Work & Tasks Make sure that, as a group, you have delegated specific tasks to everyone. And the amount of work, commitment, and effort that is required to complete each task is fairly equal to each other. Write everything down! Log emails that have “notes” or random tasks, and make sure you are all clear on who will execute on them.

Deadlines This is simple, but having deadlines for tasks, even micro-tasks is so important. Assign someone who should be in charge or reminding people of deadlines, and following up on tasks progress and completion. In other words, your project needs to have a ‘project manager’ on the team. Determine who that person is first and foremost (see above).

Understand Motivation Anyone who you invite, or is added to the project, make sure to understand their motivation for joining. Or, what they hope to get out of the project/initiative. Why do they want to do this? Why do they want to join the team? This will help you and the rest of the members to see if you’re all aligned on the mission and purpose for doing this project. Understanding motivation can also help you to have a foresight on how the process, and progress will go throughout the initiative.

Set Communication Guidelines & Expectations We all have busy lives. All of us. If you’re famous or not, we all have families, homes, and things we do outside and within work. Missing deadlines, meetings, hangouts that are already planned can be an inconvenience for everyone. Make sure to understand everyone’s time commitment and plan accordingly. Set expectations on the following:

  • How many times you’ll need to meet.
  • The method of meeting (in person, hangout, skype, phone calls..etc).
  • How long will the meetings be.
  • Will there be an agenda that will be sent before the meeting? Who will send it (See above).
  • Will someone be taking notes during the meeting and sending it to everyone? (Also see above)
  • If there is a last minute cancelation, how will the person play catch-up?

You’ll need to accept the fact that in things obviously won’t go as planned, but having those above elements determined, and discussed with your group members, can help tremendously with making sure that you’re working in an equitable structure.

Have you ever experienced inequity in collaborative spaces?



One thought on “Equity in Collaborative Spaces

  1. Very real- and in the work force similar to the classroom often one person is not merely the “leader” but also the “completer” as in doing the majority of the work yet pooling the credits! Wish there were a simple way to ensure against this but as you wrote above, it can be very difficult to determine another person’s actual motivation for any cause or group endeavor…


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