How to write a cultural equity statement as a framing tool for design thinking
This guest post is by Sarah Minegar, Ph.D., Archivist and Museum Educator for the Morristown National Historical Park.
In the realm of pedagogy, design thinking is a page right out of the educator’s handbook; accessible in concept and practice, adaptable and flexible in approach, and inherently iterative. I’ve been utilizing human-centered problem solving and “problem finding” with teacher partners at the Morristown National Historical Park for several years (read more). Inviting collaborators into our interpretive process has been an important step toward achieving equitable narratives. It has also been imperative that we use framing tools to help us anticipate blind spots in our projects, processes, and systems.
Although we have our own in-house indicators of success at Morristown National Historical Park, we try to stay abreast of the evolving measures of best practices and industry-specific metrics. One framing tool that lends itself to adaptation and iteration is the cultural equity statement. (See the Morristown NHP Cultural Equity Statement below).
What is a cultural equity statement?
A cultural equity statement is a succinct document that aids institutions in addressing, at a glance, the ways in which their missions, actions, practices, and leadership are steering their organization toward justice, equity, and inclusivity. Unlike an outcome-oriented matrix or a categorical rubric, this tool is a checklist of sorts to help you determine if an equity measure is in place.
A cultural equity statement should:
- Be concise (generally 1-3 pages).
- Include a summary of how cultural equity is defined and performed as part of your institutional mission.
- Contain brief statements of acknowledgement, action, and sustainability. These statements should represent the essential objectives of equity in practice and do not need to include details, specifics, or action agendas.
Like any litmus test, you will know immediately where/if an equity consideration is missing. You should ideate or iterate accordingly.
Cultural equity statement template
Americans for the Arts has an editable template for drafting your own. While this document may seem fairly simple in design, having one prepared will streamline your evaluation process, help you identify the gaps in your planning, and focus attention on your programming, processes, and leadership pipeline.
Using a template like this also removes some the pressure of getting started and drafting language from scratch; it helps you move into action quickly, and parse through the technical language of equity in a constructive manner.
Empathetic Museum Maturity Model
If you are looking for specific examples of how to determine success in practice, you might also want to pair your cultural equity statement with the Museum Maturity Model. This rubric, available in English and Spanish, was created by the The Empathetic Museum to help organizations determine how they perform in the way of diversity, equity, and access, and move toward inclusive futures.
The Maturity Model is divided into five characteristics: Civic Vision; Institutional Body Language; Community Resonance; Timeliness & Sustainability; and Performance Measures.
The Model is designed to be used alongside your institution’s strategic planning process and to provide benchmark examples of success. Ideally, it can also help you plan and critique new initiatives or pilots. Access the complete instructions and the downloadable rubric in English and Spanish here.
The cultural equity statement and empathetic maturity rubric are helpful starting points for museums striving to improve and evolve services to their communities. These tools provide scaffolding on which to organize needs and begin the design thinking process.
Inclusive design and equitable programming are about removing barriers and making accessibility a foundational consideration with every project. As museum professionals, is our duty to make sure no accommodation feels like an afterthought or is any less sophisticated in its design.
Sample Cultural Equity Statement
Below is the cultural equity statement from Morristown National Historical Park. This is an evolving statement and the version here is from April 2019. We used the editable template from Americans for the Arts; some of it is verbatim and some has been customized.
Morristown National Historical Park
CULTURAL EQUITY STATEMENT
To support a rich and dialogic learning community for all, Morristown NHP commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower just, inclusive, equitable experiences.
DEFINITION OF CULTURAL EQUITY
Cultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of public history policy; the support of learners; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for civic engagement and dialog; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS & AFFIRMATIONS
- In the United States, there are systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally such that inequity and injustice result, and that must be continuously addressed and changed.
- Cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the public history sector.
We must all hold ourselves accountable, because acknowledging and challenging our inequities and working in partnership is how we will make change happen.
- Everyone deserves equal access to a full, vibrant civic life, which is essential to a healthy and democratic society.
- Historic sites have traditionally been safe spaces for reflection, connection, dialog, and galvanizing cultural shifts that challenge inequities and encourage alternatives.
MODELING THROUGH ACTION
To provide informed, authentic leadership for cultural equity, we strive to …
- Pursue cultural consciousness throughout our organization through substantive learning and formal, transparent policies.
- Acknowledge and dismantle any inequities within our policies, systems, programs, and services, and report organization progress.
- Commit time and resources to expand more diverse leadership within our board, staff, and advisory bodies.
FUELING FIELD PROGRESS
To pursue needed systemic change related to equity, we strive to …
- Encourage substantive learning to build cultural consciousness and to proliferate pro-equity policies and practices by all of our constituencies and audiences.
- Improve the cultural leadership pipeline by creating and supporting programs and policies that foster leadership that reflects the full breadth of American society.
- Generate and aggregate quantitative and qualitative research related to equity to make incremental, measurable progress towards cultural equity more visible.
- Advocate for public and private-sector policy that promotes cultural equity.
Sarah Minegar, Ph.D. is an Archivist and Museum Educator for the Morristown National Historical Park. An academic historian and former classroom teacher, Sarah specializes in artifact-based inquiry and collaborative learning. She is a facilitator and design thinking practitioner. Read more about the unique collections housed at her institution and her teaching practice.