Thinking Strategically About Diversity and Inclusion

Infusing diversity matters into a program’s strategic planning process enables leaders to integrate diversity and inclusion efforts that are congruent with a program’s mission, goals, and objectives, and thus with the program’s activities and curricula. The benefits of ensuring a diverse student body and/or attaining an inclusive climate, however, are not automatic. Programs must systematically, deliberately, and intentionally emphasize diversity and inclusion to ensure goals are met. Thus, it is important that programs create a culture of accountability through established measures and indicators to validate that diversity efforts consistently contribute to a program’s success. Tracking, collecting, and critically examining diversity efforts can contribute to a program’s success through discussion, reflection, and evidence-based decision-making.

Thinking strategically about a program’s climate provides programs the opportunity to explore inclusion initiatives that bring together program stakeholders and ensure that a program’s goals and objectives are developed in the context of creating a safe and diverse educational climate. Understanding how the program’s mission, goals, and outcomes promote a climate of inclusiveness assures that programs are not only more effective at meeting the needs of students, but also graduating culturally competent students.  In that sense, programs should strive to assure that students can apply their knowledge, understanding, and problem solving abilities in new or unfamiliar environments within broader or multidisciplinary contexts related to public affairs, administration, and policy. Using a strategic lens to identify, develop, and advance diversity efforts plays an instrumental role in maintaining an inclusive learning environment. Learn more about how to craft a Diversity Plan by listening to NASPAA’s Diversity Plans: Examples and Guidance for Development Voiceover PowerPoint or by exploring peer examples of Diversity Plans.  

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Overview of Diversity

Because graduates of NASPAA accredited programs are expected to be leaders in protecting the public interest, it is particularly important that they be prepared to communicate and interact productively with a diverse and changing workforce. While NASPAA is sensitive to the specific goals and mission of a program, as well as the environment in which it operates, NASPAA emphasizes the importance of diversity within its accredited programs, and relies on programs to provide the context of diversity given its many dimensions.  Given the responsibilities this field of study entails, it is also important for students to understand the intercultural and globalized context in which they will one day work. Thus, having a diverse faculty, staff, and student body, as well as an inclusive environment, is essential to optimize the educational value that students receive.

COPRA seeks substantial evidence regarding programmatic efforts to promote diversity and a climate of inclusiveness, especially demonstrable evidence of good practice, a framework for evaluating diversity efforts, and the connection to the program’s mission and objectives. COPRA expects programs to demonstrate how they “promote diversity and climate of inclusiveness” in accordance with a strategic diversity plan, developed with respect to a program’s unique mission and environment. Engaging in strategic planning adds an incredible value to programs as it allows them to plan, act, assess, and improve where necessary.  Throughout the development process, it is recommended that programs take their unique context — mission, goals, geographic location, and internal and external climate environments, as well as students — into consideration.  Thinking about these factors and actively engaging stakeholders, faculty, and students in this process can ensure that diversity and inclusion efforts become integrated into the program’s core structures and decision-making processes.  Tracking strategies and conducting periodic reviews of existing policies is an important way programs can ensure that diversity efforts align with a program’s goals, objectives, and mission. To learn more about COPRA’s expectations for diversity, visit their “Diversity Across the Standards” webpage.  

Diversity Resources

While results show that MPA/MPP programs have diversified and improved their diversification processes over the years (see NASPAA’s 2013 Diversity Report), there are still opportunities for greater improvement and inclusion. The following webpages provides examples of diversity-related strategies and highlights other resources that may be useful for programs to employ, when considering how to best promote diversity and a climate of inclusiveness within their unique context.  The list of resources is not meant to be comprehensive, rather it is intended to serve as a starting point for discussion, future research, and potential practices.  Given the many dimensions of diversity, COPRA recognizes that the practices adopted by one program may not work well in another and does not endorse any specific strategy; instead, it encourages programs to actively and strategically engage with students and stakeholders. When selecting strategies for a specific environment, it is important to take the context of varying situations into consideration as some strategies may or may not work well for some programs.

 To explore potential strategies, click on the images below.

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