Contributed by Tessa Charlesworth (email@example.com)
In our sector, group divisions – between government and community agencies, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and organizations, as well as between “modern” and “traditional” experiences – have been, and continue to be, sources of misunderstandings and prejudice. Such attitudes ultimately result in compromised services for children, youth, and families in BC. As such, one of the missions of Leadership 2020 is to help bridge these pervasive divides.
The approach employed by L2020 is grounded in both current and historical research on intergroup relations, stretching back to Gordon Allport’s “On the Nature of Prejudice” (1954). In this pivotal publication, Allport delineated the conditions that give rise to intergroup prejudice and conflict, as well as the conditions that give rise to the reconciliation of conflict and reduction of prejudice through positive contact. He suggested that, in order for two groups to rebuild their relationships, they must experience contact (i.e. proximity and interaction), that is supported by (1) a common goal; (2) cooperative interdependence to achieve that goal; and (3) support from authority.
Contemporary research has largely confirmed the benefit of these conditions in reducing prejudice and promoting reconciliation (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Indeed, research has shown that positive contact with these satisfied conditions reduces prejudice by (1) increasing awareness and knowledge of the “other”; (2) increasing empathy towards the “other”; and (3) decreasing anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the “other”.
In considering such research, it becomes clear that L2020 offers a unique platform for group reconciliation. At the most basic level, the program provides an opportunity for dialogue and contact (via both online platforms and in-person at residencies) between groups that may be otherwise disconnected. To ensure positive contact, the L2020 program also fulfills Allport’s three aforementioned conditions.
First, the program sets a common goal to all participants – to revolutionize and repair the sector so as to provide the best services possible. Additionally, each participant is encouraged to set a personal leadership development goal. Although private, these individual goals become a “common” pursuit as each participant is aware of the other participants’ similar struggles and challenges. Second, the program stresses the need for cooperative interdependence in order to achieve both the common goal, and each individual goal. As one example, the webinar check-ins serve as a source of communal support and interdependence for each participant to share their successes and failures and receive guidance from other members. Furthermore, the unique design of the residencies – with multiple group problem-solving and brain-storming activities – models the cooperative interdependence required for the communal goal of sector change. Third, the program provides substantial institutional and authority support, not only from the design team and facilitators, but also from the government and agencies that encourage their team members to participate.
In this way, the program design aligns with the pursuit of positive intergroup contact and reconciliation. However, the program is also unique in stressing the mechanisms (knowledge, empathy, and anxiety-reduction) that help in reconciliation. Specifically, L2020 targets intergroup knowledge growth by having participants share their experiences and knowledge through stories, as well as by promoting deep conversations and clarifying questions between groups. In a similar way, L2020 increases intergroup empathy by targeting the “humanization” of the other through such stories and personal sharing (again, the webinar check-ins provide a unique resource for empathic responding). Through the propagation of such knowledge and empathy, the program also targets the reduction of uncertainty and anxiety by making the other group more familiar through consistent, positive interactions.
This brief exposé on the intergroup goals of Leadership 2020 has shown how the program is firmly grounded in historical and contemporary research, as well as in application and experience. More importantly, however, it has shown that the program has immense potential in resolving the pervasive intergroup prejudices that hamper our sector and compromise our practice.
For further reading:
Allport, Gordon (1954) On the Nature of Prejudice.
Pettigrew, T. & Tropp, L. (2006) A Meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 90(5): 751-83.
Pittinsky, T. & Simon, S. (2007) Intergroup leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(6): 586-605.
Reflective questions: How might this information apply to your work with ‘groups’ that are struggling to work together, e.g. between teams, agencies, disciplines, etc? How might the notion that intergroup relations will be enhanced through having constructive contact (time together), shared goals, tasks requiring cooperation, and ‘top cover’ support and encouragement? What are some small probes/actions that you could take towards improving relations and practice between these groups, e.g. between your team and another team?
Note: If you are curious about the field of intergroup relations and prejudice, Tessa welcomes comments and questions and is happy to share research and references. You may reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.