Earlier this year, Avantpage teamed up with the Athena Group, a women- and minority-owned consulting firm focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), to host a virtual event on how to forge connections and build resilient, inclusive communities.
This event brought together government stakeholders seeking to enhance their approach to language access and equity within their organizations. Attendees were eager to explore successful strategies and identify common challenges, and one overarching theme emerged: the challenge of creating programs and services that center the voices of diverse communities with limited English proficiency (LEP) from the very beginning of a project.
If you missed our session with the Athena Group, fear not — in this blog post, we’ll dive into some of the key topics discussed at the event, namely common challenges and solutions to engaging diverse communities from the very get-go.
Common Challenges & Barriers to Engaging Diverse Communities
If your organization is looking for ways to better serve people with limited English proficiency, it’s important to seek input from individuals who actually have LEP. Asking for and actually incorporating feedback from diverse communities into your programs and services is critical to making sure that your organization can effectively serve these people. However, that can be a lot easier said than done.
Here are some of the main challenges organizations face when it comes to trying to engage diverse communities, particularly those with LEP — and more importantly, solutions that you and your team can implement to get around those challenges.
Challenge 1: Connecting with Rural Communities
Rural communities often face barriers that communities in big cities and even the suburbs do not — research shows that people living in rural areas typically face a lack of important resources compared to their urban counterparts.
And as the population of folks with LEP in rural areas grows, organizations need to be able to address the unique needs of people from diverse linguistic backgrounds living in rural areas.
Building relationships with local organizations is key, as this helps bridge the gap between your organization and the community you’re targeting. By forming partnerships with local organizations that are knowledgeable about a given community in a rural area, your team can be more considerate of the needs of the rural communities that you serve.
Challenge 2: Meeting Accessibility
Community members with LEP are fairly unlikely to participate in — or even show up to — public meetings conducted entirely in English. After all, would you feel comfortable attending a town hall in a language you can’t understand without any accommodations made to help you do so? Make sure to offer language services like interpreting and translation at public gatherings with local communities, so individuals with LEP feel welcome and like their voice will be heard.
Leading up to the event, make sure to clearly communicate what language access services will be available, so that prospective participants know what to expect. And beyond language services, it’s also important to make sure that the timing and location of your meeting are accessible as well, so that you’re able to reach as many community members as possible. Offering incentives for participation is also a good idea — by compensating participants for time otherwise spent, you lessen the burden of attending a meeting.
Challenge 3: Lack of Engagement with Frontline Communities
Engaging with frontline communities can be challenging. Leveraging existing relationships with trusted community groups like nonprofits and community-based organizations (CBO) is a good strategy to invite under-connected populations such as communities of color, low-income individuals, youth, elderly communities, immigrant communities, those with disabilities, and young families.
And if you don’t already have existing relationships with local CBOs, read our guide on partnering with CBOs and how they can be an especially helpful resource in your efforts to engage local communities.
Challenge 4: Difficult-to-Understand Language
One reason people — particularly people with LEP — often feel disengaged or uninterested in an organization’s services is simply because they are presented using language that is challenging to understand. Oftentimes, organizations use complicated jargon that might make sense internally, but confuses their audience.
Working with a skilled copywriter and a language service provider is crucial to ensuring that the language you use doesn’t overwhelm and alienate your audience. It may also be helpful to brainstorm different ways to present the information as well — infographics can be a really helpful way of simplifying and visualizing concepts without writing too much copy. Plus, they may also be easier and quicker to translate for audiences from different linguistic backgrounds, as they tend to be lighter on copy than, say, a blog post or a dense informational pamphlet.
Challenge 5: Low Participation & Attrition
Low participation and attrition rates can also hinder your organization’s progress. To address this, you may want to consider providing hourly stipends for targeted engagement as a way to alleviate the costs of participation, which might include taking time off work, arranging childcare, and transportation. Alternatively, you could also consider providing meals or other items that could encourage people to show up.
Additionally, try to be mindful of the information that you collect during registration, especially when working with immigrant communities. And as we’ve mentioned before, be sure to inform attendees about the availability of free-of-cost language services and accessibility — while it’s great to offer language access services, they won’t be very helpful in attracting participants if prospective participants are unaware of their offering.
Challenge 6: Addressing Historical Harm
Acknowledging that past actions may have caused harm to the marginalized communities that you’re looking to serve is a crucial step in co-creation, as it allows community members to develop a sense of trust in your organization. Start with internal work, such as implicit/explicit bias training, assessing the team’s intercultural competence, and developing a community charter to begin paving the way for more respectful and equitable collaboration.
It can be hard to engage diverse communities and incorporate their perspectives into your work — but it’s absolutely critical for any organization to do so. Here are some recommendations for mitigating some of the challenges your organization might encounter when attempting to co-create with diverse communities like immigrants or people with LEP:
- Challenge 1: Connecting with Rural Communities — Work with local organizations that are familiar with the rural areas you serve to build trust and connect with residents of rural communities.
- Challenge 2: Meeting Accessibility — Be sure to offer language services at meetings and other public gatherings so that folks with LEP can actively participate.
- Challenge 3: Lack of Engagement with Frontline Communities — Connect with CBOs and other groups that your target communities already trust.
- Challenge 4: Difficult-to-Understand Language — Avoid using complicated jargon and terminology that the average person outside of your organization might not know.
- Challenge 5: Low Participation & Attrition — Consider providing monetary incentives for participation, to cover the costs of actually participating in meetings.
- Challenge 6: Addressing Historical Harm — Rebuild trust by acknowledging harm your organization may have caused in the past through internal training and messaging.
At Avantpage, we’re proud to work with organizations looking to better engage communities with LEP. We provide translation, interpreting, and localization services to help you connect with people from all linguistic backgrounds — contact us today at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040 to learn more.