I'm currently at the USBLN Conference in Maryland, where we're exploring various "business to business strategies to promote the business imperative of including people with disabilities in the workforce."
Yesterday I attended a great session co-facilitated by Manpower, Inc. where they shared an interesting model they've been using to build awareness about diversity issues. They call it Community Conversations. Essentially it consists of bringing together a bunch of people to experience a unique, diversity-related event or experience and then using follow-up debrief conversations to help participants process the experience and discuss follow-up next steps.
The example Community Conversation they shared was one called "Dialog in the Dark." They brought together CEOS and high-level executives from various companies, along with other community members and had them go through the Dialog in the Dark exhibit in Atlanta. Participants spend an hour in complete pitch-black darkness and must navigate their way through several scenarios, including a grocery store and a "park." It's designed to simulate blindness and the guides who take people through the experience are blind, although participants didn't find this out until after they'd been through the exhibit.
After going through the exhibit, Manpower then sponsored a luncheon and discussion about the experience designed to help the group explore ideas about "disability." They also discussed specific action steps they could take to build on this new knowledge. The feedback they've received has been incredibly positive. The participants gained a real, visceral sense of what it means to have a disability and the blind guides enjoyed the role-reversal of being the experts in navigating the environment.
From a learning perspective, this model is incredibly potent. The experience is very emotional and taps into people's primal fears about blindness. Apparently even three years after the event, participants vividly recalled the experience. And of course the dialog process is a great way to explore what people have learned through the experience.
I'm starting to think about ways that the model of bringing diverse community members together to go through an emotional learning experience and then have a discussion about it could be applied in other settings. Also thinking about how social media might be able to support the process, particularly in facilitating follow-up discussions and activities. And I'm wondering when I can get down to Atlanta, because I would LOVE to go through the exhibit.
For more info on Dialog in the Dark (especially if you are in Atlanta), I'm including some links.