By Victoria A. Davis
What’s your favorite type of container? Why is it your favorite?
When we ask our partners these icebreaker questions, we get a range of answers — jars, flower pot, boxes, even Tupperware. While these are all very different types of containers, they all have some common elements: they hold things; they have shapes and boundaries that are particular to the things they are designed to hold; they protect and keep together their contents.
As a metaphor, containers for equity work operate similarly. We think of containers as the norms and practices that create a space where all members feel a sense of belonging. Intentional containers help support people to show up as their authentic selves, develop trusting relationships, and practice a shared set of values.
HIP’s Capacity Building team kicks off every project and partnership by “building the container” for the work.
Containers for equity work include explicit practices and norms that support:
- Individuals, by using tools and practices to help folks get comfortable naming emotions and the support they need to be regulated and present in the work
- Relationships, by developing a culture of appreciation and celebration of personal and professional milestones (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, graduations) to foster a sense of belonging
- Group processes, by identifying shared values among group members and exploring how they show up in practice as guides for decisions and actions
We build the container for any collective space where we learn and work together. This means pausing before jumping into action items and moving a project forward. It requires genuinely prioritizing trust, norm setting, relationship building, and space in often already-packed agendas.
Dominant ways of being would suggest that container building practices are “fluff” or even an inefficient use of our limited time together. But we’ve seen how intentional container building deepens the impact of equity work and heads off other issues that could slow or completely block progress. While we know it can be tempting to rush this practice to get to what feels like the “work-work,” we encourage you to remember that container building is the work.
Check out this video about containers for equity work, featuring an interview with our partner, Sydney Edmond of the Chicago Department of Public Health!
To learn more, check out HIP’s new resources on Building Containers for Equity Work:
Stay up-to-date on CB Moments and other HIP Capacity Building work:
Be on the lookout for CB Moment #4, coming soon! And find the rest of the video series here.