Audience Polling: A Particularly Useful Tool for Diversity Practitioners

I have been re-reading some interviews I did a few years ago about the power of audience polling, and I have been strongly reminded of the special role that polling plays in helping groups deal with topics related to social diversity, equity, and the like.  The biggest factor to overcome in these situations is the combination of unawareness and resistance. Specifically, people - especially those in historically dominant groups but hardly only them - are often not aware of the severe gaps in current lived social experience and in status based on historical position. Our patina of equality - a laudable American quality - makes it easy for us to believe that the ghetto-living teenage barista who catches the bus to the suburbs is, down deep, just the same as the football quarterback who gets his latte from her in his dad’s BMW at the other side of the Starbucks drive-through window. But in addition to not seeing the differences, many folks feel so bad when structural inquiries is pointed out. This bad feeling can look like confused silence, or a desire to change the subject. But some folks are getting tired of that, and will attempt silence those who raise these issues about structural inequality.

One of the powerful features of audience polling is that it can lift statements about inequities in experiences or outcomes from the realm of educator’s remarks or statistics to the realm of the hear and the now. It is one thing to say that in racial profiling is a problem, but quite another to be in a room where a poll of those present shows that race has a powerful effect on who has gotten pulled over by police, or the various bad outcomes that can emerge from such an encounter.

Polling is about helping the group see itself more clearly. One could make an easy argument that while this is also what facilitation at its best is about, the collective reflection impact is particularly true for helping a group examine diversity issues.