On Inclusion Networks


I am listening to Greg Satell’s Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change and I am reflecting on some key insights. One is how the ecological concept of a keystone species can be applied to a wider idea that is the critical trigger for change, rather than a particular passion. Another is how inclusive networks work better than exclusionary change movements, which tend to be hierarchical around who can be included and who is most important.

In the context of Disability Inclusion this raises a question as to whether the objectives of Disability Inclusion are best served by a focus on disability or on inclusion as a general term.

At first, I believed that focus on disability was the way to go, but my position has changed over years as my understanding about how positive change is best achieved. That early focus was a kind of foothold. Disability Inclusion was new to my department. I was new to disability as a lived experience.

But once that foothold had been achieved the triggers for positive change seemed to be more in the embrace of Inclusion in general.

The bigger picture

So much depends on one’s environment. When I joined the Disability Employee Network (DEN) set up by my department in mid 2010 there were no other networks, at least so far as I was aware. There was an Inclusion and Diversity team, which was hugely supportive to the DEN. There was also a wider spirit of inclusion across the sector – but more of a latent potential than widely expressed conduct.

The question that struck me after a decade of involvement with the DEN was, “If staff with disability are not actively inclusive of other ‘diversity groups’, how can we demand greater inclusion for ourselves?”

Among any group of staff with disability there may be members of other diversity groups, and some who are members of several or even most. This is intersectionality at work – nobody has a single strand to their cultural identity. Importantly those other strands might be triggering exclusionary reactions that exacerbate the experience of disability-related exclusion.

Disability does, however, include exclusion from work processes because of specific motor or sensory disabilities – something not experienced by other diversity groups. In a broader cultural or community context similar experiences of exclusion or discrimination can be experienced – and with intersectionality thrown in it could be argued that the cultural/community experience should be of least equal importance to equal access to work processes.

Denial of accessibility isn’t, and should never be, part of one’s identity. But there’s more to the lived experience of disability than accessibility. There are elements of our lived experience of disability that are part of our identity and cultural experience, whether we like it or not. Maybe this is the larger part of our experience.

The keystone factor

In the context of the overall environment a person with disability lives in, the idea of Inclusion is the keystone idea, not accessibility. This does not mean that accessibility is any less critical, just that it can’t be the primary driver for positive change for the whole spectrum of factors that concern a person with disability.

A strong focus on helping a community in which one lives or works be more inclusive for all makes eminent sense. Allies to a cause may be driven by empathy for the challenge to make workplaces and physical environments more accessible, or they may be motivated by a desire to ensure universal inclusion. A similar argument may be made for Champions.

We may now imagine an InclUSion Network with subgroups whose focus in Inclusion, rather than diversity interest groups who may interact and be self-supporting.

Hierarchies v networks

Cascades explores how forms of organisation can work against the interests of members. Hierarchies tend to discourage lateral extension and exercise power and influence within a determined series of connections. They are selective and exclusionary. Networks extend laterally and sometimes in ways that seem random or irrational. Their goals are loosely defined, more general, benefits that can be won by members or participants. Networks are more creative and adaptive, and because they are inclusive, they can express in gentler or even humorous ways. I recommend exploring hierarchies and networks more deeply.

An InclUSion network as a primary way of stimulating positive change

Inclusion is something everybody wants, so is Accessibility. But far fewer people have unmet Accessibility needs than unmet Inclusion needs. It makes sense, then, to stimulate positive change toward what everybody wants and needs. Accessibility needs can be met as a consequence of greater inclusivity.

An InclUSion Network is essentially a kind of ecosystem in which the keystone member is a person of goodwill who is intentionally inclusive to all.

As I have observed recently there are things that need to change before this can become a reality. Advocates for, and agents of, change (Inclusion) must surrender any temptation to think in deficit terms and work on principles of positive potential. This means refining leadership skills into the art of leading by example – demonstrating the change they want to bring about.


Cascades has helped me clarify some themes that have been emerging in the past few months. Change isn’t easy and our culture is under evolutionary pressure to realise our Inclusive potential. We must be self-aware and avoid the self-righteous temptation to fall into the trap of seeing the change we want as combatting deficits in others.

If we are effective in modelling the changes that we want to see, we will generate an InclUSion Network whose influence will spread throughout whatever environment we are concerned about. The desired change will be organic, but it will also move at whatever pace reflects the character of the culture. 

The best way we can stimulate the speed of change begins with our own behaviour – in terms of modelling desired behaviour and developing the leaderships skills to magnify our impact.

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