The Roundtable concept was derived from the Australian Public Service Commission’s Ten plus Ten program.
‘Ten plus ten‘ events provide a forum for SES and senior management to hear first-hand from employees with disability about their experiences, both positive and negative, in their APS workplaces. Ten employees with disability share with ten SES employees or managers their experiences of working in the APS. (from apsc.gov.au)
The DEN preferred a smaller number of participants to provide a more in-depth opportunity for staff with disability to tell their stories and discuss their experiences and insights.
The first Roundtable was held in February 2019, when 7 staff with disability met with the then Family and Community Services Board. Participants were selected for their variety of experiences and were coached to a degree on planning and timing their presentation. All participants had a group debrief afterwards.
That event was transformative for the Board, and subsequent Roundtables were held with divisional and other leadership teams. The impact has been consistently powerful, awakening leaders to real harm being done to staff with disability.
- The group ratio does not have to be 1:1 [like the 10+10 model]. But it must be no more than 1:3 [1 staff with disability to 3 leaders] and no less than 4 staff with disability participating in any one event.
- Time available must allow for an introduction, 5 minutes per staff member with disability to tell their story and at least an hour for discussion.
- The Introduction should clarify the purpose of the event and its rules and introduce all participants.
- The event is chaired by a senior leader.
- The staff with disability provide a brief personal statement (5 minutes max) of their experience of working within the organisation.
- The leaders then initiate discussion through asking questions, seeking clarification or details.
- Discussion continues for the allotted period.
- The chair concludes event with a commitment to action.
- Post event the staff with disability have a debrief session.
- Post event the leaders have a debrief session.
- A subsequent communication to all participants acknowledging the event and affirming any commitments to action.
- The event is not an opportunity to air grievances, but to tell authentic personal experiences.
- This is not a blame assigning exercise, but a truth telling one.
- Staff with disability must ensure their personal story adheres strictly to the 5-minute time limit.
- Leaders must not challenge a personal story or seek information that may identify individuals engaged in alleged misconduct (if there are serious matters revealed they can be followed up afterwards).
- The event must end with an acknowledgement of the story tellers and their stories – and a commitment to action.
- The debrief sessions must occur.
The Importance of the Personal Story
- The personal story of lived experience as a staff member with disability is fundamental to the method.
- Organisers must be aware that the personal story is only one part of the method, and while it is critical, the other part is more important – that of discussion.
- Ensuring that each staff member with disability is properly prepared to tell their story within the allotted time is essential. This can be an emotionally charged experience, so preparation and support are vital to ensure the event remains professional in every respect.
Preparation is critical. A Roundtable is either the first step in a change process or a continuation of a process committed to. It is vital that all participants are on the same page concerning the spirit of the event.
It must be emphasised that the event is not about expressing grievance or assigning blame. It is also not about judging any participant. Leaders must feel free to express ignorance of disability and staff must feel free to be authentically uncomfortable telling their story.
- Are given an outline of the Roundtable process and the ‘rules’.
- Are given brief bios of the participating staff with disability.
Staff with Disability
- Preparation must be done by a person trusted by participants, and with sufficient seniority to understand the implications if the preparation is not done well. Normally this would be the DEN chair, or a designated Roundtable coordinator, who would also participate in the event.
- The Disability Champion must be involved in the preparatory phase and provide supportive oversight and also attend the event.
- The organiser to ensure there is enough time for the preparation to occur without being rushed. This usually means at least 2 weeks between nominating for participation, and it being confirmed, and the event
- The organiser to ensure staff selected understand the requirement that this is not a grievance session (risk – a person who has not resolved anger or grief may not adhere to the requirement to not express their personal story as a grievance or keep to the time allocated)
- The selected participants to meet as a group to discuss the process and discuss any concerns or anxieties.
- The organiser to get brief bios of each participant and forward a week before the event.
- The selected participants are briefed on the rules.
- The selected participants are assisted to write out and practice their personal stories to ensure that they are timed to the 5 minute limit. (Risk – if not done effectively a participant may have to be stopped if they go over time – and they have not said what they want to say. The result may be that they do not feel heard)
- Ongoing support is provided right up to the event to ensure that participants are okay. If the event is in person, staff participants should meet before the event. If online a pre-event hook up is advised.
- Staff with disability do not necessarily feel comfortable telling their story, and for many this event may be the first time they have spoken openly. It is important to know that uncertainty or a lack of confidence is part of the authentic story telling – and that’s okay.
- An immediate debrief post event is a must. The coordinator and Disability Champion must be there.
The DEN is responsible for ensuring that the experience is a positive one for staff with disability. For this reason, preparation and support is critical – as is debriefing afterwards.
The greatest risk is keeping a participant within their allotted time. For some, the event may be the first time they have spoken openly of an experience – and sticking to a time frame is difficult. However, that personal story is compelling and has the greatest impact. Emotions can overrun the timing and organisation of the story. Pre event preparation is critical to reduce the risk of time overrun. It is equally critical to ensure that event planning can accommodate that risk.
The coordinator and Disability Champion must have a plan. This should include advising participants they will be asked to stop if they run over time. Giving a time warning with a minute to go can help. It is important that this risk is managed effectively.
Staff with disability who participate in Roundtables frequently, because their story is compelling, will get better at telling their story. But they risk it being a recitation rather than a revelation. A key function of the DEN’s support to participants is maintenance of the spirit of authenticity.
Roundtables are the heavy artillery of a cultural change strategy. They deliver strong and lasting impact. But leadership teams change, and refreshers will be productive, especially with new participants.
A refresher Roundtable is an opportunity to ask what has changed – how did the first one impact the leaders and change perceptions and behaviour? Can they now articulate what more has to be done to ensure equal dignity and access?
- Done well, a Roundtable is a transformative experience for all participating. Hence participation must be an expression of intent to undergo a personally transformative experience – and to be part of driving positive cultural and practice change within the organisation.
- A Roundtable is the meeting point between the power of leadership and the lived experience of disability in the workplace under a common agreement to generate or sustain positive change.
- A Roundtable is an event to be celebrated and reported – and then replicated.
As a strategy for driving critical cultural change, the Roundtable is powerful. The opportunity for a staff member with disability to tell their story of discrimination or abuse to those whose duty it is to ensure such does not happen is transformative for the speaker and the listener. Raising concerns about process, system and policy failures is also very important, but it is the stories of personal suffering that generates the most ensuring impact. This is not to say that a Roundtable should be ‘bleeding heart’ session, just that the power of the personal story must be recognised.
What should happen next is a dialogue on ending the risk of such experiences continuing. The goal is to identify the cause and act to eliminate it, and to generate positive and enduring change.