National Park Service’s Allies for Inclusion

The National Park Service (NPS) is an agency of the United States federal government that manages all national parks in the U.S., a number of American national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties. The NPS is a sub-agency of the United States Department of the Interior and is charged with a dual role of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management while also making them available and accessible for public use and enjoyment.

   

  KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Dialogues that are centered on diversity and inclusion and sustained overtime can strengthen teams by helping employees build skill in cross-cultural communication and minimize implicit bias.

 

  • Internal dialogues on diversity and inclusion not only cultivate a more inclusive work culture but also translate to culturally competent interactions with external stakeholders.

In 2012, the NPS launched an Allies for Inclusion initiative, which provides staff with a productive forum in which to have meaningful and sustained dialogues around race, ethnicity and culture, gender, other lines of difference, and organizational change. The dialogues hope to increase awareness of and enhance employees’ skills of cross-cultural communication. These skills prove crucial in strengthening teams and in preventing and resolving conflicts as well as navigating individual implicit biases.

The initiative began as a preventative measure to provide space for discussion in order to avert potential conflicts as opposed to reacting to them. The prevailing thought was that if these cultural competencies could not be gained internally then how could they possibly be translated to external interactions with park visitors across the country. This initiative also presented an opportunity to make substantial impact on the culture of the NPS through the cultivation of a more inclusive and culturally competent workforce.

The NPS’s Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion (RDI) initially engaged an external consultant who had experience in dialogues to facilitate and offer guidance and support through the planning process and announcement of the program. The RDI Office tested the dialogue process and outcomes in a small group setting with senior officials from the NPS’s National Leadership Council. After a successful first dialogue, NPS gained buy in from members of the Council and secured a grant to expand Allies for Inclusion across the entire agency.

Pilot dialogues began in the San Francisco Bay area, the Grand Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. These specific sites were key as previous presentations and direct outreach around the initiative had led to high levels of interest and buy-in. The pilots consisted of small groups having sustained dialogue over the course of several months. Facilitators completed 55 dialogue sessions and reached over 650 individuals. They tackled a range of topics from understanding inclusion, implicit bias, power and privilege, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, effective communication, leadership, emotional intelligence, and what it means to be an ally. The programs sparked awareness and enthusiasm throughout the NPS, with numerous sites seeking to partner with the RDI Office to develop the infrastructure for programs in their own region.

In order to determine success, NPS evaluated the training program through survey instruments and anecdotal feedback from participants.  The surveys primarily assessed employees’ level of comfort in the workplace, as well as less tangible benefits such as self awareness, familiarity, confidence and trust in co-workers. Additionally, when the initiative began in 2012, there were fewer than 20 people engaged in the program. Starting in January of 2016, NPS implemented 4 trainings and have nearly 80 facilitators across the service. The RDI Office is currently focusing on how to leverage the success of the program to better influence action planning for future initiatives and change in organizational culture throughout the service.