Embassy of Inclusive Society
The society we live in seems to embrace diversity, but is the work being done to actually become more just?
If you look at public discourse and policy changes in the Netherlands, it seems like more space is being made for societal differences. Awareness of the importance of self-expression is growing, and there is more attention to the needs and long-fought rights of groups that have been historically marginalised. At the same time – whether it’s due to increasing inequality, demographic changes and global crises – polarisation and societal gaps are rising. From opposing views during the Covid health crisis, the reactionary backlash to emancipatory movements to heated debates on national narratives. Society is facing challenges with effects cutting across social groups, such as a climate crisis globally and a pending care workers shortage in our ageing society nationally. In a time that calls for solidarity and shared responsibility, it feels like we keep moving further away from one another. While diversity and heterogeneity could offer us the richness of differences, they are still often seen as a problem.
From a solution-driven to a process-driven approach
When treating inclusivity as a problem, we think it needs solving. That results in temporary fixes, protocols and tokenism. Look at work culture as an example: high speed and performance pressures offer little space for actual change in how people relate to one another. While diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda of many organisations, they are often reduced to protocols on paper and vaguely formulated ambitions on paper. The solution-driven approach to inclusivity overlooks the deeper values of plurality and multiplicity and the transfer of power that is needed for real systemic change. Too often, efforts for inclusivity maintain the division of society into many sub-groups rather than searching for connections.
An inclusive society is an opportunity
What does it mean to be different in a way that is mindful and respectful of each other’s humanity? It is a chance to evolve as a society, to grow together from and with our differences. This requires actively committing to a continuous journey. The Embassy of Inclusive Society thinks of inclusivity as an ongoing process of learning and unlearning. What do we need to (un)learn to live together with differences? Which skills, attitudes, practices, routines, and habits are essential for a society of belonging? And how can designers and makers play a role in crafting moments, tools and spaces for (un)learning?
Amplifying community-driven practices
Learning and unlearning is a process-oriented approach where the value lies in the quest rather than the outcome. As part of this approach, the Embassy seeks to deepen existing relationships we have established with our partners and to build on past collaborations and efforts. We aim to make space for community-driven creative initiatives. Working towards a more inclusive society can be done by shedding light on the knowledge, skills, practices and activities existing within different communities rather than starting from scratch every time.
Facilitating (un)learning spaces
This year, the Embassy is initiating various (un)learning spaces. Together with the Embassy coalition partners, we gather to exchange current challenges, methods and shared ambitions. Throughout the year, and specifically during Dutch Design Week, we bring together communities, experts of lived experiences, professionals from different disciplines and anyone eager to take time to (un)learn.
With spatial experiments, we explore how different bodily needs can be facilitated in inclusive spaces. We challenge our thinking patterns so that different people can access, participate, and engage with one another. Practising inclusivity means building skills, tools, attitudes, and habits; this requires constant training, strengthening and maintenance. Therefore, one of the spatial experiments of the Embassy of Inclusive Society is in the form of a gym (art direction by Gabriel Fontana). This way, we hope to encourage the public to adopt the view of inclusivity as a continuous training process. And through an intensive workshop programme, we (un)learn with makers and communities who have intimate understandings of the challenges we face in the journey to becoming a more inclusive and just society.
This narrative is written by Shay Raviv, with support of Gabriel Fontana, Gyonne Goedhoop, Insan Larasati, Joanne Houmes and Sophie Knight.