2019 Othering & Belonging Conference Report

Frameworks for Change

Frameworks for Change: Bridging, Breaking, Belonging 

Othering & Belonging 2019 was planned around a set of core Haas Institute frameworks. The foundational framework is othering and belonging, which guides our scholarship and work on systemic and structural inclusion, and addresses multiple expressions of prejudice against groups. Not merely conceptual, othering and belonging is designed to inform policy, shift discourse, strengthen movements, influence pedagogy, and deliver a set of best practices and strategies.

More than half of the 1,500 registrants at #OBConf2019 indicated a desire "to learn more about othering and belonging," as their main reason for attending the conference (information we collected when people registered); as well, feedback from previous conferences indicated a desire from attendees to not only better understand othering and belonging, but also learn more about how to apply it—whether in movement organizing, research, philanthropy, narrative change, or other efforts. Therefore one of our major efforts in 2019 was to create a conference program that focused on "operationalizing belonging."

While othering and belonging is the running through-line of our work, we have also been working intensively in utilizing an analysis and framework of "breaking and bridging" as responses and formations in our current moment of rapid global change. As john powell explained in his opening keynote, "breaking" is based on a belief in an "us vs. them," and manipulates anxiety around change. Breaking generates animosity that targets vulnerable populations, and results in a smaller and smaller "we." Extreme breaking creates the conditions for increased authoritarianism and rising nationalism, a subject we explored from the mainstage in the keynote panel on rising authoritarianism and its threats worldwide.

Bridging, on the other hand, affirms our inherent connection to each other and our planet, welcomes our differences, does not deny but incorporates our shared history, and is based on an ethics of human dignity. Bridging calls on us to co-create a responsive government and civic life that advances belonging for a shared future and a bigger and more inclusive "we." 

Bridging and breaking were integral planning components and informed the way we shaped a majority of the 2019 agenda. The organizing committee designed multiple ways to explore and model bridging across the conference with the goal being for all of us in attendance to have a more direct and experiential understanding of the concept. To accomplish this we opened the conference with a special session called Coffeehouse Conversations (see p. 12), which was intentionally designed as a space of dialogue, provocation, deep listening, and engagement with each other. We also curated a set of Bridging Dialogues with speakers who discussed their work across race, generation, sector, and political affiliation. The closing keynote panel, entitled The Urgency of Bridging, underscored the power that bridging can bring to policy efforts as well as large-scale and long-term movement building. These bridgers shared their experiences of leading an organizing campaign in Florida that was interracial and bi-partisan and led to the historic re-enfrachisement of formerly incarcerated people in the state. Another Bridging Dialogue, Partnerships in Belonging, brought together leaders from philanthropy, government, advocacy and research to explore the importance of cross-sector coalitions and partnerships.

This focus on the frameworks of the Haas Institute resulted in overwhelmingly positive responses from participants: more than 96 percent said the conference offered content that was useful in their work or studies and 88 percent saying that they left the conference with an expanded concept of "we" through engaging with ideas and models that affirmatively advance belonging.

"This idea of coming together with people of all ages to fight injustice really stuck with me."

–2019 attendee, referring to the Intergenerational Bridging Dialogue with Native American leaders