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Our team develops tool to enhance equity in project management

Paloma Gutierrez, Stanford Digital Education student fellow, explains how a checklist can help to promote diversity in the office’s initiatives.
Paloma and Cindy standing close to a colonnade of Stanford's Main Quad
Paloma Gutierrez (left), a student fellow with Stanford Digital Education, worked with Cindy Berhtram on a checklist designed to help project teams incorporate inclusive practices.
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Last year I gladly chose to join Stanford Digital Education (SDE) as a student fellow because of its focus on making education accessible to all with a focus on overcoming intersectional barriers. To ensure that the office adheres to that commitment in its work, Cindy Berhtram, director of project strategy and operations, asked me to work with her and another colleague to develop a project management framework: the SDE Equity Checklist. The goal, she told me, was to keep us accountable to our values and to our stakeholders.

The checklist is now up and being used by our team, and we’re looking to share it more widely. I was pleased that Cindy and I could give a presentation about it at the Drivers of Educational Technology/California Higher Education Conference, which drew some 200 leaders in education technology from the state’s colleges and universities, as well as from industry. A key theme of the gathering, held in December in Anaheim, Calif., was diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and there were hands-on talks about how to open conversations among staff about equity and how to use extended reality to infuse DEI work with greater empathy. Our talk, “Embedding Equity in Digital Education: a Comprehensive Project Management Framework,” fit right in and was well received.

We thought it would be good to share the key points in our presentation on the SDE website, encouraging others to tap into this resource. 

Stanford Digital Education student fellow Paloma Gutierrez standing at a podium to present a project management framework built around equity considerations.

Equity and inclusion project management checklist

These practices can help teams support their goals, from initial project planning through implementation and evaluation.

So why did we decide to revise our existing project management framework?

Stanford Digital Education wants our projects to not only achieve their goals but also align with the broader mission of encouraging innovation to enhance equity in higher education. 

Cindy and I, along with our colleague, Annie Sadler, assistant director of project evaluation and research, wanted to make sure that equity and inclusion were not buzzwords. We aimed to integrate them into our project management processes at every phase, from project kickoff through design, development, implementation, and evaluation. To do so, we developed a checklist to complement the regular project management framework that we and most colleagues already used, so that using it would feel less like an additional task.

We were guided by the concept of “positive friction.” An analogy is safe street design, which involves using features like crosswalks, trees, and transit islands to slow down traffic and make streets safer for all users. For us, positive friction means intentionally slowing down at key points to consider whose voices are being prioritized in the conversation. Whether in physical or digital spaces, the intention is to create inclusive and comfortable spaces for all. 

Here’s an example of a step that we took as we applied the equity framework to our own work. One of our office’s initiatives is delivering Stanford courses to high school students in under-resourced communities. The design phase of our project management framework calls for setting up feedback channels in order to hear from all groups of stakeholders. We considered how to do this for our online courses and decided to create a student advisory group to center the voices of students who have participated. Their input will be part of the data that will inform our decision-making.

While assembling the advisory group might be perceived as a “slow down,” for us, it was a necessary step in our working structure and should help us achieve long-term goals for our course content creation. Similarly, any approach that aims at equity and inclusion suggests a vision of long-term rather than short-term objectives. 

For me, this checklist is not just a tool; it reflects my own social commitment to my Latino community and also a path toward greater representation and inclusivity. As a low-income, immigrant woman from Mexico, I want to make sure that others are included. This checklist is a concrete step toward creating an easier educational journey for others who too often face hurdles because of their identities.

Moving ahead, our goal is to enhance our checklist, strengthen our interaction with various learner groups, and continue advocating for fairness in digital education. Additionally, we aspire to partner with other teams with similar roles. Feel free to contact us! We are eager to receive your input on our checklist and engage in mutual learning. Also, please remember that this checklist is malleable: we invite you to adjust it, or borrow from it, to suit your specific needs. 

Paloma Gutierrez, a Stanford Digital Education student fellow, is working toward an Associate in Arts degree in women’s studies at Foothill College.

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