The Operationalizing Intersectionality Framework: A Tool for Sport AdministratorsMay 5, 2021
Equity work often “lets some others join” but still centers on the needs of the most privileged members in a group. To better integrate the experiences and perspectives of diverse individuals, intersectional approaches to policies, programs, and practices—which account for the multiple, overlapping systems of oppression some individuals face—are vital.
E-Alliance, the national gender+ equity in sports research hub, is committed to intersectional approaches. As members of E-Alliance, we know that sport leaders are eager to put their commitments to intersectionality into practice. To that end, this blog offers three ways for sport practitioners to get started using the E-Alliance Operationalizing Intersectionality (OI) Framework: (1) individual action; (2) brainstorming for programs, policies, and spaces; and (3) questions for evaluation and measurement.
The Operationalizing Intersectionality Framework
The purpose of the OI Framework is to provide guidance for how to operationalize intersectional approaches. In other words, the OI Framework helps you to put intersectional approaches into practice. Visualized as a wheel (see Figure 1), the OI Framework identifies four points of traction: (1) Learning, (2) Harm Reduction, (3) Accountability & Transparency, and (4) Transformation. It then provides a structure to help you apply these concepts to your organization’s needs. Although there are many ways to engage intersectionally, the OI framework introduces some of the ways for you to gain traction in your work.
The OI Framework revolves around the question of “who is centred?” This question reminds us to constantly ask ourselves: Who is (not) involved in the decision-making? Whose participation is (not) prioritized in our policies? And whose stories are (not) being told? We must continually ask ourselves these questions if we hope to stop repeating the same mistakes and exclusions.
Individual Action – Personal Growth and Change Through Spokes
Working our way outward from who is at the centre of intersectional approaches, the spokes of the wheel represent the actions and commitments needed to support the work. Just as spokes “true” and support a wheel as it moves, these actions and commitments facilitate movement and maintain intersectional approaches as the points of traction pick up.
The spokes are designed to support people in developing important, sustainable, and more ethical practices. Practicing ‘always learning’, ‘curiosity’, and ‘kindness’ can lead to better communication; practicing ‘vulnerability’, ‘reflection’, and ‘discomfort’ can support us in acting respectfully; and practicing ‘connection’, ‘maintaining good relations (as per Anishinaabeg teachings)’, ‘action’, and ‘transparency’ can cultivate trust. These are essential elements to change systems of oppression. They take time to grow and are an ongoing practice.
For example, a common concern to starting effective intersectional work is not knowing leaders in the community(ies) affected. When this happens, organizers scramble to find a representational speaker, programmer, or athlete to add a diversity of people or insights for a particular project. They find someone, they pay that person (always remember to pay that person!), they listen, they host—but this practice does not address the fact that those diverse people and perspectives were not already at the core of the organization or project in the first place.
However, when the spokes are practiced:
- Transparency & acknowledgement: Asks us to recognize and acknowledge who is missing from our organization, board room, or project, and to ask ourselves to which communities are we not meaningfully connected.
- Always learning & new readings: Asks us to seek information written by experts from underserved communities to understand more of the contexts, histories, and experiences that have led to a lack of connections.
- Vulnerability: Asks us to approach relationship-building with humility, with long-term commitments (rather than tokenistic asks), and with the understanding that constructive criticism is a gift.
- Challenge assumptions & discomfort: Asks us to challenge and re-design organizational expectations of how, when, and with whom relationship-building ‘is done’ and confront their impacts instead of embracing status quo processes that may restrict time or other resources that could be dedicated to building meaningful connections.
- Connection & maintaining good relations (as per Anishinaabeg teachings): Asks us to reflect on our participation in the world to share mutual, respectful, and ethical relationships, and to commit to “the fundamental concepts of wholeness, interrelationship, interconnectedness, and balance/respect” (Bell, 2014, p. 16). More specifically, to maintain good relations means to act in the world with “all my relations” in mind, an Indigenous concept which Wagamese described in part as “recognition…that we are all one body moving through time and space together” (2013).
As demonstrated in the example above, the various “spokes” work together; each action or commitment supporting the others. When practiced together, the spokes blend into each other, like a spinning wheel. Start anywhere along the wheel, knowing that you will eventually need to engage with many of the components if you want to enact meaningful systemic change.
Brainstorming for Programs, Policies, and Spaces
The OI Framework can also be used to inform needs assessments and improve programs, policies, and spaces. After first asking who is centred in our programming and decision-making and making sure that the right people are involved, we can use the Framework to brainstorm what is needed within each point of traction. Is more training (a ‘learning’ intervention) needed? Perhaps a mentorship program for those who are centered (harm reduction), or a physical space re-design (harm reduction or transformation, depending on context)? By starting with a challenge faced by the organization, we can use the different points of traction to brainstorm what can be done.
Consider this common example: An organization wants to be welcoming to all genders, but only has programs for boys and girls. The points of traction can be used to identify possibilities for how to intervene:
- Learning: Dedicate time to read articles and watch videos online; hire consultants/researchers/people who have relevant lived experiences; observe the practices and spaces of your organization; read federal and provincial human rights legislation about the protected grounds of sex, gender identity, and gender expression; learn about how income, race, ability, and other facets of identity shape one another as well as gendered experiences.
- Harm Reduction: Practice using people’s correct (self-identified) pronouns and names, including correct pronunciations; introduce non-gendered washroom/changeroom options; introduce policies about non-binary inclusion in sports programming; examine and change dress code or harassment policies; update intake forms with gender options (and/or consider why that information is collected in the first place); review registration, space and/or equipment rental pricing; revise space prioritization policies.
- Transparency & Accountability: Be honest about where your organization is with regards to inclusion of non-binary genders and/or trans people; communicate clearly about any limitations (legal, political, structural, etc.) that would affect a non-binary and/or non-cis person’s participation; work towards making the necessary changes; apologize when and if appropriate; do not say programs are inclusive to “all” genders if they are currently not—instead, take action to improve accessibility;
- Transformation: Reserve space for trans- or non-binary-person-led athletics; support and promote what such groups in your community are doing.
The framework can also be applied to other policy and program areas in a similar way, using the points of traction as guideposts to direct conversation and ideas.
Questions for Evaluation and Measurement
The evaluation and measurement of intersectional approaches and equity changes is a challenge for many sport administrators. There is regrettably no checklist that, once completed, eliminates the effects of systems of oppression. However, the OI Framework can help sport leaders identify clear indicators and goals for effective outcome evaluations in context and identify what information they already have.
Similar to the brainstorming of program, policy, and space options, use the four points of traction to guide the development of evaluation questions and possibilities for what could be meaningfully and ethically measured in your organization’s context. For example, how will we know if our staff are ‘always learning’? What do they need to learn about? What measurements could we use to discern connection? With what frequency should we be measuring? With whom should we connect? But first, always specify who is centred—intersectional approaches should value the knowledge and prioritize the questions of the people or community(ies) who are historically most marginalized. Use the OI Framework to collaborate with the people/community(ies) at the centre to identify gaps and questions in each point of traction and their specific desired outcomes.
Individual action, brainstorming for programs, policies and spaces, and questions for evaluation and measurement are three simple ways for sports administrators to start using the OI Framework, and these are just the beginning. Intersectional approaches are practices—not accomplishments—and require ongoing personal and collective growth and action. Practice and dedication will improve your capacity to intervene in systems of oppression and help build the skills and knowledge necessary to create spaces where a wide range of people feel welcomed, supported, and affirmed.
There are many ways to use this framework towards operationalizing intersectionality, and there are many, many people in the sport sector who are taking their first or next movements towards intervening in overlapping systems of oppression. Let’s gain traction in operationalizing intersectionality and build momentum by connecting with other people and programs, committing to action, and engaging creatively within our own unique contexts.
About the Author(s)
Dr. Debra Kriger, MPH (she/her) is a Research Associate at E-Alliance who applies social and health theories to practice. Her areas of research are in embodied health risk and creative methodologies.
Amélie Keyser-Verreault is a Research Associate at E-Alliance and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institut Simone de Beauvoir (Concordia University) and at the Global Asia Research Center (National Taiwan University). She researches body politics and gender with a focus on aesthetics, maternity, aging, movement culture and resistance in East Asia.
Dr. Janelle Joseph is an award-winning Assistant Professor in Critical Studies of Race in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. She is Founder and Director of the Indigeneity, Diaspora, Equity, and Anti-racism in Sport (IDEAS) Research Lab and author/co-editor of three books related to race, sport, education and Black communities in Canada.
Danielle Peers is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation at the University of Alberta, and a Canada Research Chair in Disability and Movement Cultures. Their work builds on their experiences as a queer, non-binary Paralympic athlete, as well as a coach and sport and recreation administrator.
Bell, N. (2014, June 9). Teaching by the Medicine Wheel: An Anishinaabe framework for Indigenous education. Education Canada Network, 54(3). https://www.edcan.ca/articles/teaching-by-the-medicine-wheel/
Keyser-Verreault, A., Kriger, D., Joseph, J. & Peers, D. (2020). Framework for Operationalizing Intersectionality. E-Alliance. https://ealliance.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Welcome_20to_20Intersectional_20Approaches_20-_20RFP_202020-2021-copie.pdf
Wagamese, R. (2013, June 11). Wagamese: ‘All my relations’ about respect. Kamloops Daily News. https://www.kamloopsnews.ca/opinion/columnists/wagamese-all-my-relations-about-respect-1.1237759
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