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In February 2023, the PHL Service Design Studio established the Community Advisory Council (“CAC”) to support the development of the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit project (“Engagement Toolkit”). The CAC was funded by the Operations Transformation Fund and administered by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (“CAO”) and the Philadelphia City Fund.

In this three-part series, we share details about the goals of the Community Advisory Council (“CAC”), how the Council was created, what the collaboration process looked like, and what we learned together.

This is the third and final story in the series. The goal of this series is to provide practical guidance and tips you may use in your engagement efforts. We also hope it inspires you to connect with members of your community in deeper, more meaningful ways.


How we improved the Radical Inclusion guides

“This space was sensitive and accommodating enough to allow all of us to be vulnerable. That’s very important. No change happens unless we’re vulnerable to it—we’re vulnerable to and we’re vulnerable and wanting change. This kind of learning through each other [and] with each other’s experiences. It’s literally healing.”
— Ava Campbell


To revise the Radical Inclusion guides, the facilitators selected advisors to lead group discussions on specific guides. Group leaders were assigned based on their lived experiences and preferences. This allowed everyone to learn more about each other in deep and meaningful ways, and it allowed the facilitators to step back and share in the learning experience. This approach also allowed everyone to identify areas where the guidance needed to be revised and made clearer and stronger.

Because advisors led with their lived experiences, a wealth of passion, pain, and honesty emerged from each conversation. The working sessions required bravery, openness, vulnerability, and trust from each person—both to share and to receive each other’s stories. Much of this wisdom was then infused into the guides.

As a result of advisors’ candor and leadership, the Radical Inclusion guides are richer in nuance and context. The guides are also primed to grow and evolve over time. Below are a few examples of how advisors’ direct input helped improve guidance:

  • For the Disability Access guide:
    • An earlier draft of this guide only highlighted two barriers that negatively impact disability access—environmental and social. Some advisors recommended we expand that to be more holistic. The guide now references attitudinal, informational, organizational, physical, and technological barriers.

      As a result of conversations, we also clarified the difference between identity-first and people-first language and when to use each. And we added information about audio descriptions, captions, subtitles, and the different types of sign language. The guide defines what each of these are and how they’re used across the disability community.

  • For the Language Access guide:
    • Some advisors emphasized that language is cultural. They also stressed how important it is for City engagement practitioners to realize that language preferences and skills vary among community members. And that ethnicity, nationality, and race don’t determine someone’s language. We talked about how there are some English concepts and words that don’t translate to other languages, like the phrase “Equitable community engagement.”

      To strengthen the guide, we added more context that talks about how language and culture are inseparable, why it’s important to be mindful about this, and how the City can do a better job of engaging people who speak different languages. We also added a section that talks about assumptions the City often makes and how engagement practitioners can avoid those to connect with community members in better ways.

  • For the Racial Equity guide:
    • Some advisors expressed that of all the Radical Inclusion guides, racial equity needed to provide stronger guidance with more depth. One of our advisors put it plainly:

      “Tools like these have to be more intentional. When you talk about it you feel it in your hands. It has to be a document that has a heartbeat.”
      – Tyrell Brown


      To get there, we added more specific explanations about colorism, institutionalized white supremacy, proximity to whiteness, and respectability politics. The guide now includes examples of what these things look like in practice. While there was consensus that this guide could and needs to go so much deeper, we also recognized how important it is to establish a shared language and name what must be changed.

  • For the Reducing Harmful Practices guide:
    • This guide was initially called “Reducing Harm.” But some advisors read “reducing harm” as “harm reduction.” This signaled that a title change might be helpful, since this guide is not about a set of practices, policies, and strategies that aim to minimize the negative consequences associated with drug use. Instead, this guide is meant to challenge harmful City engagement practices.

      Advisors also clarified the introduction to make it clearer for whom the City is reducing harm. In earlier drafts, it wasn’t clear that the guidance was advocating for community members.


What we learned together
At various points throughout the CAC sessions, advisors completed journal entries to capture their reflections and experiences. Below are key takeaways from their overall experience, and what they’d like everyone to know about their time on the CAC.

“They have this scripture (I’m an ordained minister), ‘When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I…’ You made me feel that I’m worth something … It’s been an honor to work with an auspicious, or for lack of a better word, “off the hook” group. Thank you for allowing me to be me.”
– Yvonne Hughes


“As a person that thrives on wanting to learn how to be a better human this was an amazing experience especially when the material was uncomfortable to hear. It is so valuable, and I will take this experience with me as I continue to grow.”
– Vicki Landers


“Being able to hear the perspectives of a cross section of communities pushed to the margins in regards to resources and accommodations was incredibly powerful, inspiring, and affirming. Beyond the sharing of experiences we were able to engage in a organizing process that allowed for us to produce a template that could potentially be used to protect and center many of the concerns about accommodations that our communities have. Along with this on a personal level we were able to bond through our shared stories and themes and ultimately our passion and commitment to being of service to others. It was truly a great experience.”
– Tyrell Brown


“I loved the continuity and stability of having this happen over the course of several months, having meetings to look forward to and being in a space with people sharing such deep and intense living experiences, I truly appreciated this exposure and it allowed me to open up. We are in a time and place where authenticity and openness about struggles is shunned and discouraged in so-called professional spaces, and it’s also creeping to family and friends spaces. For this to be broken and challenged was very meaningful to me. I also loved having an opportunity for learning about new concepts and having access to knowledge and practice of people like Danita and Andrea, who’re highly professional and yet very humble and compassionate. A rare combination.”
– Shimaa Eid


“So what I enjoyed about the process of working on this project, I guess I haven’t done something like this in a long time, where I have to think deeply about very important topics, and see what I have to say. And then also hearing about the different point of views of people about different topics that you don’t get to discuss on a daily basis with regular friends … so that was very enjoyable. I always also like, you know, fulfilling encounters—these are like the sort of encounters that I believe it, it changes something in you or if it brings you something, it adds value. So it was something that added a lot of value to me, so I enjoyed the whole process.”
– Ousmane Ndiaye


“It’s refreshing to know that the City is willing to listen to change. They also did a great job at selecting participants form very diverse groups, walks of life, and most importantly, lived experiences. Everyone came to the meetings ready to listen and learn. It felt like serious and important work, and the City validated it further by providing a generous stipend.”
– Meliza Reynoso


“This has been a healing process for me because I felt listened to, included, respected, and valued. I was even allowed to bring my “family preservation” values into this space, although I didn’t feel these typically marginalized and oppressed values were considered or included in the beginning. However, they were welcomed and embraced, not only by the facilitators, but by the entire group. For that, I am grateful to everyone beyond words! I am grateful to have been in a space where I could heal as I learned, shared and grew. I am grateful for being allowed to have all of me present on a committee, not only one side of me! Thank you all for helping me to heal and work through some of my past system-induced traumas.”
– Jazmin Banks


“This has been a growing experience for me, even though I’ve gone through a lot. Talking about reducing harm—it took on a new horizon for me, in clarifying it. I’ve gained the perspective of others’ perspectives. It opened me up to learning new things and hearing new things. Even though I do a lot of community engagement and outreach services … all of what we talked about took a new perspective in my mind and in my spirit. I’ve grown to be attached to y’all.”
– Brenda Mosley


“Learning new perspectives [was the most enjoyable]. I don’t think I’d have met, or [would’ve heard] Shimaa’s or Yvonne’s perspective otherwise. It was cool to see what to keep in mind. This space was sensitive and accommodating enough to allow us to be vulnerable. Learning with each other and through each other is healing.”
– Ava Campbell


“[One of] the things I’ve learned the most about are those who are visually impaired and people’s life experiences. So many of the advisors come from different backgrounds but have the same goals in mind to help others and to help others understand those they are not familiar with. It is a beautiful thing to witness people from different corners of the world with different experiences, ideas, and perspectives all come together in one place and use those experiences to influence a positive change.”
– Antoinette Ellis


We hope this information and these takeaways will be useful for you. If there are other aspects of the CAC that you’re curious about, email us and let us know at