Kelly’s DEI Spotlight: Lessons from an Inclusive Innovation Playbook developed by AT&T and SmartCities for All

Kelly Gleischman
October 9, 2019

Last month, Mary Mason’s DEI Spotlight focused on the work at Salesforce to create an overall vision and focus for DEI. This month we’re going to explore the importance of intentionality and specificity, drawing on lessons from an Inclusive Innovation Playbook developed by AT&T and SmartCities for All, a global initiative that is working to eliminate the digital divide for persons with disabilities and older persons in cities and urban environments worldwide.

The society we live in is at times defined by technological advances; however, such innovation often leaves many groups of people behind. SmartCities for All and AT&T have found through their work that “innovations and technology solutions often are not designed to work for the more than one billion persons with disabilities around the world.” Myriad examples of this lack of inclusiveness abound in the world around us, including buildings without elevators or ramps, blocked or not functional accessibility services, crosswalks without auditory indicators…the list goes on. SmartCities for All and AT&T identified the problem as a pressing one that would only increase as cities became more technologically reliant.

Given this issue, AT&T released the Smart Cities Inclusive Innovation Playbook in May 2019 to help close the innovation gap for people with disabilities. The goal of the playbook is “to help cities, their partners, and stakeholders define inclusion as part of the technology innovation process and integrate it into urban innovation ecosystems.” AT&T and SmartCities for All believe that to close the inclusiveness gap within urban innovation, cities must outline specific actions toward these goals along with ways to be held accountable to them.

The Playbook outlines a set of specific “plays” that cities can take to ensure that their innovation environment is fully inclusive and “results in products, services, and solutions that are more accessible and work for everyone.” These plays are designed around five areas that the World Bank defines as critical to the success of a city’s innovation environment; these areas are pre-existing criteria that guide a city in their efforts around technological innovation:

1. People
2. Economic Assets
3. Infrastructure
4. Enabling Environment
5. Networking Assets

Within each of these factors, the Playbook outlines a set of highly specific actions that cities can take to drive toward further inclusiveness. The following is an example of the specific actions suggested within Play Three: Increase Inclusion in Innovation through Infrastructure:

You can see a full list of their “plays” and aligned actions by accessing the Inclusive Innovation Playbook here.

The alignment of the five “plays” to the World Bank’s factors parallels the need for schools, districts, and networks to align their DEI metrics to the broader set of organizational goals. This alignment reduces the potential for redundancy and makes taking action on them more likely.

We have seen some progress toward this type of specificity in diversity, equity, and inclusion prioritization in the education sector, mostly through nonprofit support organizations. EdTrust-New York developed an Educator Diversity Playbook that outlines five areas that districts in New York can take to improve the diversity of their educator workforce. Those five areas are:

1. Encourage school boards to signal and embrace the importance of teacher and school leader diversity
2. Collect and use data to examine school district recruitment, interview, and hiring practices
3. Question and change recruitment practices to identify additional qualified applicants of color.
4. Improve the working environment for educators of color.
5. Invest in mentorship and career ladders for current and aspiring teacher, school, and district leaders.

Similar to the Innovation Playbook, each of these priorities include a set of very detailed actions that New York districts can take. The following is an example of the set of actions outlined for Priority 3: Question and change recruitment practices to identify additional qualified applicants of color

While we’ve seen some nonprofits and other support organizations work to build playbooks or resources to help schools in their efforts toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have also seen a gap in the translation of those resources to specific plans for an individual school, network or district.

Indeed, despite the existence of resources such as the Educator Diversity Playbook in New York, many individuals working in schools and districts report that they do not believe leadership effectively prioritizes this work and that DEI initiatives are not as effective as they could be. In April 2019, EdFuel hosted Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Table Talks at our 2019 Talent Summit, where participants shared their reflections on diversity, equity and inclusion in their respective organizations. One of the primary areas that participants named as an issue was regarding leadership prioritization; many individuals shared that while leadership named DEI as important, they did not experience leadership taking active action to operationalize any systems or practices that could create a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Promise54’s Unrealized Impact report also found that “while many organizations intend to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable, fewer than half the organizations surveyed have basic diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, practices, and structures in place.”

Until each school, district and network leader outlines a set of specific priorities and aligned, intentional actions toward those priorities that they actually act on, our workplaces will not become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive across lines of difference.

If you are an organizational leader, I might start by asking yourself (along with your leadership team) these questions:

  1.  Does your organization have a “playbook”, or set of specific diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities that are aligned to a broader organizational strategic plan?
  2. Can everyone in your organization name those priorities? Does each individual team member have a set of actions aligned to those priorities that they are held accountable for achieving?
  3. Does each of the priorities include specific actions and indicators, along with assigned ownership, to ensure ongoing progress and re-assessment?
  4. Does your Board of Directors have the information they need to support your efforts as well as hold you accountable toward progress in these areas? How often are you bringing up these issues in board meetings?

What are your thoughts about AT&T’s efforts to push toward greater inclusiveness in city innovation environments through the development of this type of playbook? Does your organization already have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Playbook or strategic plan you’re utilizing to drive progress in these areas? What are the pain points that are inhibiting your efforts to establish a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?  Join the conversation with Kelly and the rest of the EdFuel team at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.