Institute for Developing Across Differences

Introducing the Institute for Developing Across Differences

IDD Introduction Quote MvB

Whenever somebody asks me these days what the new Institute for Developing Across Differences is and why Melissa Liles, Chuck Calahan and I are launching it, I always begin in the same way—by explaining that Melissa is the IDD’s Founding Director, and that Chuck and I are the other co-founders, serving as advisers. And then I go on to tell them that in order to talk about what the IDD is, I first need to say a few words about why we’ve decided to launch it now.o

Our inspiration The why, then: For the third year in a row, the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication did not operate in July, as it had for more than forty years.  During all those years SIIC was more than an annual event at a beautiful location in Portland, Oregon.  It was an intense exploration and a celebration of a powerful idea: that human diversity isn’t a failing, or an aberration, but is an essential, and potentially a very productive, part of our human condition.  If it’s true that we humans have had a very poor track record dealing with different “others” throughout our history, it’s also true that each of us is born with an inherent, biologically-grounded capacity for interacting peacefully and productively with other people, including those we perceive to be “different.”  The question that SIIC has insistently explored and tested is this: what can we do—really, what should we do—to help others develop that inherent capacity? Janet Bennett and Milton Bennett expertly shepherded the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) and its various programs, including SIIC, through what became a recurring celebration of a community that came together to learn and share what we were doing, theoretically and practically, to learn how to interact more effectively and appropriately in culturally diverse contexts.  Working together for many years, and then individually, these two extraordinary educators have contributed deeply to the ways that we’ve come to think and talk about successful human interaction, and they’ve shaped what so many of us mean when we say, “I am an intercultural educator.” Building on an irreplaceable legacy While Melissa, Chuck and I believe that we’re in a good position to build collaboratively on that tradition, we are not trying to replace SIIC or any of the other activities that the ICI organized: the ICI and SIIC are simply irreplaceable. What we are doing is taking collective steps to build on the insights and accomplishments of Janet, Milton and the many other world-class faculty members they brought to SIIC each year to teach and train.  Each of the three of us has for years been building on what we’ve learned from their example, as we’ve worked with colleagues at our own organizations and institutions to organize and advance large-scale initiatives to foster the intercultural development of learners and educators. The Institute for Developing Across Differences: the title suggests what it is that the three of us are doing to continue the extraordinary work that Janet and Milton have done throughout their careers to explore what we humans can do to help others, and ourselves, develop the capacity to interact justly, peacefully and productively in contexts of cultural diversity. And here, very specifically, is what the IDD is contributing to that tradition: We’re framing “differences” in ways that respond both to recent research findings about human nature, and to increasing demands for social justice and environmental sustainability. Four crucial, intersecting narratives Stunning advances across a broad array of disciplines and traditions require that we take more fully into account what research is now telling us about the nature of our human capacity for making meaning, for good or for ill. We humans are powerful storytellers.

The stories that each of our cultural groups tells about itself and about other groups—the co-created narratives that lend meaning to the lives of community members—operate on us unconsciously and consciously, and we and our fellows embrace the assumptions that undergird those stories as we co-construct the sometimes very different cultural worlds within which our various communities live and work.

The IDD is grounded in a recognition that we are at this point collectively making sense of “Developing across Differences” in very different ways—telling different sorts of stories about what inter-human “development” means, about how development takes place, and about what sorts of “differences” matter.  A number of powerful developing-across-difference narratives are now operating within our institutions and organizations, each loaded with its own values, models and frameworks. The IDD is uniquely committed to exploring the truth that each of these narratives is telling within the context of particular cultural communities, and in identifying and exploring possible points of intersection, potential or already existing, among them. 

Four of these narratives are especially salient in many of our
organizations and institutions: intercultural development and transformation; diversity, equity and inclusion; global competence; and globally sustainable development.

IDD Core Content Focus
IDD Core Content Focus Areas

Each of the four has emerged out of a particular body of knowledge, and out of particular social and cultural conditions that have led, and continue to lead, members of these different communities to co-construct beliefs and practices specific to their own narratives.

New ways to develop with global peers

Participants at IDD online programs and in-person events (the latter to be held at multiple sites each year, to start on three different continents) will have opportunities to explore the nature of their own and other narratives, and to work with other participants to identify real and potential points of intersection among those narratives. Participants might, for example, choose to attend an IDD course or other event that will explore the nature and history of a single narrative. Or they might participate in an event that will intentionally explore the nature and history of two different narratives—say, the diversity, equity and inclusion narrative, on the one hand, and the intercultural development and transformation narrative, on the other—an exploration that will allow participants to work together to identify points of intersection between the two, and to co-design learning and teaching activities that they’ll be able to apply to their own work, following the course.

We look forward to having you join the IDD community and to meeting you, virtually and in-person, at upcoming IDD events.