The Antidote to Leadership (or Engagement) Echo Chambers

Shonagh MacRae

Echo chambers develop naturally as we create social circles. The benefits are many – a sense of belonging, shared passion, and an anchor in our rapidly changing world.

New forms of media build on these natural echo chambers. Algorithms are designed to track our online behavior and magically send us content that fits our preferences. Unfortunately, according to Wired Magazine, these

“online echo chambers also insulate [us] from viewpoints that differ from our own, inadvertently reinforcing our view of the world.”

The good is a greater and more nuanced understanding of issues important to us and the bad is a narrower viewpoint that remains unchallenged.

Echo chambers also exist in community engagement. Leadership is only able to hear from the loudest and most persistent voices. In fact, this was discussed by 149 school leaders across North America in our most recent leadership engagement.

27 leaders believed that attendance and selection factors lead to limited engagement and therefore limit the perspectives influencing the system:

Beyond Committees and Diversity Public forums, parent surveys, and community focus groups demonstrate community engagement, but my experience is usually small attendance or “hand picked” parent committees are the norm.

How to harness “positive” community feedback to navigate “negative” feedback. In very small districts the Superintendent is often the only administrator. Parents, students and staff may be very satisfied but usually don’t come out to board meetings in support! Those with negative positions team & show up scripted to promote negative attitudes that always make the local paper.

The outcome is that a few loud voices stand in for the community perspective, reinforcing the current narrative, stalling innovation and policy change.

How can leaders open up these engagement echo chambers?

There are many ways to break down an echo chamber. Going online can increase participation. Asking a broad group of stakeholders can help you hear a greater diversity of thoughts. Ensuring that participants aren’t swayed or intimidated by the loud voices in the group is also crucial.

ThoughtExchange doesn’t show stakeholders thoughts that fit their personal echo chamber. It shows them a random subset of thoughts along with the ones they submitted. Some thoughts challenge, others confirm. It encourages people to consider the thoughts of others and how their perspectives fit into the bigger picture. In other words, it gives leaders an antidote to engagement echo chambers.

Have you found other ways to open up the conversation? What are your thoughts?

About the Author

Shonagh MacRae

Shonagh is our Director of Discover and describes herself as continually curious about people. This curiosity led her to a Master’s in Organizational Psychology where she learned a whole lot about how humans interact in groups and how to support them. Shonagh has also spent a lot of time in her community supporting at-risk populations. This work further honed her ability to connect with a broad range of personalities. When she’s not working with ThoughtExchange, Shonagh is most often found out in the garden with her hands in the soil.