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We can now measure cultural diversity?

November 2, 2017
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Technological advances are shrinking our world and causing more cultures to come into contact with each other. Other people’s beliefs and cultural practices can be confronting. They can be difficult to understand.  The resulting culture clashes have inspired strident debate and – sometimes – a new appreciation for the importance of a diverse yet cohesive society. But the question remains: how will we know when we have actually achieved cultural diversity?

The best way to discover if you have achieved something, is to measure it before you take an action, and then again afterwards. But how do we measure cultural diversity? How do we measure such a broad, philosophical, intangible concept?

In early 2017, Cultural Infusion’s Project Director, Rezza Moeini, set out to answer this exact question.

A broadcast engineer by training, Rezza had his interest in the subject piqued after joining Cultural Infusion. He discovered that no one could explain how diversity was measured.  Rezza leads Cultural Infusion’s digital development team so his days at work were already busy.  At home, he had a little girl, and a wife who was equally busy completing her PhD in computer science.

Of course, measures of cultural diversity do exist. They include the Stirling Index, and the Inverse Herfindahl Fractionalization Index. However, some experts consider these methods to be insufficient in one way or another, focusing too narrowly on certain types of diversity, or restricting the measurement to only one variable at a time.

The lack of a solid way to measure and discuss cultural diversity simply annoyed Rezza.  He didn’t set out to inform public debate, just to satisfy his own desire for order. So he decided that he would have to create his own measure: one that was both comprehensive and flexible.  And fit his research into the tiny chinks of time that existed between work and family.

During his research, Rezza found that several papers had already identified the three variables crucial to measuring cultural diversity. Unfortunately the authors had explored the topic from a literary, rather than a mathematical stand-point.

He discovered that he could apply a thermodynamics mathematical formula, called entropy, to the information collected for these three key variables: language, religion and ethnicity. And the result would be expressed as a percentage.

In November this year, Rezza will have the opportunity to present his discovery to an international audience at the 7th International Conference on Humanities, Society and Culture – in Thailand.  The paper is co-authored with Professor Carlos Sorezano from the University of San Pablo in Madrid, who helped to normalize the index.

A Practical Approach to Measuring Cultural Diversity based on a study on Australian Organizations and Schools, will also be published in the International Journal of Social Science and Humanity towards the end of 2017.

It was while trialling the index on colleagues, that Rezza had another brilliant idea to include his index in Diversity Atlas, a partially-developed, digital mapping tool that his team was working on. Originally, the tool was designed to help organisations and schools visualise their cultural diversity by producing a stylised world map. But now Rezza saw an opportunity to improve Ancestry Atlas so that the tool could also provide a tangible insight into the organisation’s cultural diversity.

In early October 2017, Rezza had the opportunity to present the newly-revamped Diversity Atlas to a national audience at the FECCA Conference (Federations of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia) in Darwin. The conference is an opportunity to share knowledge and best practice with a network of organisations and individuals who share a vision of a harmonious multicultural Australia.

Diversity Atlas was showcased at the 2017 WISE Summit: Co-Exist, Co-Create: Learning to Live and Work Together, which convened in Doha, Qatar.

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