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Step 1

What does dignity mean to you?

Suggested timing: 15 minutes


This activity is carried out in groups. It enables participants to discuss what dignity means both generally and in a particular community context. It also provides a safe space for groups to build a shared understanding of what dignity means for their context and what this means in practice. As well as providing a foundation for embedding dignity in practice, it helps to identify what could undermine someone’s dignity.


To encourage participants to share their thoughts about dignity and build a shared awareness of how a person’s sense of dignity might be promoted or undermined in particular contexts.


Paper and pens for each group to note outcomes of their discussions. A large sheet of paper to note comments at the front for everyone to see.


The ideal number of participants for each group is 4-6. Smaller groups allow for each participant to contribute to the conversation more fully.


Step 1: What does dignity mean to you?

In pairs or small groups, ask people to take a couple of minutes to reflect on the word (s) that come to mind when they think of dignity, chat about what dignity means to them. Then get each participant to share and take notes of the words being mentioned. Once everyone has had their turn, read out loud the list of words.

Step 2: Has your dignity ever been undermined?

Ask participants to think about a time when perhaps their own dignity was undermined. Ask them to silently reflect on how this made them feel. If participants are comfortable to do so you can welcome them to share any experience and/or feelings with the rest of the group. Make sure you do not put pressure on anyone to share anything. If you would like to share a personal experience yourself, you could do so as a way to start the conversation. Take note of the words being mentioned.

Step 3: What do we think dignity means as a group?

Bring everyone together and ask them to share what they have discussed. Record what they say in a place that everyone can see. Make two columns: positive words that promote dignity, and negative words that undermine dignity. This list shows the extent to which people share similar definitions of dignity, bearing in mind there might be differences, considering their backgrounds and personal circumstances. You can emphasise the degree of similarity by drawing attention to words that come up more than once.

Step 4: Summary and Reflection

Take a few minutes to summarise and reinforce the idea that someone’s experience and sense of dignity is affected by small, detailed gestures that impact on how they feel. You can read the quote below:

“Putting dignity into practice requires us to think carefully about all of the factors that affect howsomeone feels when they visit a community food project. The decisions we make, small or large, asboth staff and volunteers, will have an impact on how someone feels about the space, situation or theway they are treated. Therefore, it is important to recognise that dignity is in the detail.”

You can also emphasise by highlighting that:

a) we all know what feels like to have our dignity undermined

b) when this happens, we do not forget and can impact the rest of our lives

c) we can be left in a position of vulnerability and lack of control

Therefore, as community service providers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the way we run our services do not undermine people’s sense of dignity.

Step 5: How can we embed dignity in our practice?

Introduce the Dignity in Practice Principles and link these with participants’ responses.

The Dignity Principles in Practice ask participants to consider how the project supports people to feel:

✚ a sense of control

✚ able to take part in community

✚ nourished and supported

✚ involved in decision-making

✚ valued and able to contribute


You may decide to follow this activity up with the dignity spectrum: dignity is in the detail, designed to review organisation’s practice.

 If you want to run this activity using online video-call, click here to access the PDF tool.