A critical part of achieving our mission of working with partners to eliminate persistent poverty by building vibrant, healthy communities is addressing disparities, especially racial/ethnic disparities, in opportunities and outcomes.
In all of our work, we use an equity lens, asking what disparities exist among different groups; taking into account historical and current institutional and structural sources of inequality; and taking steps to build the social, economic, and political power of the people most affected by inequities in order to narrow gaps while improving overall outcomes.
Urban Strategies Council’s model is a data-driven approach to equity that relies heavily on engagement of the community. This means that the comparisons we draw in the data will be driven by looking to the community and contextual information to determine what relevant groups might be experiencing disparities, and then testing these assertions with data. In an iterative process, the model then takes us back to the community to share what we found in the data and gain their insights on interpreting the findings as well as their ideas for targeted interventions.
By systematically asking who experiences the poorest outcomes and why, and then targeting resources and efforts in ways that address the needs of specific populations, communities using our equity model can continually surface and respond to emerging disparities while improving community-wide outcomes.
The model is a living document, which we revise continually to incorporate new insights.
Step 1: Define equity and educate the community on its importance
We begin by defining equity and educating those involved in an initiative or community about its importance as both a principle and a practice for effective community change.
Step 2: Build data systems to support equity and use data effectively
Central to the practice of equity is building an effective data system to support understanding of community demographics, disparities in opportunities and outcomes, and measuring the progress of efforts to reduce and eliminate disparities.
Using an equity lens means thinking carefully about how data will be disaggregated to reveal disparities by neighborhood, race/ethnicity, income level, gender, disability, language, age or generation, and other characteristics important in a community. In some cases, such as examining inequities facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community or undocumented immigrants, important data will be scarce; we compensate for gaps in data by drawing on the experiences of members of those groups.
Step 3: Establish explicit equity outcomes and accountability for achieving them
Achieving equity requires sustained commitment. This requires us to be explicit about our outcomes for equity and holding ourselves accountable for achieving them. We work with stakeholders to establish specific, measurable outcomes for equity efforts, regularly assess progress, and make adjustments and corrections that ensure we are achieving them.
Step 4: Engage the community and ensure that leadership is representative of the community
In a diverse community, community change initiatives need to draw on all of the assets, knowledge, and expertise that the community possesses about its members, their experiences and needs. This requires involving and representing the entire community and all of its segments through inclusive engagement and leadership structures.
Step 5: Focus on increasing equity and improving outcomes
Closing gaps is not enough if even those with the best outcomes are below acceptable standards. In all of our work, we strive not only to close gaps, but to raise the standards so that all people in the community achieve high quality and equitable outcomes.
Step 6: Design and implement targeted interventions
To achieve equity, not only must we recognize disparate outcomes among different segments of our community, we must address those disparities when we consider interventions. Interventions must be targeted specifically to address the needs and conditions of those members of the community experiencing inequitable outcomes.
Step 7: Continually assess for and address equity
Equity must be embedded in the values and practices of an initiative, the participating organizations and the community, and then continually examined and assessed. The equity lens is especially important when determining decision-making power and making decisions about allocation of resources to ensure that those who experience disparate outcomes are involved in decision making and benefit from equitable resource allocation needed to close the outcome gaps they experience.
Step 8: Hold systems accountable for reducing and eliminating disparities
Understanding and acting on equity practices must take place alongside system-level accountability for reducing – and ultimately eliminating – disparities. Not only do we provide structure and supports to improve practices, we aim to hold public systems accountable for reducing and eliminating disparities by establishing targets for performance and incorporating “equity performance” as an element of system assessment and individual performance evaluation.