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Part 2: Practice Equity Daily


5. Design Programs & Policies That Are Targeted & Universal

Equitable outcomes for families and communities don’t happen all by themselves. They require a careful understanding of the experience of people who are facing racial and other barriers to their well-be-ing. Make sure you explore and understand the systemic barriers that influence their experiences. Then you can design your programming and policy advocacy in ways that address root causes or drivers of inequities rather than just symptoms. Set universal goals and design your work to target resources and strategies to meet the specific, differentiated needs of specific subgroups.

In this section, we’ll explore how to

  • Involve Your Community
  • Follow The Data
  • Understand Systemic Barriers
  • Set Universal Goals And Design Targeted Programs And Policies Program Evaluation And Continuous Learning

Involve Your Community

Equity is not only about outcomes. It’s also about process. One of the most important processes is engaging directly with people in the communities we serve. Whether you’re designing a project focused on equity for your staff or a community-level program, make sure you have the right people at the table to define the problems and construct solutions. Identify who is most affected by the issues you’re addressing and bring them into decision making. Don’t just “engage” your community. Involve them. Trust your community to participate in your work!

Create opportunities for ongoing relationships and meaningful participation in decision making, not just one-off input/listening sessions. Learn from local governments and philanthropies that are implementing participatory budgeting and participatory grantmaking processes. In addition to creating ongoing bodies to engage in decision making, create broad-based opportunities for input and information exchange. While careful, culturally specific outreach methods are important to bringing people into your processes, you’ll also want to design “in-reach” methods that involve your team going to where community members are already gathering and engaging people in the course of their daily lives, such as while waiting at a community clinic or hair salon. (Think postcard or online campaign to gather ideas or share information. Enlist community institutions (e.g., houses of worship, businesses, health clinics, schools) as partners in these efforts. Listen more than you talk. Be open to the likelihood that community members will see things differently from your team and from one another. Be sure to allow enough time to build relationships of mutual respect, to explore ideas fully and resolve or otherwise address differences. Remember this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Follow The Data

Creating more equitable outcomes requires that we first know about inequities within the current outcomes. That requires disaggregating data so that you can see how specific groups are faring currently. Review the types of data you are collecting and your data analysis methods. Do your best to measure things that matter, even if they are hard to measure. Use population level data that is available about your community (e.g., from city government or regional planning agencies). Remember that data collection and data analysis are important opportunities for community engagement. See multiple tools within the Build Equity-Minded Culture, Structures and Systems section of this toolkit for more on building organizational capacity for this kind of engagement with data.

Understand Systemic Barriers

In the Get Ready section of this toolkit, we offer many resources for deepening your understanding of racism and other structural barriers to opportunity.
Be sure to explore the historic and current-day manifestations of systemic racism in your community. Whenever you are tempted to “fix the people” (e.g., building skills, changing behaviors, building social capital, etc.), ask yourself what systemic barriers the people are facing and explore how those barriers can be removed or reduced. Often, you’ll find that there are ways you can mitigate barriers in the short term (e.g., offering to arrange or reimburse for travel to advisory group meetings if public transit options are inadequate) while working with other partners to remove the barrier in the longer term (e.g. advocating for improvements to the transit system).

Set Universal Goals And Design Targeted Programs And Policies

Pursuing racial equity is not simply about ensuring that outcomes are not predictable by race – ensuring that all racial groups are experiencing the same range of outcomes. It also means improving outcomes for the entire community. As example, let’s say that your high school graduation rates are 75% on average, with White and some Asian students graduating at higher rates than Black, Latinx, Indigenous and some other Asian students graduating at lower rates. Getting all groups to 75% is not the end game, because you’d want to see higher graduation rates for all groups, say in the mid 90%s. Let core community values (e.g., fairness, opportunity, etc.) and shared visions (e.g., for a community where everyone can meet their needs, pursue their dreams and contribute to the common good) guide you in establishing such universal goals.

Once you’ve established a universal goal, use your understanding of the systemic barriers to identify strategies for change that you can translate into programming and policy advocacy. Develop programs and policies to remove barriers to graduation for each subgroup, noting that those programs and policies may look different for different groups. And, you’ll need to target resources to focus on the groups facing the greatest barriers.

Program Evaluation And Continuous Learning

As you design and redesign your programming, be sure to build in ways to track your progress. Work with your stakeholders to identify what you will measure (metrics) and how much progress you want to see (goals or objectives) to track success. Be sure to identify metrics to track outcomes for participating individuals, families, or communities, as well as the success of your relationships and your processes. Build in manageable ways to collect and analyze this data in order to support continuous improvement. Use specific equity-focused assessment tools, like a Racial Equity Impact Assessment, to discern ways that specific programs and policies affect different racial groups.

In addition to the mechanics of collecting, analyzing and applying that analysis to future actions, you’ll want to cultivate a culture of learning across your organization. The more that staff, volunteers, participants and partners can learn, share actionable feedback, acknowledge mistakes and make real-time decisions in an atmosphere free from blame and shame, the more likely your evaluation efforts will lead to greater effectiveness. See multiple tools within the Build Equity-Minded Culture, Structures and Systems section of this toolkit for more on building organizational capacity for ongoing learning.