Why should governments measure equity?

That was the question participants grappled with during a live webinar last week as part of Applied Research’s Economic Mobility Policy Forum. In it, representatives from Opportunity Nation, Pittsburgh and Seattle gathered to discuss ways equity is tracked to make sure policies are working for everyone.

“We’ve gone from managing decline to managing growth,” said Majestic Lane, Pittsburgh’s Chief Equity Officer and Deputy Chief of Staff for the mayor. He said the rust belt town’s resurgence has staff contemplating: “How do you manage growth for all people?”

“We are growing – we have to manage that and make sure that that growth is balanced with equity, so equity is spread across the board,” Lane said.

One of our Economic Mobility Policy Forum fellows, Julius Moss of Seattle, noted that every government is steeped in centuries of racial inequality and systemic bias. Reversing that takes work – and one of the most important ways governments can ensure policies are equitable is by measuring and tracking their effects. 

In Seattle, Moss said the Department of Education and Early Learning used these skills to address a lack of diversity in the department’s upper leadership. The department engaged stakeholders and analyzed potential impacts of changes on communities of color. The result was a hiring dashboard that gives citizens access to information about the department’s diversity, something Moss said has resulted in a more diverse workforce. 

Undoing centuries of racial bias is a long process. Measuring and mitigating it is an emerging field with no standard set of best practices, cautions director of Opportunity Nation Michelle Massie, whose organization publishes the Opportunity Index, a tool measuring opportunity across multiple indicators. But we all have to start somewhere. Below are some tips adapted from advice by Moss to get your department on its way to measuring equity.

1. Develop a well-defined plan of action.

In short: develop goals. These may be aspirational or seem unattainable, but make sure you have something to work toward.

2. Define what success looks like for your organization.

How will you know you have met your goals? Lay out what success looks like. Make sure to include both quantitative measures and qualitative or anecdotal information.

3. Authentically engage with communities of color.

Avoid tokenism and fully include community partners in the process of measuring change on a consistent basis, rather than including them when it is convenient.

4. Understand that your organization is embedded in institutional racism.

Do not shy away from being called out. Seek to mitigate the impacts of that historic legacy on the communities you serve.

5. Don’t try to do it all alone.

Governments and nonprofits across the country are working on understanding and undoing inequitable policies. Find peer groups like the Economic Mobility Policy Forum to connect with people like you who are working on these issues to share ideas and celebrate success. To be notified when the Policy Forum opens to new members later this year, sign up for our waitlist.