Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 11.06.59 AMBy Carla J. Kimbrough, National Civic League Director of Racial Equity Programs

More local governments are using racial equity impact assessment tools to evaluate policies, practices and programs.

Such tools provide a system to understand how residents of all races may be affected by a government decision. These tools can be used not only with evaluating policies but also examining budget decisions. One essential part of this process is involving residents in the decision making.

Organizations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race Forward/Center for Social Inclusion, Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE) and PolicyLink are among the organizations discussing, encouraging and teaching local governments how and when to use these tools.

“(Racial inequities) have been created and perpetuated over time through systemic bias, public policy, and institutional practices, and eliminating these inequities requires thoroughly analyzing existing and proposed policies to root out bias and promote equity, opportunity, and inclusion,” PolicyLink writes on its All-in Cities site.

Including residents – especially those who are underrepresented in government decisions – allows government employees and elected officials to understand the impact of policies. When residents are included in the early stages, local governments also begin to build trust with residents. Community organizations, faith institutions as well as nonprofit organizations are ideal partners in efforts to reach residents and invite greater participation.

Government officials also should consider a number of aspects, such as time and location of meetings, to make participation easier for residents.

Seattle has used racial equity assessment tools in the early 2000s and recognized the importance of gaining the community’s input. The city restructured its community outreach efforts to improve its ability to gain valuable insights about the impact of government policies and programs.

The city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative uses a six-step process to develop, implement and evaluate the impact on racial equity. The process:

  1. set outcomes for racial equity;
  2. involve community stakeholders and staff and analyze data;
  3. determine benefits and/or burdens, based on stated outcomes;
  4. advance opportunity to achieve greater racial equity or minimize unintended consequences;
  5. track the impacts on communities of color and document unresolved issues, and
  6. report the lessons and unresolved issues to the leaders.

In the City of Portland, racial equity has moved to the forefront of its strategies and goals and has become binding city policy. City departments (called bureaus) consider equity as they identify goals, set policies and shape their budgets. For example, bureaus are asked to consider whether specific budget realignments advance or inhibit equity or affect the department’s ability to achieve racial equity plan goals.

“We want to institutionalize the concept of equity, in the use of an equity lens, in the use of equity tools. Having City Council bless these goals, does just that. It allows them to exist no matter who’s sitting in any particular seat,” Dante James, director of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights, says on the bureau’s website.

GARE has worked with local governments from coast to coast to create racial equity assessment tools and action plans. The organization features on its website tools and resources and also provides training.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy used the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Race Matters race equity impact assessment as a template to develop an assessment tool that is tailored to child welfare policy decision-making. The Center has eight broad questions, with additional questions under various sections, to use for a race equity impact assessment. They are:

  1. Have you identified the racial/ethnic groups in your jurisdiction?
  2. For this policy/program/practice, what results are desired, and how will each group be affected?
  3. What does the data say about different racial and ethnic groups?
  4. Are all racial and ethnic groups that are affected by the policy, practice or decision involved in the decision-making?
  5. How will the proposed policy, practice or decision affect each group?
  6. How will the proposed policy, practice or decision be perceived by each group?
  7. Does the policy, practice or decision worsen or ignore existing disparities?
  8. Based on the above responses, what revisions are needed in the policy, practice or decision under discussion?