A critical tenet underlying Urban Strategies Council’s mission is that to eliminate poverty and to build vibrant, healthy communities, we must address disparities, especially racial/ethnic disparities, in opportunities and outcomes. We believe that all policies, practices, and programs must be considered through an “equity lens” - where eliminating disparities is a primary concern. To operationalize this belief, we have developed our Equity Framework for use in analyzing disparate opportunities and outcomes for different groups and developing targeted and universal interventions. The framework includes elements of problem identification, data analysis, community engagement, targeting specific racial/ethnic group needs, evaluating progress and creating accountability for improvements .
A basic definition of equity is:“…fairness achieved through systematically assessing and addressing disparities in opportunities and outcomes.”
A Model for Intervention
The strategy of “targeted universalism” is particularly useful when thinking about addressing disparities: as john a. powell (2009) points out, fairness is not advanced by treating those who are situated differently the same way. To address disparities, a targeted universal strategy is one inclusive of the needs of both the dominant and marginal groups, but pays particular attention to the situation of marginal groups. Analysis drives our ability to identify the varied conditions and outcomes between groups within the population of interest and to develop targeted interventions which effectively address their specific needs.
1. Define equity and understand its importance to outcomes in a given context
Whether using our proposed definition or your own, define equity and understand it as both a principle and a practice within your context. For example, in an education context, you may support the principle that every child deserves a high quality education and no student should face more barriers than others in participating and benefitting from academic instruction and activities. An example of applying that principle as practice might be: If students are consistently or disproportionately affected by health issues such as high rate of cavities, asthma or other physical and mental conditions that inhibit engagement in school, establish structures for health screenings at schools, with referrals for problems identified.
2. Build data systems and/or data-sharing collaborations to support equity and effectively use data
Central to the practice of equity is building an effective data system to support understanding of community demographics and characteristics; outcomes and disparities; the correlation between indicators and success or failure; and measuring the progress of efforts to improve outcomes.
3. Establish explicit equity outcomes and accountability for achieving them
Be explicit about outcomes for equity and be accountable for achieving them. We need to establish specific, measurable outcomes for our equity efforts, regularly assess our progress, and make adjustments and corrections that ensure we are achieving them.
4. Engage the community and ensure that leadership is representative of the community
In a diverse community, leaders need to draw on all of the assets, knowledge and expertise that the community possesses. This requires involving stakeholders from the entire community and all of its segments through engagement and inclusive leadership structures.
5. Focus on eliminating disparities and increasing quality outcomes
Eliminating disparities is not sufficient when outcomes do not meet standards that ensure a high quality of life. For example, it does little for the quality of life to close gaps in health status, graduation rates, or unemployment rates, if the resultant outcomes for everyone are below levels those which would create opportunities for a high quality of life. Attention to equity must be coupled with a commitment to quality.
6. Apply targeted universalism
We cannot achieve equity by recognizing differences in outcomes among different segments of our community and then ignoring those differences when we implement interventions. Interventions must be both universal, designed to improve outcomes for all; AND targeted specifically to address the unique needs and conditions of those sub-populations of individuals and groups experiencing inequitable outcomes.
7. Continually assess for and address equity
Equity is not a practice to be considered only at the outset of a planning process. It must be embedded in the values and practices of schools, organizations and communities, and continually examined and assessed. An equity lens is especially important when making decisions about the allocation of resources to ensure that those individuals and groups who are underserved get have access to the conditions needed to close gaps in outcomes compared to other groups.
8. Hold systems and individuals accountable for reducing and eliminating disparities
Building systems for understanding and operationalizing equity practices will not achieve the goal of reducing disparities unless there is system and individual accountability for reducing and, ultimately, eliminating disparities. This is accomplished by not only providing structure and supports to improve practices, but by holding systems and individuals 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.