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Profiles of Excellence

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Doug Linkhart
January 23, 2020 

Originally published in PA Times Magazine

As president of the National Civic League (NCL), Doug Linkhart brings more than 40 years of experience in the public policy arena, including eight years as a Denver City Councilman and 10 years as a Colorado State Representative and Senator. He started his career by managing local campaigns, then worked in the federal government as a presidential management intern. His life-long values of inclusiveness and equity are evident in his work at NCL to create new programs on racial equity, community health disparities and sustainability. He initiated a revision of the 30-year-old Civic Index to make sure it encourages communities to incorporate equity and inclusiveness in their civic engagement work. He also has created new collaborations with many other national organizations and has taken steps to broaden the impact of the League by reaching a bigger audience with our publications and tools. He can be reached at [email protected]

What does equity mean to you and the National Civic League (NCL)? How has that definition evolved during your career?

For the NCL, equity is the fair inclusion of everyone in a community to the point that individual characteristics and historic treatments of certain populations do not affect social and economic outcomes. As an organization focused on civic governance, we encourage all communities to be inclusive and accommodating of the needs and assets of all populations regardless of race, age, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation or other identifying characteristics.

We work closely with national, state and local partners to define and pursue equity. One example is our work with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on its Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation program, in which partner organizations work to promote racial healing and racial equity. Another example is United Way Worldwide, with which we and other partners work to infuse equity into health, education and other work nationwide.

During my 44-year career, the concept of equity has evolved to include more populations and focus on acknowledging and attempting to repair past wrongs. Communities around the country also are much more aware of present inequities and the need to address the vestiges of the past that reflect inequity, like holidays and memorials honoring racist individuals.

What is the source of your dedication to your work in this space? How do you work to ensure equity within the services delivered by the NCL?

Personally, my awareness of equity derives from the unrest of the 1960s, when people made themselves heard about equality and justice. Whether civil rights, equal rights or human rights, equity always has been part of my political and policy work.

At the NCL, we regularly write about equity and publish others’ work in National Civic Review, our quarterly journal. We are particularly interested in the innovative and successful ways in which communities address equity and racial healing; we publish these stories in our journal, monthly newsletter and Promising Practices database. Equity is even in our mission statement: “Advancing civic engagement to create thriving, equitable communities.”

We also include equity as a strong consideration in our All-America City awards program. Each year, communities apply for this designation by describing their civic capital—problem solving capacity—including the seven elements of our Civic Index, which include equity and inclusion. The judges for the All-America City awards use the index, plus annual themes like racial equity and health equity, in their decisionmaking.

Equity continues to be a struggle for our country. What forces shape this narrative, both positive and negative?

Assuring equity starts with awareness that there is inequity, and not everyone is informed or open to information about inequity. There always has been misinformation about different populations that feeds prejudice and fear. The proliferation of information sources, along with growing mistrust of media and authority figures, has led to exponential growth of this problem.

Communities across the country are experiencing changing demographics that sometimes result in conflict. Some communities are becoming more diverse, often with an influx of immigrants or people of color; others are experiencing displacement of longstanding populations. Coupled with the fear and prejudice stoked by misinformation and mythology, this often has led to conflict.

At the same time, there are positive forces that generally are more apparent in younger generations. As people grow up around people who are different in some way, they are growing more tolerant of differences not only on that spectrum, but other characteristics, as well. The wider acceptance of gay and interracial marriage is an example. Wider exposure to differences through media, the internet and travel add to this knowledge base and acceptance of others.

Why does equity matter and how do you measure it? What goals/objectives are you looking to bring to life? How will the data show that you have been successful in meeting them?

The NCL views the world through the eyes of local communities. For these entities, every person matters. Regardless of the distinguishing characteristics of specific individuals, they are each members of a community and contribute toward its wellbeing. Everyone pays taxes in some form, with behavior that contributes positively or negatively toward the community. As Elinor Ostrom writes, each is also a “co-producer,” contributing their part toward governance by obeying and/or helping to enforce “community covenants.”

While communities focus on outcomes to measure equity, we tend to focus on inputs—the policies and practices that contribute to more inclusiveness and more equitable outcomes. Examples include communities with racial equity officers and goals that incorporate equity; communities that set up outreach and input processes that meet the needs and interests of various populations; and communities that establish policies for voting and law enforcement that maximize participation and fairly reflect community values.

At the community level, success is shown by widespread and diverse engagement in community affairs and decisions that result in economic prosperity and happiness. As the saying goes, people express themselves with their feet, so it soon becomes obvious which communities are more successful.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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