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Racial Equity Toolkit Development: What It Is and How to Begin With Data Collection?

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

By Jennifer Jones
January 10, 2017

Before launching into a discussion about Racial Equity Toolkits, it is helpful to understand some basic ideas about racial equity and how it pertains to public administration. Racial equity, oversimplified, is an approach that presents as the opposite of the trickle down approach to economic and social justice and considers the “intersectionality” of systemic racism and economic condition. Noted critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw opined in her recent TED talk on intersectionality that trickle down approaches to economic and social justice are based in a logic model that “just doesn’t work.” Crenshaw’s TED talk is a good place to start when working to understanding these complex ideas. Susan Gooden noted in her book Race and Social Equity: A Nervous Area of Government that race and social equity are inherent in public administration’s commitment to organizational justice. Gooden also noted issues of race and social equity in a community are frequently motivated from external factors and can be highly emotional endeavors.

abelsTo take racial and social equity work out of the theoretical realm and into something actionable and data-driven, Racial Equity Toolkits (well-communicated via the Government Alliance on Racial Equality or GARE) have been gaining traction for quite some time, particularly in larger U.S. urban areas. The toolkits provide a uniform framework for decisionmaking that is intentional and deliberate in its inclusiveness, and data collection is the place to begin. Public administrators know data can better inform policymaking through advisement and informed discussion. Yet, the available resources on data collection for beginning the Racial Equity Toolkit process can seem daunting to smaller or mid-sized communities with fewer resources and decentralized data collection processes.

Then, what data collection and planning steps are scalable for every type community?


  • Consider why you are collecting data. What do you want the data points to measure? You will hear that question a lot and the answers can vary: to track progress, support the steps in a city process or policy steps (current policies or steps on how pay a water bill or a parking ticket) tell a visual story, examine patterns of behavior, provide evidence that supports anecdotal issues, or clarify non-issues.
  • Recognize data points and data pools are full of surprises. Plan for the need to disaggregate the data points: lots of data types in one spreadsheet needs will need to be pulled apart, based on data collection objectives. As needed, plan to create instruments for data collection that do not place additional burdens on customers—voluntary collection in a Request for Proposal (RFP) checklist for potential contractors, for example.
  • Go beyond demographic data. Dig into processes and workflows that impact the public. Demographic data is interesting, but it supports a descriptive story, not a causal one. Also establish who will be the benchmark population in your community. Is it non-Hispanic whites? Or should it be a benchmark population based on a particular Socioeconomic Status (SES)? This question goes back to the first point on this list and arguably the most important. Why are your collecting data? What do you want the data points to measure?
  • Consider municipal policies and processes from multiple lenses. First, from an outside-in perspective and then follow process inputs to outcomes: what are the outcomes of the current policies? Who benefits? Who is burdened?
  • Plan to change the data plan. Some data points will not be available until city staff builds the report and the very act of building reports in homegrown data systems may cause undue burden on the city personnel pulling it. You may need to find adequate substitutions in the interim or plan to collect the data going forward.
  • Consider the source. Is there another, easy way to get the data you seek? This point goes back to asking yourself why you want the data. Perhaps the data can come from another source (school district, chamber of commerce, county, etc.) or other previously published reports. Consider consulting the National Equity Atlas or American Community Survey for demographic data and spend time and city resources on data that is highly unique to your municipality.
  • Recognize collecting data is not enough. Policy may need to change or it may not need to change, based on what the data picture reveals for a municipality. Customer-facing processes may need to change, add accommodation, become streamlined or change in implementation. Remain mindful of the impact of changing processes for customers and for administrators.
  • Write down a data collection plan and get agreement early and often. As your data collection plan changes, plan monthly updates to stakeholders and explain why. Ensure transparency in the data collection process. This commitment to transparency helps those stakeholders to remain champions and good spokespersons for the Racial Equity Toolkit process in your community.

Author: Jennifer Jones, MA, Ph.D. (ABD) is a candidate in public administration at the University of South Dakota and a policy analyst based in Iowa City, Iowa. She can be reached at [email protected].

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