Raven’s Cross-Sector DEI Spotlight: Urban Planning

Raven Freeman
July 31, 2019

This month we’re going to explore the interplay between innovation and equity, drawing on a best practice from the field of urban planning. An article from the Urban Institute notes, “We can’t assume that technological innovations will benefit everyone equally. Intentional design for equity should involve inclusive processes and rethinking business practices to target efforts to marginalized communities.”  

The Urban Planning Challenge: Creating an Equitable Bikeshare Model 
According to the article, when Philadelphia decided to introduce a citywide bikeshare model, they engaged a committee of community members representing different neighborhoods and asked residents to vote on where the bikes should be placed.  Despite this approach for equitably distributing the bikes, another challenge arose.  Even though the bikes were accessible, some Philadelphians couldn’t ride them!  Residents who didn’t know how to ride a bike or possess a credit card needed to reserve one were unable to benefit from the bikeshare racks in their neighborhoods.

The Urban Planning Solution: Invest in Differentiated Implementation
Upon further evaluation, the city decided to offer bike riding and safety lessons and found a way to issue cash vouchers.  Both solutions required additional time and investment, but were necessary to achieve, or begin to achieve, their goal of equity.  Neither would’ve come to fruition without ongoing reflection, a high bar for equity and continued community engagement.

The Bottom Line: Inclusive Governance and Ongoing Equity Evaluations are Essential
“Evaluating technology’s impact should happen before, during, and after a program is launched to ensure each step creates equitable outcomes for all residents.”  Rayid Ghani, Director of the Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, goes on to suggest that all new technological initiatives include an equity audit.  While the bikeshare program did the right thing by polling and engaging a diverse representative group of stakeholders upfront, there were still unforeseen inequities that needed to be addressed.  To instill equity in a new program, consider 1) the formal creation of an inclusive governing body that 2) has a consistent voice in giving and collecting feedback, implementation and final decisions on the 3) content and equity of the program.

The Talent Lesson
In order to maintain the highest possible bar for students, innovative programs to recruit, develop and retain teachers are always in play.  Talent programs and systems like hiring, evaluation, and compensation are all areas where we often see the scales tipping towards inequity.  Even more, when adding more innovative models we can unwittingly increase inequity. For example video and applicant tracking technology may increase the barrier to entry for prospective staff.  When rolling out a new talent program, there are three things from the bikeshare story to keep in mind.

1. Invest in Formal Inclusive Governance Committees: To provide insight into the needs of everyone impacted by the

program, form governance committees compromised of a representative group of teachers (and other staff) who reflect the subgroups of talent at the school.  The committee’s role is to opine and decide on on program policies, implementation, effectiveness and of course equity.  Often, we see affinity groups formed with social objectives in mind, so why not organize people of color or first-generation staff for the incredibly meaningful purpose of making sure they have a consistent mechanism for contributing to the talent program that impacts them most?

2. Invest in Diverse Leaders: A governance committee should have an opportunity to provide input upfront, but also have a seat at the table when it’s time to make final decisions.  Gathering periodic input and feedback via a survey is a common and reasonable way to reach most staff.  However, depending on the school’s decision-making process, by the time staff perspectives reach the point of implementation the differentiated voice of subgroups may have been watered down, lost or overruled.  This may be particularly true of schools that have predominately white or homogenous leadership teams.  It goes without saying that the leadership team should be more inclusive, but a representative staff governance committee is a good place to start.

3. Invest in and Commit Resources to Equity Audits:  To give the governance committee true purpose, consider creating a set of equity values for your school that can be applied widely across programs. Ask the committee to describe what these values look like in action for the program in question and translate those values in action into a checklist.  Use the checklist to conduct equity audits through the course of the program.

These are my thoughts on how the Philadelphia bikeshare story might be helpful in a school context.  What do you think?  What about this model doesn’t work for schools?  Join the conversation with Raven and the rest of the EdFuel team at info@edfuel.org or find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.