Framing This Series

As we discussed the implications of our three part series Dynamic Definitions of Data, we became distracted with the potential hazards faced by organizations when using data to inform programing and strategic direction. In our four-part series Social Equity Data Analysis, we illuminate the relationship between social equity and the organizational goals of community and school programs.

There are three angles in which to see social equity issues in and through program data. Each of the angles will be featured in separate blog posts. The three angles are individually important because a lack of consideration of any of these three hinders organizational goals throughout the community organization and school sectors.

Image 1

In Image 1, the common relationship between organizational goals and programs is outlined. That is, organizational goals establish the strategic direction for all programming in the organization. Program staff ensure that the organizational goals are delivered through the program activities. Often it is the case that social equity issues — such as the historical biases referred to below — are overlooked in the analysis and reporting on program outcomes; also missing tends to be the analysis of equity issues in strategic planning for the organization. Notice that in Image 1, staff and program participants directly experience social equity issues, whether or not the organization is ready to engage on this topic.


The 3 Angles

  1. Program outcomes and indicators can be derailed by systemic social equity issues in the community and greater society.
    Importance of this discussion:  Historical biases based on sex, gender, race/ethnicity, class, age, and disability will intersect, for example, in career training programs where the program participants face challenges in getting hired in direct proportion to the historical biases. Therefore, how can the effectiveness or success of such programs be assessed within the context of the interference by the biases?
  2. Regional grantmaking is typically focused on the strategy of awarding equal resources across the population, but what about equity in grantmaking? Two challenges faced by grantmakers entail the interpretation of who is an appropriate recipient for funding, and the definition of effectiveness for programs that receive funding.
    Importance of this discussion: For example, urban and rural youth in the same region might access equal amounts of grant-based resources, but their lives and needs are qualitatively different. In this scenario, while rural areas are historically under-funded, rural programs are increasingly interpreted as appropriate for grantmaking dollars. However, grantmakers should reconsider the qualitative needs of diverse populations and analyze these needs in terms of the literature on specific populations. Also important for grantmakers is consideration of dynamic defines for what counts as effective programming in historically under studied populations and contexts
  3. Programs that focus on social equity issues (also known as social justice organizations) have a lot to teach us about tracking systems change.
    Importance of this discussion: To alter the social norm of what is “fair” and “right” requires direct engagement with social biases. This direct engagement approach highlights the ways that historical biases interrupt programs from successfully meeting their outcomes and indicators, but more importantly offer insights to service programs and grantmakers for dealing with the historical biases.

What is The Difference?

Let’s concisely demystify the difference between social equity and equality. They cannot be used interchangeably.

Equality is access to resources (tangible or intangible) equally across units or people. For example, in this image, three boys use boxes of equal size to peer over a fence; their body sizes are situationally different. An equality approach focuses on the boys’ access to equal boxes and not on social structures or situations that position people and their power hierarchically (e.g. only the tall boys — at the top of the hierarchy — get to enjoy the game).

Social equity is profoundly different from equality. It entails a two-part consideration of populations and situations.

  1. It is imperative to grasp the history embedded in the structures in which everyday we interact (e.g. structures such as school campuses, government offices, retail establishments, housing, etc.). The structures carry in them the biases and advancements that color the society in which the structures are established.
  2. Social equity requires creativity and collaboration in order to craft strategies that propel our communities forward into greater well-being in lieu of the structural biases, and that simultaneously dismantle the biases.

Why Analyze Data Through Social Equity?

Let’s bridge this somewhat abstract concept, that of social equity, to the tasks that culminate and get labeled as data analysis. Efforts to propel our communities and greater society forward have historically relied on equality initiatives rather than equity. That is, meaningful and commendable actions to ensure that people are treated equally well by the social structures have focused on making sure equal access is afforded to all citizenry. For example, we can refer to the notion of fair and equal opportunity to access public education.

Our predecessors established many opportunities for equality in our society. These important contributions do not always, nor always directly, contend and transform embedded biases. Relatedly, community and school programs intersect with the challenges of the biases. The next three blog posts for this series will emphasize three lenses for perceiving and then engaging in social equity from your organization’s position in programs, grantmaking, or social justice.