Equity Assessment Tool (AUS0002)
Action Plan: Austin, United States Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: City of Austin
Support Institution(s): CS Partner: Alba Sereno, Vision Zero ATX and GO! Austin/VAMOS! Austin
Policy AreasCapacity Building, Local Commitments, Marginalized Communities, Public Participation
To advance the goal of achieving equitable outcomes for all members of the Austin community, we further our commitment to civic participation, transparency, and accountability by establishing an equity assessment tool to better support decision-making and track progress towards critical goals. Short Description: Establish an equity assessment tool. Leads: Civil society partners: Alba Sereno, Vision Zero ATX and GO! Austin/VAMOS! Austin Government facilitator: Brion Oaks, City of Austin Chief Equity Officer. Project Brief: This project answers this pain point from our civil society partners: ● How might we develop an equity assessment tool to guide decisions that enable equitable outcomes throughout Austin? - participants in The Spirit of East Austin community event 2.1 Desired Outcomes 1) Understand and evaluate the impact existing city policies and practices have on equity. 2) Enable city departments and the public to access an equity assessment tool during the budget process and throughout the year to evaluate and address equity challenges in the city. 3) Address significant inequities across multiple social determinants that impact the quality of life for many low-income communities, which are disproportionately found among communities of color. 2.2 Exploration Questions 1) Who is already doing equity work in the city? 2) How might we gather qualitative data from stakeholders working on equity from outside the city? 3) How might we use data from Government Alliance on Race and Equity assessment? 4) How might we research city budget allocation history and department/programmatic allocation history? 5) How might we establish overall equity standards (what does equity look like in our city- establish a definition that involves access to services, resources, participation, etc.) and then track back distribution of resources (internal use of and allocation to external)? 6) How might we curate a list of equity assessment tools and case studies, including Age Gender Diversity Mainstreaming effort from the United Nations?
IRM End of Term Status Summary
2. Equity Assessment Tool
To advance the goal of achieving equitable outcomes for all members of the Austin community, we further our commitment to civic participation, transparency, and accountability by establishing an equity assessment tool to better support decision-making and track progress towards critical goals.
1. Clarify Phase. Expected deliverables: Equity Visioning Session event; Synthesis of community feedback.
2. Framing Phase. Expected deliverables: Frame/parameters for system equity focus; Report out on scan of the environment, and internal and external stakeholder alignment to frame.
3. Conceive/Prototype/Test Phase. Expected deliverables: Identify specific targets within departments to pilot tool for 2017-18 city budget cycle.
4. Plan/Build Phase. Expected deliverables: Equity-focused departmental budgets for selected departments for consideration to city manager and city council; First round of equity-focused budgets implemented in 2017.
Overall Objective & Relevance
The City of Austin’s second OGP commitment addressed historic inequities in the City of Austin’s budgeting and decision-making processes. While Austin is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the United States, it has also been crowned the most economically segregated major metropolitan area in the nation. Florida, Richard, and Charlotta Mellander, “Segregated City: The geography of economic segregation in America's metros,” Martin Prosperity Institute, Harvard (2015): 25. This disparate economic climate has existed in the city of Austin for decades and primarily disadvantaged communities of color. For many years, economic segregation along racial lines was strategically imposed by city officials and developers, such as the intentional isolation of minority residents to neighborhoods east of the downtown area, known as the “Koch and Fowler city plan.” Zehr, Dan, 'Inheriting Inequality,' Austin American-Statesman, accessed July 21, 2017, http://projects.statesman.com/news/economic-mobility/index.html
This commitment proposed the development of an equity assessment tool to be used during budgeting and other city government proceedings. The equity tool will be available to both city officials and members of the public. The tool compounds data gathered by city departments and civil society organizations that address inequity in Austin. As stated in the Action Plan, during the development process, government officials and their CSO partners conducted interviews with leaders and residents from historically disadvantaged communities. This research was synthesized to create equity standards for city decision makers. Using these standards, city staff and their CSO partners targeted specific departments to pilot the assessment tool.
Austin’s second commitment addressed the OGP values of access to information and civic participation. The city increased access to information by collecting and proactively releasing survey data and synthesized research results during the development phase of the equity assessment tool. The commitment intended to increase public participation in government decisions by directly involving civil society groups in the development of the equity assessment tool. Communities that have been traditionally shut out of the budgeting and other processes will also enjoy an increased role in city governance. By directly consulting and collaborating with these communities through surveys and equity tool development sessions, the city encourage increased civic participation.
Specificity and Potential Impact
Austin’s second commitment is coded as medium specificity. The impact of the inequity that this commitment seeks to alleviate is broad. The milestones set out by government officials and civil society partners were objectively verifiable. Most of the milestones, such as hosting an equity visioning event, identifying departmental budgets for piloting the tool, and completing equity-focused budgets, were measurable and verifiable.
This commitment had the potential to transform the way that budgeting and decision-making are undertaken at City Hall. For decades, minority communities across Austin have been systematically denied equitable consideration by city leaders. The long-term effects of forced segregation are reflected in Austin’s demographic and socioeconomic indicators. Austin is the most economically segregated, and the fifth-most educationally segregated, large metropolitan area in the United States. Florida and Mellander, 34. The equity assessment tool, if implemented citywide, could signal a transformative step in a new direction with positive effects for disadvantaged communities. This commitment has created an opportunity for these historically marginalized communities to play a direct role for the first time in developing solutions to Austin’s inequitable history. The groundbreaking factor is the combination of innovation and participation in policy-making on this key priority area in Austin.
The second commitment was completed. This commitment aimed to develop and pilot an equity assessment tool based on feedback from a community of stakeholders. Equity Office staff and the Equity Action Team (EAT), a coalition of 43 community organizations/CSOs and 25 city departments, oversaw the development of this commitment The Equity Action Team comprises representatives of 43 community organizations and 25 city departments and offices. The complete list is available here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1fX-M-EtMUKIQP9OFpZdzBctDUUoCSnhe . The EAT met seven times between March 2017 and September 2017 to discuss, develop, and test the equity assessment tool. The Equity Action Team met to discuss and develop the equity assessment tool once per month from March to September. Meeting notes can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CPzYzi8Yj0Hu1262wBbjgD3Khyhb8sit/view?usp=sharing In June, eight departments volunteered to pilot the first draft of the assessment tool during their budget processes. These departments included Human Resources, Parks and Recreation, Libraries, Water Utility, Transportation, Economic Development, Public Health, and Public Works.
The equity assessment tool was completed and piloted on time as written in the City’s OGP action plan. Each of the eight departments employed the tool to analyze their proposed 2018 budgets. This analysis involves answering a series of questions related to outcomes of departmental budgets on traditionally disadvantaged communities. Answers are scored according to a rubric developed alongside the equity assessment tool. In June 2018, the Equity Office released a report detailing the analysis of the first eight pilot budgets. City of Austin Equity Office Memorandum. Equity Assessment Tool Pilot Completion. 12 June 2018. This SWOT analysis was conducted by the Center for Placed-Based Initiatives (CPBI) at the University of Texas, one of the Equity Action Team’s members. During an update to the EAT at the July 2017 meeting, CPBI Director Lourdes Rodriguez explained that this analysis would provide a level of quality control for responses to the tool during its pilot phase. Equity Action Team meeting notes, 21 July 2018. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1M_5KD50DgeTlB7D9801rMRtaZ_D3-n9b CPBI’s analysis of the first eight departmental budgets identified diversity in hiring practices as the primary means by which departments are supporting racial equity. The report also outlines significant opportunities for improvement in advancing equity across the departments, making special note of data collection and management practices:
'Weaknesses in data collection pointed to the lack of a process to collect, aggregate, or analyze client data, including demographic information and client surveys, for input in, or to measure the effectiveness of, its programs and services. Only a few departments had data regarding the race and ethnicity of their contractors and consultants... Having disaggregated data by race and ethnicity is one of the essential first steps in advancing equity. Without segmented data to inform decision
Seventeen additional departments have been recruited by Equity Office staff for a second round of budget analysis.
In addition to developing and piloting the equity assessment tool on time, the Equity Office developed a supplemental tool, an equity analysis worksheet, to be applied to smaller budgets and projects. City of Austin Equity Office. Equity Analysis Worksheet,. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1116gCHup9ht1K_AonzcnilwPuwb1Fl5H The greater equity tool was designed for departmental budgets, but the smaller equity worksheet allows city staff to apply similar aims to specific projects and other initiatives. The Equity Office and the EAT also intend to adapt the worksheet to assess projects beyond departmental budgets.
Early results: did it open government?
Access to Information: No change
Civic Participation: Marginal
When this commitment was designed, city departments lacked a tool for measuring equitable outcomes of city programs and departmental budgets. Government and community leaders have since taken unprecedented steps to address the city’s economic segregation and institutional racism in local politics. The Equity Office’s Equity Action Team set out to develop and pilot the equity assessment tool by December 2017. This commitment was coded as having a transformative potential impact. The proposed assessment tool would be developed in direct collaboration with the Equity Action Team, a large coalition of civil society organizations and city staff that works to directly address longstanding racial disparities in Austin. The commitment was designed to add a previously nonexistent layer of public scrutiny to city decision-making. By providing an equity score for departmental budgets and programs, the proposed tool would offer the public a new utility for measuring the expected benefits of city initiatives on traditionally disadvantaged communities across Austin.
The IRM researcher did not find evidence that this commitment significantly increased access to information during the 2017 reporting period. The implementation of the commitment focused on the development of the tool and the identification of departments for an initial pilot. At the end of the reporting period (December 2017), the initial eight budgets assessed by the tool were being analyzed by the Center for Place-Based Initiatives, one of the many civil society organizations contributing to this commitment. The results of CPBI’s analysis and any future budget analysis have been made public and provide new information. However, the budgetary analysis was still underway when the reporting period ended. During the reporting period, the IRM researcher did not identify any changes in information quality or disclosure related to this commitment. Since the end of the reporting period, the Equity Office has published a series of reports on its public-facing website, including the results of its first round of budget analysis and a report detailing the equity analysis of a proposed land code reform effort.
The implementation phase of this commitment initiated unprecedented opportunities for civic participation in Austin and has the potential to continue creating transformational changes in the public decision-making process. The city government engaged the public directly in the development of the equity action tool, providing new opportunities for civil society to inform departmental decisions. The Equity Action Team meetings also provided a direct forum for civil society leaders to influence the tool’s criteria for measuring equitable outcomes. Additionally, the analysis performed by CPBI will provide direct feedback from civil society on the budgets of city departments. While the continued implementation of the tool may lead to more impactful opportunities for civic participation, the initial engagement of civil society during the first year of implementation created marginal changes in practice at City Hall. The implementation of equity-focused budgets remains voluntary, and many departments have not yet committed to analyzing their budgets through the lens of equity. City leaders can increase the impact of this commitment across the city’s administration by applying the equity tool to all city budgets. This could ensure that the voices represented by the Equity Action Team are considered in all budgetary decisions.
This commitment was coded as having a transformative potential impact due to its strong inclusion of civil society in the budgeting process. Austin has a well-documented history of economic segregation. This commitment proposed to upend that history by creating a mechanism for identifying inequitable budget outcomes before they could be realized. While this possibility could ultimately create major changes in the way budgets and projects are organized at City Hall, the IRM researcher found that, at the time of this report, the commitment had achieved an important change in the status quo, although still limited in scale. The equity tool had been applied to a small number of departmental budgets. The Equity Office continues to engage departments in piloting the tool. The equity assessment tool is a very promising resource that could still yield transformative results on open government and civic participation, but its success relies on continued support from city officials. City leaders should continue to expand the use of the equity tool across all city departments and adapt it so that future city initiatives are systematically analyzed to ensure equitable outcomes. By doing so, the City of Austin would encourage even greater impacts on openness and civic engagement in the decision-making process.
In 2017, Austin’s OGP team designed and piloted an equity assessment tool to introduce equitable budgeting processes for city departments. While this tool was piloted by a small number of city departments, the possibility for expanded engagement across city department is well within reach for the city. As Austin’s leaders move forward with open government initiatives and other projects, it is important to analyze the design and implementation of these future projects through the lens of equity. City departments should continue to work with the Equity Office to apply the current equity assessment tool, or a modified version thereof, to their project designs. This could simultaneously strengthen the tool through additional testing and ensure that Austin’s future open government activities are designed with an intentional focus on creating equitable outcomes. This aligns with the OGP principle of civic engagement.
Simultaneously, the equity assessment tool should be used to analyze those departmental budgets that were not a part of the initial pilot. The application of the equity tool should be made mandatory. If this is not possible, departments should be incentivized to use the tool.
Links to further evidence