Metro should build and evaluate a long-range regional equity strategy on a foundation of 10 indicators covering a wide range of social and economic well-being, chief operating officer Martha Bennett recommended last week. Bennett also added a new element intended to result in more short-term advances in regional equity: creating an action plan to prioritize equity in work Metro is already doing.
Bennett's recommendation advances the main conclusion of an Equity Framework report authored by six community and equity advocacy organizations. Most of the recommendations in the report, released in January, were endorsed by the Equity Strategy Advisory Committee last month.
The 10 indicators include several with obvious ties to Metro's programs and policies, such as equity in public engagement, housing, transportation, health, environment and economic opportunity. Several others, including equity in culture, food, education and restorative justice, have more indirect links to Metro.
Bennett's recommendation recognizes that all 10 indicators are interrelated, but directs that work on the Equity Strategy and Action Plan prioritize those most closely connected to Metro's work while also engaging the community and governmental partners on a broader regional conversation.
Bennett endorsed an approach that focuses on improving outcomes for communities of color and low-income residents of the region, who have disproportionately experienced unequal outcomes in the past. She also directed staff to develop tools to analyze decisions and track progress over the years ahead.
All of this work will require continued engagement with a broad array of community organizations, business leaders, government partners and other stakeholders, Bennett's recommendation emphasizes. "We know that there's going to be a lot of interest, because we have many stakeholders in those strategic areas," Bennett said in an interview last week.
Bennett praised the six community organizations that authored the framework report, including Adelante Mujeres, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, the Center for Intercultural Organizing, the Coalition for a Livable Future, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and the Urban League of Portland.
"It's been a really healthy process," Bennett said. "The Equity Framework report flipped things on their head a little in terms of making us think about what people in the region need, as opposed to what Metro needs to do as an agency."
Bennett did not advance one recommendation from the organizations, however: a proposed reframing of Metro's six desired outcomes, which were adopted by the Metro Council in 2010. The outcomes include equity as a coequal goal alongside things like "clean air and water," "safe and reliable transportation choices" and a "strong economy."
The community organizations had proposed reprioritizing the desired outcomes with equity at the center, arguing that better regional equity is inextricably linked to the other goals. The Equity Strategy Advisory Committee agreed with this approach, which the Framework Report called "Equity+5".
Bennett refrained from explicitly recommending "Equity+5", however, saying that the six outcomes had been adopted through an extensive, collaborative process with local governments and stakeholders throughout the region. Instead, she directed Metro’s equity program to work on an approach to better incorporate equity into the definition of the existing outcomes.
"These six desired outcomes are not just Metro's. They're a product of a collaborative process," Bennett said.
Metro Councilor Sam Chase, who has been closely involved in Metro's equity efforts, said he was pleased with the work thus far, because it lays the groundwork for meaningful actions ahead. "The most important thing to me is to make sure we have a product that is going to improve people's lives," he said.
"Engaging the community in the first phase has built a strong foundation to move forward," Chase added.
He said he was pleased the community organizations' recommendations had not just included long-term strategy and evaluation, but also short-term actions Metro could take to improve equity in the region. One of these, a so-called "Ban the Box" policy to omit potentially discriminatory criminal history questions in Metro job applications, was unanimously adopted by the Metro Council in March. Bennett said the equity framework report helped accelerate that decision.
Work on the Equity Strategy began in 2011 at the behest of the Metro Council. Staff first performed an inventory of how Metro programs and services affect equity now, which resulted in the recognition of a need to develop a coordinated strategy across the agency.
Equity program staff expect to release a draft Equity Strategy and Action Plan for public comment this fall, and hope to have a final version before the Metro Council in February 2016, program manager Juan Carlos Ocaña-Chíu said.
Learn more about Metro's work to advance regional equity