It is hard to map out a strategy if you don't know where you're starting.
That's the central message of an "Equity Framework" report by six nonprofit community organizations. The report, commissioned by Metro as it develops its first agency-wide equity strategy, calls for a new way of approaching, understanding and tracking equity in the region.
On Friday, the committee overseeing the development of Metro's equity strategy sent Metro chief operating officer Martha Bennett a memo confirming its endorsement of most of the report's recommendations.
The authors of the report included staff from 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. The six organizations were selected and funded through a competitive process, and advised by Metro staff and Meg Merrick, coordinator of the Community Geography Project at Portland State University.
"Equity+5" framework proposed
Read the report
To seriously advance regional equity, the report's authors write, Metro must put equity at the center of its work. To that end, the report calls on Metro to reframe the six desired outcomes adopted by the Metro Council in 2010, so that equity is their core instead of a coequal goal.
This "Equity+5" arrangement would direct Metro to use a more intentional racial and economic justice lens to make policy decisions, focusing particularly on how policies impact or support communities that have historically experienced discrimination, exclusion or marginalization in the region.
But to understand those impacts, the report states, Metro needs a coordinated approach to tracking and measuring equity. The report recommends a group of 10 indicators – or data categories – each of which could have multiple kinds of data embedded in them. Included in the list are several that have obvious ties to Metro's regional work, including equity in public engagement, housing, transportation, health, environment and economic opportunity. Several others, including equity in culture, food, education and restorative justice, would appear to have more indirect links to Metro, but the report highlights numerous interactions between them and Metro policy and programs.
"Our history and our present are deeply entangled; we cannot begin to eliminate present and future disparities unless we understand the historical and social circumstances in which they are rooted," the report states.
Additionally, the report describes a long history of inequality and discrimination in the region and Oregon, often based on race, ethnicity, gender or income. "Our history and our present are deeply entangled; we cannot begin to eliminate present and future disparities unless we understand the historical and social circumstances in which they are rooted," the report states.
Read the memo
In its memo to Bennett, the Equity Strategy Advisory Committee expressed support for most of the report's core recommendations, including the 10-indicator and Equity+5 frameworks and the adoption of a racial and economic justice lens to guide Metro's work.
The committee agreed with the report's authors that even as an equity strategy and action plan is developed and implemented over a longer term, the agency should pursue several "'early wins' that [increase] its credibility and visibility to advance other more profound initiatives for the medium- and long-term."
One of those short-term wins, the so-called "Ban the Box" initiative to remove a potentially discriminatory criminal history question from Metro job applications, was approved unanimously by the Metro Council on March 12.
Related story: Metro Council unanimously supports banning "the box" from employment applications
Close collaboration urged
Despite supporting the report's primary conclusions, the committee took issue with some aspects.
They opposed a request for a "community-led audit" to evaluate how Metro programs and policies relate to the 10-indicator framework, instead calling for Metro staff to work with community-based organizations on an “in-depth ‘assessment’ of Metro’s policies, programs, services and authority”. They also expressed concern that some language in the report might emphasize victimization of historically underserved communities, instead of strength and resilience.
Metro took an unusual approach in having community groups author a report of this nature. ESAC and Metro equity program staff said it reflected a desire to create a collaborative approach to advancing equity in the region.
Although the report took longer to produce than was expected initially, ESAC chair Carl Talton said he believed the delay was worth it.
"The communities that we engaged through the report are clearly communities we want to focus on," Talton said. "It was entirely appropriate to have them set this initial foundational piece to move forward on the strategy."
Jared Franz, program director at OPAL and the report's lead writer, praised Metro's approach to the first report – but cautioned that the community expects close collaboration through the adoption and implementation of the equity strategy.
"It showed some courage for Metro to take a community-led approach to this work," Franz said. "The challenge is that the courage has to continue to the end of the process. Metro was right to put faith in community members and [community-based organizations] that they know what's best on the ground. [But it must] continue to trust their voices through the end of this process."
"It showed some courage for Metro to take a community-led approach to this work. The challenge is that the courage has to continue to the end of the process."
Talton emphasized that community engagement will be central to the equity strategy's development going forward, but said he envisions broader engagement as well. "When I say community to me it's an all-inclusive term and they all need to be engaged," he said.
More work will need to be done to create a "baseline" by which to measure equity using the 10 indicators recommended in the report. Although the report suggests multiple data sources for each indicator, its authors also note that "equity-related data in our region are frequently incomplete or non-existing." The report urges Metro to employ existing data sources like the Coalition for a Livable Future's Regional Equity Atlas but also invest in efforts to develop new data sources to track equity, a position ESAC supported in its memo.
The advisory committee's recommendations will be considered by Bennett before being used to inform the next phase of the process: developing a complete equity strategy that will cover all aspects of Metro policy making, programs, projects and venues. The final strategy and action plan could be adopted by early 2016.
Learn about Metro's Equity Strategy program