Improving Equity in Government Programs and Services

Government programs and services impact the everyday experiences of residents in a community and have the potential to significantly benefit or burden different groups. It’s important for government agencies at all levels to serve residents equitably.

The federal government describes equity as the consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair and impartial manner, including individuals who belong to communities who often have been denied such treatment. Conducting an equity assessment can be a useful tool for governments to support equitable service delivery.

What Is an Equity Assessment?

An equity assessment is an important tool that can help government agencies identify inequities in their services and programs. There are several benefits of equity assessments in government, including:

  • Providing a baseline for understanding equity in public programs and services
  • Identifying inequitable policies, practices, procedures, and outcomes
  • Uncovering if programs and services are excluding certain groups or inadvertently creating inequities
  • Developing meaningful action plans for addressing identified equity issues

Completing an equity assessment can be a complex and nuanced process, but there are several key steps that can make an equity assessment successful, including determining a well-defined scope, assessing current practices, developing an action plan, and continuously monitoring progress.

How Should Equity Assessments Be Scoped?

Equity assessment can be broad or narrow, covering an entire government agency or a specific department or function. To determine what will be useful in your organization, consider your current priorities and to what extent your organization already understands equity challenges that may exist.

For example, if you’re interested in an organization-wide view to help pinpoint future areas of focus, a high-level enterprise equity assessment might be best. This type of equity assessment assesses all of your existing programs and services and identifies opportunities for improvement. These opportunities to increase equitable service access and delivery should be prioritized and addressed according to your specific community demographics and needs.

If you’re already aware of a potential equity concern, you may benefit from a more targeted assessment to identify inequities in an existing program, service, or function. For example, if you’re aware of investments in your community typically benefitting or burdening one community group over another, an equity assessment to identify opportunities to create more equity in your budgeting process might be the most useful.

Defining and agreeing on the scope of your equity assessment is the first key to success.

How Should Practices Be Assessed?

Conducting an equity assessment requires comprehensively assessing current practices and identifying gaps within your scope. While there are many methodologies that can be used to effectively conduct an equity assessment, it’s important to ask and investigate a variety of questions and topics that comprehensively address the identified scope. Here are some areas for consideration:

Data Availability

What sort of data and information has already been collected and made available about the organization, department, or program being assessed? Existing data can provide valuable information to consider when conducting the equity assessment.

The absence of equity-related data can be a signal that improvements are needed. Some examples of equity-related data that might be valuable include data on the following:

  • Employee demographics to help understand how that may impact your services
  • Demographic makeup of program participants
  • Resident satisfaction or service provision disaggregated by key demographic characteristics

Ultimately, your organization’s purpose will determine what sort of equity-related data is or should be available.

Equity Plans

What sorts of plans does your organization, department, or program have that relate to equity or have equity-related goals? For example, does your strategic plan include goals relating to equity or do you have an equity-related strategic plan? This can give you a starting point for how your organization conceptualizes equity to help you pinpoint focus areas.

Equity Outcomes

What equity-related outcomes exist in the organization, department, or program being assessed? Evaluating progress toward equity-related outcomes is an important way to understand the impact of your efforts on different community groups. Similar to data, the absence of equity-related outcomes can be an important signal that the organization’s focus on equity should be strengthened.

Equity Investments

It’s important to consider how much of the organization’s budget is allocated toward inclusions designed to further diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This can include both internally focused initiatives to improve your staff’s understanding of DEI in the community and how to equitably serve residents, such as training opportunities and strategic efforts to increase staff diversity

This can also include externally focused initiatives to improve the equitability of your services, such as translating documents to other language or engagement opportunities for marginalized communities. By specifically investing in equity, your organization, program, or service is more likely to have an impact in operationalizing changes that support equity.

Equity Strategies

What are your strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and opportunities for improving equity? Examples of what this evaluation includes are listed below.

Potential Strengths
  • Your organization has identified the languages most often spoken by English language learners in your community and is translating documents into these languages consistently.
  • Your organization has defined strategies to help support equitable practices that don’t adversely impact communities of color.
  • Your organization has collected and analyzed data on community outcomes disaggregated by racial and community groups.
Potential Weaknesses
  • Your leadership team isn’t meaningfully engaged in DEI initiatives.
  • Your organization doesn’t consistently engage with the community, including marginalized communities.
  • Your organization hasn’t translated intentions to improve equity into tangible strategies.

Understanding what’s working and what opportunities for improvement exist is an effective way to understand equity-related gaps.

Engagement with Stakeholders

Engaging with stakeholders can be one of the most effective ways to understand how equitable your services are. However, there are several considerations to keep in mind.

  • Meaningful engagement. Consider how to meaningfully engage a group of stakeholders who represent the various groups in your community. Without diverse representation, you risk further perpetuating inequities by continuing to adjust programs or services based on the voices of a few.
    It's also important to consider timeliness for collecting feedback, so it can be used in developing your results but not so early that you don’t have a full grasp on meaningful questions to ask.
  • Free labor. It’s also important to not use free labor excessively. For example, don’t add excessive work for people of color involved in assessment efforts without appropriately compensating them, whether they’re internal staff or community members.

How Can You Assess Equity to Improve Services?

Equity assessments should never be performative. The information identified should be used to improve services and programs, by developing a plan and monitoring progress consistently.

Developing an Action Plan

An action plan outlines the specific, actionable steps you’ll take to improve identified gaps, and the outcomes you expect to achieve as a result of completing them. An action plan should include clearly assigned responsibility for specific actions, set timelines, and goals.

Monitoring Progress

For meaningful progress, your action plan should be regularly monitored and updated, including both taking action and progressing toward expected outcomes. Actions and outcomes may need to be revised over time as your needs and environment evolve.

We’re Here to Help

For information on equity assessment in the public sector, or if you have questions about assessing Inclusion & Diversity within Government Services, please contact your Moss Adams professional.

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