Mark Reardon, PhD
Policy Studies, Methodology Advisor
Program Evaluation & Research Design
Clemson, Rutgers, UNC
Seattle, WA 98126 USA
It is getting harder to run a constitution than to frame one.
- Woodrow Wilson
... in public administration I insist that we engage with the problem of inequality, that we dirty our hands with inequality, that we be outraged, passionate, and determined. In short, I insist that we actually apply social equity in public administration
- H. George Frederickson
Conceptual Clarity of Goals, Problems, Concerns, Etc.
In equity and inclusion considerations, an integral, yet often overlooked aspect is the task of concept clarity. Not to be confused with the development of an operational definition, the entity wishing to utilize diversity, inclusivity, and inclusion based approaches must first define the problem set to be addressed. While some argue for conceptual clarity pertaining to the precise nature of an “inclusion effort” prior to a statement of the problem-set to be addressed, it is my contention the problem-set must be clearly defined prior to the application of any DVI initiative, as often clarification of an issue/problem often requires inter/intra-governmental collaboration to comprehensively address the issue - and thus if a clear division of labor is needed (how much of this issue can be addressed through learning initiatives versus the need for immediate consideration given to disenfranchised populations? Will this effort require policy change, improved policy implementation, or policy amendments?) across agencies to address a DVI issue, it can be identified and addressed in the planning stages, rather than implementing the required program and addressing performance or governance gaps in a retroactive fashion.
As a policy scholar, I am confident the institutional foundations and administration/implementation of our federal system of governance is a strategically designed system of slow-moving processes with good reason. As the delegation of social service provision has moved to state-level political entities, states have become “laboratories of democracy,” put forth in the tenth amendment of our U.S. Constitution. As we search for effective methods to ensure EDI representation while understanding its unique policy concerns, we should seek methods to effectively and efficiently implement change regarding EDI when prepared with data and research calling for revision, change, or new policy formation. Such is the role of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Analyst in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The Officer has a unique mixture of responsibility, that of a social responsibility to the polity he serves, and a professional responsibility to those the officer works with (and the system the officer works within). Thus the role of an EDI analyst must be begin with a conceptual clarity of the institutions, organizations, and stakeholders involved, while maintaining an objective approach to data collection and problem definition techniques and procedures.
Defining Equity, Diversity, Inclusion
A key stage in developing EDI initiatives is the understanding of the concepts, “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity” with respect to the organization employing the terminology. Understanding the history and progression of the terminology within social equity movements can assist the researcher in determining the goals of the organization and the extent to which EDI success is desired. While not always a clear indication of commitment by the organization to EDI success, an understanding of how EDI is defined can present an indication of desired results. With respect to government agencies, developing a mutual and organization-wide acceptance of precisely what EDI is, and what those who work under its headings desire to achieve. Simply put, the term “diversity” has been used to describe a variety of both economic and social equity initiatives, historically based on measures ethnicity, sex, and socio-economic status. Its use in policy has altered the effectiveness of the term to prompt the birth of “inclusion,” to draw a distinction between using quotas and discriminatory hiring practices to meet “goals of diversity,” such as an equal staffing of males and females or representative staffing of constituent groups in the population served, and those measures that seek to instill a philosophy of acceptance and cultivation of the benefits derived from diverse contributions to form comprehensive and robust policy measures. In my opinion, “diversity” has lost its effectiveness due to its own ambiguity when implemented, and today represents and antiquated philosophy of simply “meeting requirements,” whereas its successor, “inclusion,” represents the cultivation of an environment where all feel valued, integral to success, and traditional “diversity” is sought after only as a starting point to then develop positive associations with increasing viewpoints from various cultural paradigms as an effective method to form “comprehensive” public policy that does not sacrifice the satisfaction of some for the benefit of others due to an underrepresentation of stakeholders’ interests.
Given a basic understanding of the terminology used, the researcher can use this baseline understanding to develop operational definitions of “EDI goals they wish to achieve. This operationalization will be discussed in the following section, “Framing EDI Efforts.”
For a discussion on the history of “social equity” and its development in scientific studies of public administration and political/policy science, please see the section entitled, “Social Equity & Administration.”
Social Equity + Administration
The measurement associated methods employed are determined by the definition of EDI and the expressed direction of EDI efforts, previously discussed above. In reflection of this, the term “social equity” has long received attention in field of public administration, as scholars have argued the implementation of public policy often differs from the lofty language used in policy formation, presenting the act of policy administration as one that should be characterized by equitable methodology. As a student and recipient of a Masters in Public Administration, the concepts of “fair, just, and equitable” policy and administration characterize what is often called “good policy.” The ambiguity of social equity remains however, as these attributes are used to describe the policy itself and not the reality of its implementation, nor does this acknowledge the importance that should be given to the administering of policy. As stated by Woodrow Wilson, “the administration of policy has become more difficult than its framing.”
Thus the distinction between policy language and policy administration cannot be understated, as it has been ignored for over a century as its own scholarly pursuit, often merged with political science or public policy, rather than stressed in public administration courses. To begin the measurement of EDI, it must have an operational definition for the purpose of the project. With respect to social equity, scholars turn to the 2000 National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and build upon the following:
“The fair, just and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract; and the fair and equitable distribution of public services, and implementation of public policy; and the commitment to promote fairness, justice, and equity in the formation of public policy.” Scholars such as Svara & Brunet (2004) have characterized this definition as as “skeletal pillar,” that needs more solid definitions and measures. Adding to this definition, Svara and Brunet add the following commitments: procedural fairness - “provide due process, equal protection, and equal rights to all persons regardless of their personal circumstances.” Distribution of Access - “Services and benefits should be distributed equally or in such a way that those who are less advantaged receive greater benefits.” Quality - “Ensure that there is consistency in the quality of services and benefits delivered to all groups of people.” Outcomes - “Seek to achieve an equal level of accomplishment or outcomes in the social and economic conditions for all individuals and seek to eliminate differences in outcomes for groups.” Related Responsibilities - “Guarantee all a place at the table so they can express their own views about public policy choices and service delivery (Svara & Brunet, 2004, pp.256-7).”
Framing EDI Efforts
When initially addressing an EDI project, another integral yet often overlooked stage of the process is that of operationalizing EDI such that it can be measured. This however is often easier done using existing metrics than the second framing task, that of framing the scope of the issue at hand. As a researcher I have years of experience with large datasets and research for policy initiatives. When researching EDI projects, the scope of the project is often ambiguous initially and must be redefined in a more palatable manner. An example of this is the often lofty language of public organizations expressed in desires to, “increase cultural and diversity understanding in agency operations.” Using this example, the process of operationalizing EDI initiatives begins with the defining of its scope and scalability. In public agencies, this often takes the form of a two-pronged approach; inclusion initiatives are used for internal progress among a workforce, while also used to engage the community the workforce serves to facilitate a more transparent approach to EDI such that the public can grasp, follow, contribute, and critique EDI initiatives during the planning, implementation, and feedback stages of such a project.
In my opinion the stage of consideration for EDI projects is often the most important as it lays a foundation for future action and understanding of EDI within the organization and those its serves. In the case of public agencies, a unique challenge presents itself - to educate those at various levels of educational, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds both within a public agency and outside the agency with respect to the constituents it serves. While internal EDI efforts can be drafted using existing projects and methods published by various EDI organizations, the ability to accurately and effectively demonstrate this progress is often obfuscated for the general public. Thus as important as internal efforts to improve EDI may be for organizational success, in the case of a public service organization, the public’s understanding of these initiatives may very well pace and/or characterize the relationship between the polity and the agency, a delicate and most important relationship to cultivate when addressing the needs of the underserved, as problem definitions must reflect public contributions and thus a trust that public opinion is considered by the agency.
My talent lies in the understanding of this symbiotic relationship between the government and its constituents, the policies that amplify or distort EDI messages, and the projects, programs, and methodologies associated with EDI measurement. While many statisticians are able to handle large datasets, EDI initiatives require a degree of human interaction and cultivation of trust that cannot be done through computational analyses alone. The community must FEEL their concerns are being heard, considered in policy formation, and reflected in the agencies understanding of those it serves. As this community continuously changes to do economic and social dynamics, a trust must exist that the agency can accurately assess such changes and respond to them, both in a preventative manner through accurate representation of ideas prior to policy or initiative formation, and in a retroactive manner during and after implementation.
In short, an expert is needed to design the policy such that it reflects an understating of EDI and the methods of composing a comprehensive plan of action, and who is capable of engaging community leaders and populations to issue feedback and input to improve EDI efforts. This person must have a deep understanding of policy institutions and the policymaking process as well as a tremendous set of “people-skills” to establish a working relationship both within the agency and within the community, being careful balance the interests of both. This requires “ground-work,” including the cultivation of stakeholder and community needs mappings, and community engagement meetings, public grievance sessions, and the ability to listen to the needs of a community and translate those needs into policy initiatives.
EDI planning can be defined as the policies, programs, and procedures undertaken to address EDI concerns. This definition overlooks the important step of performing an initial assessment to establish a baseline index for comparison, a topic to be discussed first in EDI planning. Once tasked with a EDI directive, the analyst must determine the “current state” in which operations are to be conducted. To do this I have traditionally employed a two-pronged approach to bolster the validity of my initial assessment. The first step is a simple meeting with internal stakeholders and program directors to clarify the EDI request, tying into the previous section of conceptual clarity. This first designed assessment, specific to the project, includes general questions specifically designed to invoke discussion among internal employees. Most often, these questions are as simple (and intentionally loaded) as follows, “Describe the current state of EDI in your organization with respect to your desired results.” While the question is straightforward, the answer provides context to the request for the researcher, a method often underutilized. An answer of quotas, staffing percentages, and “needs” for a reflection of diversity can often help the researcher understand the current state of EDI knowledge within the organization. It also offers the researcher the opportunity to potentially identify “knowledge gaps” that may exist in the legislative language used to guide a program, policy, or initiative, between those charged with crafting the policy and those effected by the policy, or those crafting the policy and those lower-level employees that are charged with implementing the policy and observing EDI deficiencies. Simply put, the answer of one “group,” however categorized, may differ from that of another, which may both potentially differ from reality.
This is why a second approach to EDI status is needed prior to initiative planning. An effective researcher should clarify the community or group of concern, and collect data to form a second baseline using this reflection of EDI status. Using survey and interview methods, popular reporting tools linked to social media, and engaging the community or stakeholders using techniques such as community or town-hall meetings can provide the researcher with a holistic understanding of the current EDI status, and may potentially indicate additional needs if large gaps exist between perspectives, indicating a lack of transparency and public connection. This is where the researcher needs a skill-set not taught in mathematics, that of people-skills, a skill-set I have developed surveying populations in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Cuba, Camden, NJ, and NYC using a variety of languages and techniques to gain accurate representations of popular sentiment, particularly when it is difficult to extract due to privacy concerns, cultural barriers, or language obstacles.
It should be noted this section has addressed only a few of the concerns that should be considered prior to forming a plan of action regarding EDI efforts. A more comprehensive plan is certainly required and will be covered in the future. This page serves as a sample to note the importance of planning prior to policy formation.
The measurement associated methods employed are determined by the definition of EDI and the expressed direction of EDI efforts, previously discussed above. The difficulties and historical progress of the term “social equity” has also been touched upon. Therefore this section will refer to specific measures of EDI rather than the difficulties in first defining the terms, much less operationalizing them. An excellent starting point is the 2011 paper entitled, “Can We Achieve Equity for Social Equity in Public Administration?” in the Journal of Public Affairs Education, written by Kristen Norman-Major. In this discussion of the “four pillars of public administration,” Norman-Major focuses on the expanded use of cost-benefit analysis to find the most efficient policy or those that get the most value from the resources at hand. This method focuses on the social return on investment, and requires the consideration of broader payoffs to society as featured in Kaldor-Hicks criterion (working from Pareto efficiency models), which considers WTP and WTC (willingness to pay, compensate).
Norman-Major cites Vining and Weimer when identifying basic steps for conducting a CBA:
1. Specifying a complete set of possible policy alternatives including the status quo
2. Determining whose costs and benefits should be counted in the analysis
3. Cataloging all the possible impacts of the alternatives
4. Projecting the impacts over time
5. Applying a value to the impacts or monetizing them
6. Converting the determined costs and benefits to present values
7. Computing net present values
8. Performing sensitivity analysis
9. Identifying the most efficient choice (Weimer & Vining, 2009).
A second interesting source for equity, diversity, and equality indicators can be found in the recently published 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically the “Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals - Launching a Data Revolution.” Indicators are specified with respect to the “goal” they are to measure. Regarding EDI subject matter, the following can be found in the new SDG Goal 10, to, “Reduce inequality within and among countries.” These indicators include:
- Income distribution indicator: GNI share of richest 10% (Palma Ratio)
Source: Household surveys
- Percentages with households with incomes below 50% of median income “relative poverty”
Source: Administrative data and surveys
- Gini Coefficient (measures deviation of income distribution from perfectly equal distribution)
- Income/wage persistence - measures intergenerational socioeconomic mobility
- Human Mobility Governance Index - ability to safely migrate
- Measurements of aid distribution to LDCs (Least Developed Countries)
- Indictors to measure representation of LDCs on boards of international governance
- Remittance transfer costs
EDI Project Design
As the process of outlining a research design, collecting data, and analyzing data produces findings, the resulting conclusions should be adequately reflected in the EDI initiative design.
It is important at this point in the process to discuss findings with relevant stakeholders, particularly those to be impacted by forthcoming initiatives/programs. With respect to multiple stakeholders of various community involvement and stature, a transparent and open discussion of how data results are incorporated into a program should be discussed with a variety of stakeholders. The reasoning for this brings the conversation back to defining “inclusivity.” As one wishes to create an environment where differing opinions are valued, expected, and cultivated, the methods used to constitute programs of EDI should come from a variety of perspectives, as methodology may vary in terms of effectiveness with respect to differing cultures. As comprehensive as the process of forming an accepted organizational definition of EDI is, it should be equally so when formulating a plan of action. It should be understood that various groups or individuals find differing methods to have various degrees of effectiveness, and thus EDI program implementation should account for the diverse population it seeks to encapsulate.
EDI Feedback Mechanisms
Perhaps the greatest overlooked portion of the policymaking process takes place after policy implementation. The period in which an evaluator should assess the crafted program, particularly with respect to EDI initiatives, does not end once the program is “rolled-out.” Instead a second period of data collection should occur, typically in a less formal manner, to assess the impact of the program; its weaknesses, its strengths, the concerns of those who encounter it, immediate “fixes” needed for effective implementation, etc. As differing groups and subsets of groups interact with the EDI initiative, each should have an anonymous feedback mechanism accessible to them to issue direct feedback. Above all else, this feedback should be valued and incorporated into future changes. If given the impression feedback is ignored, the EDI initiative has surely failed in its objectives. Instead community or constituent feedback should be reflected to the public such that the public feels its voice heard and sees its comments or directions incorporated into the actions of those working on their behalf. A failure to go above and beyond to establish this connection between those crafting EDI policy/initiatives and those served by the organization results in the discontent with government policymaking seen today. Because of this, I can think of no greater concerns in the process of EDI initiative development more often overlooked than those of establishing transparency within operations and accountability for those implementing or administering governance, including accountability for those that fail to collaborate with the public and value its opinion when crafting the very policies that effect them most.