When it comes to the quest for an equitable distribution of services across states and localities and the diversity and inclusion of their workforces, the specifics of the challenge vary from place to place. But a common theme emerged: In order to truly understand the problems that need to be solved, leaders need to have the necessary data in hand.
Studying city, county, and state data informs leaders not only about how taxpayer dollars are spent, but also how they are raised and invested in neighborhoods. It is also necessary to determine whether government employees, senior officials, board members and suppliers reflect the demographic makeup of the entity and are fairly compensated.
The data allows us to better understand how the city and the community as a whole can contribute to the sense of belonging of residents and employees.
– Farris Muhammad, Director of Equity and Inclusion
The first step, of course, is to determine where the inequalities lie. In Akron, Ohio, for example, a government procurement report was released in June 2020 which found that only 5% of the money spent on municipal contracts in 2019 went to minority-owned businesses, although that 30% of its population is black.
Such findings have limited power unless they trigger action. Akron’s discovery led to the creation of a new position to work on contract compliance and supplier diversity, with Sheena Fain, an entrepreneur with substantial private sector experience, taking the position in March 2021.
To locate potential new suppliers, it created minority business lists. With the help of several private companies, she then organized courses to provide information on competing for city contracts and how to go about getting certified as a potential minority contractor. A new vendor management system was installed, creating a more open and transparent tendering process.
Many cities and counties have similar stories to tell with data pushing governments to incorporate new equity goals into strategic plans and introduce new tactics to remove past barriers. In Dubuque, Iowa, for example, an analysis of demographics of student enrollment in high school AP courses found a disproportionate number of black students taking AP courses.
In Iowa, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque hosted an annual “data walk” to provide a central point where residents, community groups, government employees, nonprofits, and other interested parties could review and discuss key data points on different topics. Topics in 2021 and 2020 included employment and equity and racial equity.
Another promising tool was recently introduced through a partnership between the government’s Race Alliance and a software company specializing in geographic information system software, location intelligence and mapping. The new Social Equity Analysis Tool provides a geospatial mapping approach that can be used to visualize areas of interest, assess community-level impact, and guide government decision-making. It will enable governments to use an intersectional lens to identify patterns of needs and opportunities to improve equity through an examination of geography, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and other areas of interest.
As OpenGov Asia reports, the judiciary, banks, and private companies use algorithms to make decisions that have profound implications for people’s lives. Unfortunately, these algorithms are sometimes skewed – disproportionately affecting people of color as well as people from lower-income classes when applying for loans or jobs, or even when the courts decide what bail should be set while a no one is awaiting trial.
American researchers have developed a new artificial intelligence (AI) programming language that can assess the fairness of algorithms more accurately and faster than available alternatives. Their Sum-Product Probabilistic Language (SPPL) is a probabilistic programming system.