Introduction

Here in the second installment of the series, we focus on the first of three angles in which to understand social equity issues in the community benefit and school sectors (i.e. the second and third angles are described in the introductory blog post). Principally, we engage the derailment of program outcomes by systemic social equity issues in the community and society — how derailment shows-up in program data and strategies for transformation. We must first bridge the topics of social equity issues in programming and the orientation of programs who accomplish impact. Those community and school programs that are strategically focused on making impact in the community engaged social equity issues explicitly.

In the introduction of this series, we made the case that the impact of programs on the community comes into direct confrontation with social equity issues. Let’s first clarify what is meant by “impact.” Impact in programming occurs when there are three orientations. Many many organizations are proficient in the delivery of their missions and services, but “impact” — or how organizations shift the community and society — is reserved for organizations that frame their programming in these three ways, simultaneously:

Three Orientations that Frame “Impact”

  • The program directly benefits the lives of a target population (e.g. new skills, information, opportunities afforded to the population, etc.)
  • The program alumni demonstrate long-term benefit from participation in the programs (e.g. navigating unknowns and social equity issues while utilizing the new skills and information, households gain indirectly from the programming, etc.)
  • The organization values and utilizes assessment and evaluation to gain greater understanding and to articulate the following: a.) Social equity issues interfere with the outcomes of programming; b.) Social equity issues interfere with the benefits received by program participants and alumni; c.) Engagement with social equity issues via assessment data informs feedback-loops for the on-going redesign of programs and strategic partnerships in the sector

The Old Lens

When we analyze program data, the first quantitative data points that are commonly considered are a.) who is receiving services and b.) how much is being received. This common approach is frequently the totality of data practices, and represents two popular misconceptions in thinking about community and school programming.

The first misconception is that if populations are receiving program services, then the sheer fact of delivery implies success, if vaguely, for someone. For example, teen parents are an obvious population whose life trajectories (and those of their children) benefit from tailored programming. The popular inclination is to assume that getting any amount of programming to teen parents is a win.

The second misconception is that supposedly successful programs are those that collect data points on how, what, where, when and why for the delivered programs. This type of data is assumed to show that the program is a win for the population and is used to tell such a story.

The Social Equity Lens

The misconceptions about community and school programming described in the “Old Lens” assumes that programs are delivered in isolation from the context of community and society and separate from the biases birthed and embedded throughout institutions and social systems.

Data collection and analysis through the social equity lens brings into focus the often unexamined underlying tenets around community programing. That is, community and school programs are designed to meet needs that originate from the biases embed in our institutions and social systems.

While serving populations in need is an emergency, organizations need to think beyond delivering programing, and more on the intersection between meeting a need through a program and actively engaging the aligning social equity issues. Below are five staple questions to ask before, during, and after program outcome data collection. The five questions below will guide the type of data collected, the methods for analyzing the data, and the uses of the results. An accompanying table can assist your organization in considering how to relate your current data practices and the five guiding questions.

  • How does the current program design support program participants and later program alumni to navigate the social structures with obvious social equity biases, while utilizing the new skills, information, opportunities, etc. gained from the program?
  • Which social structures with obvious social equity biases are the most difficult for the target population of the program to engage?
  • How are these structures and biases interrupting program outcomes?
  • In what ways can the program be redesigned to tackle the influence of the social equity issues in the lives of program alumni?
  • Which types of strategic partnerships in the sector are needed in order to effectively address the social equity issues, making a climate where the programming can be increasingly effective?

Key Message

We encourage a fundamental shift in the responsibility that organizations take-on in the delivery and assessment of their programs. Programs need to cultivate a social equity lens (publicly or privately) to effectively inform the substance and impact of their work. Recall the three-part definition of “impact,” we repost it here, again:

  • The program directly benefits the lives of a target population (e.g. new skills, information, opportunities afforded to the population, etc.)
  • The program alumni demonstrate long-term benefit from participation in the programs (e.g. navigating unknowns and social equity issues while utilizing the new skills and information, households gain indirectly from the programming, etc.)
  • The organization values and utilizes assessment and evaluation to gain greater understanding and to articulate the following:  a.) Social equity issues interfere with the outcomes of programming; b.) Social equity issues interfere with the benefits received by program participants and alumni; c.) Engage social equity issues with assessment data to inform feedback-loops for the on-going redesign of programs and strategic partnerships in the sector

Epilogue

We have several underlying assumptions embedded within this blog post. We list them here.

  1. Individuals and groups use some type of logic to navigate their context.
  2. Structural and social biases are important and impact all social contexts.
  3. Individuals and groups are resilient no matter the structural and social biases.

Attachments: ASBA_SocEquity_DataTableTool
Published on January 13, 2015