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Racial Equity in Public Policy

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Building your Policy Campaign

We have an opportunity to develop policies that create more equitable communities. This means policies should be developed by and with communities, spell out where implementation will be prioritized—geographically and demographically—to benefit the communities where the need is greatest, and be designed to address specific communities’ needs. This could mean that some interventions are implemented only in communities experiencing structural racism (or are funded at higher levels in those communities) and are not expanded to other communities until specified progress benchmarks are reached.

To do this, we need specific policy language that:

  • Addresses the root causes of inequities.

  • Focuses the policy to produce the greatest health benefit, prioritizing communities experiencing a history of structural racism.

  • Includes the communities intended to benefit from the proposed policy in shaping, implementing and assessing the policy impact.

  • Creates accountability: monitoring or evaluation that looks at measuring both the policy and equity impact.

Here are some prompts to use with your team and coalition:  

Determine which communities are most impacted by the issue

  • Partner with all of the communities most impacted (if you are not from/of the community) to understand the impact of policy, shape the policy solutions and collaborate on outreach to decision-makers. 
    • Do your homework. Is there a community group or leader already working on this issue? What are the opportunities to join them in the work they are already doing? Recognize you may be coming into their space/issue. Listen. Learn.  
    • It’s essential to work in and with communities, experiencing structural racism, to identify where to focus policy change, understand how to name groups, shape policy solutions, understand who can deliver what messages to which stakeholders, and other essential considerations. Engage in an authentic, meaningful way that respects people’s power to shape solutions, without tokenizing, exploiting or extracting their stories and knowledge. 
    • Community partners can help facilitate input, prepare people to participate, and learn from individuals’ lived experience. Deep listening should always be your first step to understand the challenges as the community sees them, and what policies or practices are desired.
  • Learn the history of the communities you are working with, including deeply rooted racial inequities that began decades before and have been carried forward into present day practices and policies. In order to change the future you must understand the past. Here’s a tool you can use.
  • Think about the benefits the policy will deliver. Where are those benefits missing or least evident today? How can you use data to make the case that policy benefits should be prioritized in these communities, and the policy needs to be designed to meet the needs of these communities first and foremost?
  • Consider this additional resource: Community engagement to advance health equity: Strategies and tips

Identify influencers in the community

  • It’s essential to work in and with the community. Who are the community leaders? What community based organizations are already engaged? Engage in an authentic, meaningful way that respects people’s power to shape solutions, without tokenizing, exploiting, or extracting their stories and knowledge. 
  • Think about all the leaders and influencers, formal and informal, within the community: decision-makers, grassroots/grasstops advocates, media, etc. 
    • How will you engage them? 
    • How will you make this a lasting relationship, not a one-time, transactional ask? What will you offer of benefit in return? 
    • What is the right role for each partner? Who leads which pieces of the strategy? Who shares what information with which audiences? 
  • Name three (or more) media outlets that have an audience primarily reflective of the priority populations in your campaign area.
  • Which elected officials represent your priority populations in various elected bodies?
  • Are there organizations/individuals in your coalition who have connections to or networks with these elected officials?

Shape the policy ask with your coalition/communities

  • How will you ensure the policy focuses on root causes? 
    • Does the policy address the underlying barriers that create inequities in opportunities and resources (social/structural determinants, such as education, economics, environment) needed to live healthier lives?
    • Does it create any new unintended inequities? 
  • What guidelines should be built into the policy to specify where and how it should be implemented first? 
    • Does it prioritize action in communities experiencing a history of structural racism? 
    • How will your policy change reduce racial inequities (e.g., in health, education, housing, income), if successful? 
    • How will the policy details and implementation meet the needs of communities experiencing structural racism? 
  • What accountability is built into the policy? 
    • Is there monitoring or evaluation that looks at measuring both (a) change in outcomes among the priority population; and (b) the size of racial health disparities over time—in absolute and relative terms? 
    • What are the evaluation and reporting requirements? Consider provisions for a racial equity council, data sharing back to the community, and other transparency and accountability measures. 
  • What is the specific language you are asking to embed in the bill to define how the policy must be implemented?

Gather the information you need to show your decision-maker

  • Assess how your decision-makers understand and discuss racial equity based on their comments and actions. 
  • Identify policies that uphold structural oppression in your area and think about how to describe those policies and their impact.
  • Work with your coalition and the community to determine the best spokespeople for meetings and outreach to decision-makers. This Pathways of Influence worksheet can help. 

After passage, ensure accountability during implementation

  • Is the policy implemented as intended? Who benefits? Is there an unintended impact?
  • What follow-up do you need to plan for? How will you work with your coalition and community going forward? 
  • Is this a model for other policies? 
  • What more is to be done to tackle the issue? What is the next piece of work?

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