Four Compelling Reasons to Use Racial Equity Impact Assessments for Policy Decisions

Posted August 31, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Tools for Thought: Using Racial Equity Impact Assessments for Effective Policymaking, the third installment of the Race for Results case study series, highlights the use and effectiveness of Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) tools, and gives leaders and advocates a tangible mechanism to craft race-conscious legislation and policies.

REIA tools are instruments that use data about race to project the impact of decisions on different populations. They are designed to help decision-makers understand the unique perspectives and needs of various populations in order to find solutions that are beneficial for all.

The city of Seattle used REIA tools to explore the question of streetlight outages in communities of color, and subsequently redesigned its entire streetlight replacement system to better serve these communities and save money in the process. In Minneapolis, the school board used an REIA tool to determine the potential impact of various restructuring plans, and learned that some would have unintended — yet dire — consequences on Somali and Native American neighborhoods.

When decision makers use racial equity impact assessments to inform their policies, they take advantage of four distinct benefits:

  • An REIA tool helps keep the focus of the decision on data and facts, rather than assumptions or ingrained beliefs. For example, a city councilwoman may assume that a community of color would support the closing of a dilapidated community center in exchange for a brand-new building less than a mile away, but in reality the community may prefer renovation rather than a move. 
  • REIA tools provide a systematic way to engage the opinions and voices of those who will be affected by the decision, increasing understanding and buy-in for the new policy. The councilwoman could use the questions incorporated in an REIA tool to engage in conversations with community leaders or residents through surveys, a meeting, or through one-on-one conversations.
  • REIA tools can shed light on the unintended consequences of policy decisions before those decisions are made. Through the REIA tool the councilwoman might learn that those within the affected community would not have adequate transportation to the proposed community center site.
  • REIA tools can provide a wider range of options for policy choices — options that may never have emerged otherwise. The councilwoman now can consider transportation as part of the decision and include renovating the existing site, building a new center closer to the community, incorporating a transportation plan or other creative solutions.

In many cases, preventing inequity is more cost effective than repairing an inequitable system. Quality early learning for a low-income child is much more cost effective than providing remediation services once that child drops out of high school.

But, perhaps, more importantly, using an REIA tool to inform policy decisions means that policymakers and government employees are embracing a commonly held value of racial equity. When that value is manifest, quality of life improves for everyone.

Read or download Tools for Thought

This post is related to: