How data can help drive equity
Q: What is so important about establishing community indicators?
A: Well, this emerged out of internal efforts to develop a strategic plan for the Minneapolis Foundation to join with others to strengthen the community for all residents. We wanted to have a baseline to know how we’re doing and we wanted it to be data driven.
Our challenge is that we are one player among many players trying to move the needle on equity. The OneMinneapolis report shows the gaps across various issue areas. We’ve developed all these separate indicators, but taken together we can look at how we are doing using an equity framework. This shifts the conversation to ask the question, “How can we help make a more equitable society and how can we measure progress?”
We also wanted the general public to understand the impacts if we don’t have equity across all sectors. And, we wanted to present our board with a larger framework to our work.
Q: Were there any surprising changes, good or bad, between the 2011 and the 2012 One Minneapolis report?
A: We saw some changes that were positive, as well as some changes that we didn’t like to see. There were good areas of changes in early childhood education. Also, we are gaining some ground with Latino families and children. We know that a good start for every child is probably going to predict what the future is going to look like for them, so those were really good data to see even in a short time period.
But, we’ve lost ground in other areas. We were very discouraged by out-of- school suspensions. However, we were encouraged by some of the grants we made to address the high suspension rate, particularly working with the Youth: Education, Advocacy & Restorative Services on trying to prevent suspensions, and the Minneapolis Public Schools recognized the importance of changing suspension patterns. That collaborative work is very significant.
Q: What was the Minneapolis Foundation paying close attention to politically in 2013?
A: Of course we’re pleased with the passage of additional funds from the state for early childhood education. We’ve been looking at kindergarten readiness and working with providers to make sure that as many children can have access to quality childcare as possible.
I give a lot of credit to our funders, who have, for quite some time, been allocating their available dollars to really concentrate on that issue. So has the public education system. So that bill was passed because of our collective work as funders’—working on policy issues.
Arne Duncan was here recently and said to us something like, “On the one hand good job. But, on the other hand, you still have a long, long way to go.” And it’s true. We have this perception that Minnesota was out on the lead in so many areas. Actually we’re pretty mediocre, and that’s kind of a hard pill for some of us to swallow. So the fact that the state allocated more dollars to kindergarten readiness is significant. It’s not enough. But it’s still significant.
Q: You put out some requests For proposals for civic engagement efforts tied to the legislative session this year. Is this a new thing?
A: Previously we have relied on our grantmaking to support advocacy work among nonprofit groups. In the last six or seven years, funders have been thinking a little differently about how we can affect change in the system and impact things legislatively.
As far as our funding goes, we decided we can create change by getting people involved; we call it building social capital or civic engagement. Last year we put out request for proposals to engage underserved communities, communities of color, and youth on the Marriage Amendment and the Voter ID referendums. It wasn’t just about getting out the vote, it was about how to support grassroots and established organizations to engage their constituents in this process to affect change. This year we also wanted grantees to focus on immigration efforts like the Dream Act and driver’s licenses, the criminal justice system, and early childhood education.
As a community foundation we use a variety of advocacy tools. These include hiring and registering as lobbyists to suggest policy reform, provide information, and advocate on issues that reflect our overall values for a better life for everyone, especially for those who are experiencing the largest gaps in social, economic, and racial equity. Through our partnerships we were able to take a stand and bring to the table as many partners as we could in order to do that.
Q: How, if at all, are your grantees using the results of the community indicators research to shape their work?
A: We can’t grant our way to change equity, but we can see how to leverage our grantmaking dollars, our grantees’ knowledge and skills, and collaborate on a broader basis.
When we communicated this to our grantees we also wanted them to think a little differently about their work. And it wasn’t always easy to introduce what we identified as “levers of social change,” and how they could measure them.
Q: Do you think that comes across? How do you ensure that this isn’t a matter of changing semantics during grant writing?
A: I think it was very hard for our grantees for the first few rounds to understand that type of framing. I will say, though, that there are more people who now understand equity and are talking about equity in the nonprofit sector, in the political policy sector, and across the country. By framing the issues using an equity lens you put more emphasis on changing systems. Previously we were using a social service model, which emphasizes what people are doing on the individual level with their clients. That’s good, but not always great for systemic change.
So the Community Indicators report helps people figure out how to measure change, instead of counting one pebble here and one pebble there. We give the report to our grantees so they can have the data available, and that helps our grantees do their work better. It gives us all a sense of where we’ve accomplished things and what we still need to do.
Related Links on Minnesota Compass