Let’s Talk About Race (Data)

As evaluators, we work with all sorts of organizations dedicated to social change. Yet when is the last time you stopped to consider that race – a common category we use when describing participants – is also a historical driver of inequity?

Since the birth of the United States, citizens have been assigned to socially constructed race categories. Data on these categories are then used to justify systems that inequitably allocate resources and unfairly treat targeted groups. As such, it is easy for today’s public service organizations to use their data on race to passively and unintentionally uphold these unwilling groupings and inequitable systems.

An increasing number of organizations, however, are making the strategic choice to use their data on race to empower those who have been historically marginalized by it. These organizations use their data as a tool to illuminate the many facets of structural racism and track progress towards a more equitable society.

So the question arises: how can we use our tools of data visualization and innovative reporting as vehicles for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion?

In order to do this, there needs to be an honest and ongoing inquiry into how an organization uses data on race to empower its participants in every stage of the data lifecycle before, during, and after reporting takes place. Sample points to reflect upon include:

  • Prepare – Which race/ethnicity categories align with how our participants see themselves? Which are unhelpful or unclear and how can we revise/eliminate them?

The County of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health has spent years blazing this trail through thoughtful workgroups, extensive research, and an inclusive vetting process. Check out their Ethnicity Guidelines that document the why’s and how’s of their work.

  • Collect – Am I offering enough value? What’s my level of transparency with the data use and storage process? How much autonomy does the individual have with their level of disclosure?
  • Store – Who has access to race data? When, how, and to what end? How secure is the data? What can I learn from state, regional, and foreign legislation that can inform the way we handle our data?
  • Analyze – In which analyses do we incorporate race? How? To what end? What other analyses are we not doing but should be?
  • Report – How are we reporting on race? What are we communicating? Who has access to the reports and to what end? Where can we go from here?

Instead of simply reporting the agency’s demographic information, Children’s Institute in Los Angeles took the opportunity for advocacy in their 2017-2018 Impact Report by providing the demographics for Los Angeles County as a point of comparison.

infographic credit: childrensinstitute.net/
  • Use – How are our analyses and reports impacting future programming?

When discrepancies are uncovered between an organization’s use of race data and its mission, evaluators can help to facilitate the learning and strategic planning needed to make the necessary organizational changes.

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