Racial Equity Indicators for Washington D.C.: A Design Methodology

In partnership with the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Racial Equity (ORE), the MITRE Social Justice Platform (SJP) developed a participatory design methodology to select racial equity indicators for Washington, D.C. These indicators are part of a wider toolbox helping the D.C. government analyze racial impacts of policies and plans, and continually assess racial inequities within the D.C. population. The SJP team shares ORE’s commitment to racial equity as both a process and an outcome. Our methodology supported ORE in centering Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) residents in policy design and decision-making.

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Iterative Design Methodology

A “design thinking” approach to social problem solving focuses on carefully designing effective solutions to meet human needs. Using design thinking, SJP developed a methodology for our partner, DC ORE, to select racial equity indicators. Our methodology starts with research as the foundation informing all other activities. Research insights from D.C. residents determine strategic objectives for racial equity, which in turn shape which indicators we or our partner select and how we present them. Once selected, indicators are to guide the policies and programs D.C. government will create to improve racial equity, and measure whether those policies and programs achieve strategic objectives. Each step in the methodology is iterative, meaning steps repeat more than once for ongoing improvement. As D.C. residents provide new or deeper insights, and as the city progresses toward racial equity outcomes, DC ORE can use new information to refine indicators.

Diagram of Racial Equity Indicator Design Methodology
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Participatory Listening Sessions Ground Design in D.C. Residents’ Lived Experience

During an initial research phase, SJP supported ORE in designing and facilitating participatory community listening sessions. To collect as much data as possible in a short amount of time and stay as close as possible to participants’ own interpretation of those data, we used affinity mapping, a participatory research method, to structure our sessions. Each session asked D.C. residents, community leaders, and on-the-ground public service providers, “When you imagine a racially equitable D.C., what specific things would be different?” Following a group brainstorm, session participants organized their ideas into similar clusters, identifying main themes forming their vision for racial equity in D.C. and theory of change (i.e., understanding of what actions lead to change, how, and why).

Bridge over river with trees in background
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Strategic Objectives Translate Racial Equity Vision to Achievable Outcomes

Strategic objectives translate DC residents’ vision for racial equity into concrete, actionable, measurable outcomes. The SJP team developed a language structure that conveys residents’ theory of change. For example, strategic objective statements are outcome-oriented rather than access-oriented, reflecting that, due to systemic inequity, equality of opportunity alone does not lead to racially equitable outcomes (e.g., “All D.C. residents, regardless of race, are healthy,” rather than “have access to health care.”) Using this structure, we drafted one strategic objective statement for each key theme identified during community listening sessions.

Rowhomes with boarded windows. One home is blocked with caution tape. Adjacent to newly constructed condominium buildings.
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Indicators Measure Objectives and Track Progress Toward Racial Equity in Washington, D.C.

A careful indicator selection process strategically chooses how to measure each strategic objective. For example, when evaluating each indicator for its validity as a measure for its corresponding strategic objective, we might consider: whether it is leading (predicting future outcomes) or lagging (measuring past outcomes); whether it measures a citywide, ward, neighborhood, family, or individual impact; how it reflects the historical legacy of discrimination; and other factors. Community listening session findings directly shape indicator selection, ensuring that what indicators measure matches D.C. residents’ vision for racial equity. Based on initial selection of a limited indicator list, DC ORE continued iterating to refine these indicators. Racial equity indicators will form the basis for citywide and agency-specific DC government racial equity action plans.

Mosaic image of large bird