University of Wisconsin–Madison

Equity in All Policies

Written by Walker Kahn and Maria Manansala

What’s the Problem?

Although explicitly discriminatory laws are a thing of the past in most communities, many policies intended to create broadly accessible resources fail to reach those most in need, and racial and socioeconomic inequality remains entrenched. If local governments are to promote the public good and reduce the high public costs of inequality, they must address the disparities present in their communities. Doing so requires that policymakers and government employees (1) develop an equity framework for policymaking and other governmental processes to recognize the barriers faced by marginalized groups and identify solutions; and (2) collect and analyze data to examine how enacted policies and practices actually effect equity. This roadmap provides an introduction to the equity in all policies framework and provides links to in-depth resources for implementing equity in every step of the governing process from agenda setting and decision-making to implementation and evaluation.

What are People Currently Doing? 

The first step for cities and towns working to fight inequality is creating a framework for addressing racial and socioeconomic inequality that can be applied to policymaking and other government functions. Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) identifies three steps to guide officials working to advance equity in all policies: (1) Normalize, (2) Organize, and (3) Operationalize. GARE’s reports, “Racial Equity Action Plans: A How-to Manual” and “Racial Equity: Getting to Results” provide step-by step approaches to meaningfully addressing equity. Policymakers can begin by establishing equity as a top priority. Jurisdictions like Seattle and Fairfax County have adopted resolutions affirming their commitment towards advancing equity and eliminating disparities. Cities and counties should also communicate the importance of mitigating inequities to the public: using easily understood language, facts, and stories that explain the government's role in creating and maintaining inequities, convey the urgency of the problem, and work to build support for equity-centered policies. Messaging guides from GARE, Afterschool Alliance, National League of Cities, and Voices for Healthy Kids contain communication strategies and best practices for launching equity initiatives.

Local governments must also develop the organizational capacity to effectively execute equity programming.  Cities and counties should make specific staff members responsible for ensuring that an equity lens is applied at every stage of the legislative process. Policymakers and staff can take equity training courses that combine on-demand and group-based interactive learning. It is critically important that underserved and marginalized communities are engaged in both framing existing disparities and developing applicable policy solutions. The City of Dubuque is a model example for establishing links to underserved communities for input on equity programming: to launch their equity initiative, the city partnered with more than 60 community leaders from business, faith, labor, education, non-profit and government to create Inclusive Dubuque a publicly supported peer-learning network which conducted an outreach campaign to identify disparities and opportunities that collected 2000 survey responses, 600 in-depth conversations with community members, and partnered with 50 organizations working for equity and inclusion. Guides from Simon Fraser University and Groundwork USA provide tips for improving equity in public engagement.

Policymakers need access to high-quality data to ensure that enacted policies and preexisting programs actually advance equity. NEEP’s guide to evaluation, measurement, and verification processes offers a step-by-step process for centering equity and justice in data collection programs. Critically, this requires meaningful stakeholder engagement, conducting equity gap analyses to identify disparities, adjusting cost-benefit tools to incorporate costs driven by disparities and the benefits created by increasing equity, creating equity-centered program goals and metrics to track these goals, and developing performance incentives that reflect equity priorities. Cities and counties can also use preexisting tools to help them identify policy impacts and optimal paths forward: Seattle, Madison, and Multnomah County, incorporate GARE’s Racial Equity Tool into their policymaking and analysis programs.

Taking it to the Next Level

While an equity framework can and should be applied to all aspects of government, public health is currently the policy area best integrated with equity. This is largely due to the outsized impact of the social determinants of health on health outcomes, and the growing awareness of the high price we all pay for these disparities: research by Deloitte estimates disparities related to race, socioeconomic status, and sex/gender cost approximately $320 billion annually in health care spending. These costs are the result of unjust social and economic policies and are avoidable by increasing equity and removing disparities.

By making health equity a policy priority with equal value to cost, economic impact, and public opinion, local governments can begin to systematically address the social structures that play an outsized roll in health outcomes. Health in All Policies (HiAP) is a collaborative approach that integrates population health and equity into all sectors of policymaking to improve outcomes for all communities. ProGov21's sister organization, Mayors Innovation Project, has published a guide advising mayors and city staff looking to incorporate health equity in their decision making through a HiAP approach. The foundations of HiAP programming are the same as those necessary for implementing a health framework in other policy areas: both require data-driven decision making and input from internal and external stakeholders to change standard operating procedures of local government. See the ProGov21 Public Health Roadmap to learn more on integrating health and equity policy. 

Helpers, Allies, and Other Useful Organizations

  • Government Alliance on Race and Equity - The Government Alliance on Race and Equity is a national network of governments working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.
  • National League of Cities - The National League of Cities is the oldest and largest national organization representing municipal governments throughout the United States. Their report, “Advancing Racial Equity in Your City,” outlines six steps municipalities can take to mitigate racial disparities in their communities.
  • The Greenlining Institute - The Greenlining Institute is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower and advance economic opportunity for people of color through advocacy, community and coalition building, research, and leadership development.
  • Local Progress - Local Progress is a movement of local elected officials advancing a racial and economic justice agenda through all levels of local government. Their brief, “Racial Equity in Our Cities,” discusses strategies and best practices to advance racial equity locally.


Mayor's Innovation home page

Mayors Innovation Project, our sister organization, is a national learning network for mayors committed to shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and efficient democratic government.


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