Hello! We are Allister Byrd and Joel Gutierrez from ORS Impact joined by Shannon Williams from the Alliance For Justice. Over the past year, our ORS Impact team partnered with state-based advocacy organizations across the country, working to protect and advance safety-net systems and policies.
A large part of our evaluative inquiry focused on learning about and measuring organizational capacity for strong equity-centered state-level advocacy approaches. We found there are many advocacy frameworks and organizational capacity assessment tools in the field, but none consider concepts such as authentic community engagement, inclusion, and equity-centered research and analysis.
Enter Bolder Advocacy, a program of Alliance for Justice. Their ACT!Quick capacity self-assessment tool was a great starting point. Together, we modified this well-established tool to incorporate additional equity-centered capacities that we identified in partnership with evaluation colleagues and advocates.
What do we mean when we talk about “equity” in the context of policy advocacy? Equity can be defined as both a noun (equitable outcomes) and a verb (ways of working). We recognize that equitable practices, such as sharing power, engaging community authentically, and conducting research in culturally responsive ways, are equally important to realizing equitable outcomes, such as policies that mitigate racial inequities, policy agendas that are developed in partnership with communities, and just implementation of policies to achieve proposed impacts.
Using this definition of equity, we assessed organizational advocacy capacity by modifying indicators of the ACT!Quick tool focusing specifically on dimensions of equity. Our modification to the tool added 14 indicators, focusing on areas such as (but not limited to):
- Goals, Plan and Strategies (highlighting agenda creation and defining constituents), for example:
- “Policy proposals explicitly seek to eliminate or reduce racial and other disparities or discrimination, and maximize opportunities that advance equity.”
- Conducting Advocacy (highlighting policy analysis that utilizes disaggregated data, engaging with community members, and partnership and coalition development) for example:
- “Staff have the cultural competence necessary to engage constituents and communities in a culturally responsive way.”
- Organizational Operations (understanding the extent to which organizations are doing the work internally to become more equity-centered), for example:
- “Organization engages in internal conversations about how racial equity affects its work.”
Key takeaway: Across the 51 advocates (at 24 organizations) who completed the modified ACT! Quick tool, we found that equity-based indicator ratings were lower across the board and most respondents (60%) expressed a desire to increase their equity capacity.
Lesson learned: Utilizing the modified ACT!Quick enabled our team to learn about advocates’ capacity, including equity capacity, in a low burden way that prompted organizational self-reflection to become more equity-centered.
While the ACT!Quick self-assessment provided useful data for reflection and learning about equitable advocacy practices, it is one input. There are opportunities to collect additional data that can help advocates and evaluators continue to clarify equity-centered advocacy practices, better understand how advocates engage in and implement these activities, and assess the importance of equity-centered practices for advancing equitable policy outcomes.
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