The Social Equity Data Challenge

By Joseph Ungerleider , Cammryn Fausey, Ph.D.

How can the government address our nation’s long-standing systemic inequities? By refining data practices and policies, replicating successful models for obtaining local data, and strategically partnering with federal chief data officers.

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Events of 2020 and 2021, including the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic unrest, highlight that long-standing systemic inequities exist in our nation, with underrepresented populations continuing to face disparities across health, economic, criminal justice, and education outcomes.

Addressing such systemic disparities requires an understanding of their deeply rooted causes, and data can serve as the impartial key to unlocking this understanding. Leaders at all levels of government are seeking to leverage data to analyze, model, and objectively measure outcomes to policy decisions affecting underserved communities. The Biden Administration recently issued the Executive Order Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government (Racial Equity Executive Order), which requires federal departments and agencies to identify relevant data, eliminate barriers to achieving racial equity and equity for underserved communities, and embed equity-centered design into key policies and programs. To enable this data-driven decision making, our nation’s leaders and those who support them are faced with ongoing challenges: the lack of data granularity essential for informing equity-related decisions and barriers to using existing data to better understand impacts of policy on underserved communities.

To overcome these challenges, this paper provides the following recommendations to Executive Branch Agencies and the Office of Management and Budget:

  1. Refine data practices and policies through the Equitable Data Working Group (established by the Racial Equity Executive Order) and the Domestic Policy Council, resulting in common data practices that support whole-of-government sharing and analysis; a government-wide equity consortium; and legislation that enhances broader data access.  
  2. Replicate successful models for obtaining local data through collaborative partnerships, ultimately leveraging and promoting those models as standards across federal, state, and local governments.
  3. Strategically partner with Chief Data Officers (CDOs) by adding the Federal CDO Council Chair to the Equitable Data Working Group and establishing a Federal CDO Council Equity Data Subgroup.

Addressing systemic inequities through all policies, not just through equity-specific policies, is aspirational. Yet, the goal becomes far more achievable if government leaders can take actions such as those above to expeditiously address barriers to using data to realize equitable outcomes.