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Racial inequities in housing, employment, education, criminal justice, and public health have always existed in Portland. History shows some of these inequities are a result of public policy and are maintained by existing government structures. In 2012, the City Council, assisted by the community, created the Office of Equity and Human Rights (OEHR) to focus specifically on race and disability. OEHR’s mission:
Provides education and technical support to City staff and elected officials, leading to recognition and removal of systemic barriers to fair and just distribution of resources, access and opportunity, starting with issues of race and disability.
The Racial Equity Plans for all 26 City bureaus were developed over a 2-year process and coordinated by OEHR. These are five-year plans meant to guide bureaus during this period of institutional change. They serve to operationalize the City-wide Racial Equity Goals and Strategies unanimously adopted by City Council in 2015 as binding City policy.
Each bureau formed diverse teams of staff to shepherd the bureau through a two-phase process. First, the bureaus conducted research to assess their current culture, structures, and practices, using an organizational assessment tool created by a dedicated team of City staff from across bureaus. Bureaus conducted staff surveys and focus groups to collect data that would inform the development of the plans.
Second, bureaus received a series of trainings and underwent a planning process. Informed by the trainings and additional research on best practices, bureaus crafted actions and associated performance measures for their plans. Bureaus were also encouraged to research existing proposals from communities of color for government action to include in their plans. Bureaus had flexibility to design their process and modify the tools to fit their needs. This is why not all plans were completed at the same time and do not use the exact same format.
Communities of color most impacted by racial inequities established the framework for these plans through an assessment tool developed by the All Hands Raised project. The City’s assessment tool used many of the same questions and all of the same categories: organizational commitment; workforce; leadership and management; contracting; community access and partnership; and use of data and quality improvement practices. These categories also drove the plans’ development.
The assessment and planning processes were conducted by City staff in order to get the City’s “house in order.” Some bureaus engaged their Bureau Advisory Committees (BAC) during the planning process. The City welcomes community engagement during the subsequent work to annually report on and update plans.
OEHR provided training, technical assistance, tools, and resources for bureaus to complete the plans. None of the plans’ details were mandated. Bureaus had autonomy to focus their work. However, OEHR did hold bureaus accountable to working toward achieving the Citywide Racial Equity Goals and Strategies, quantifiably measuring their progress, and committing staff to a timeline for action. OEHR reviewed draft plans with these criteria in mind as well as whether best practices were included. OEHR then made recommendations to the bureaus to strengthen their drafts. Commissioners were briefed and bureau Directors signed off on all plans before release.
BACs were engaged more during the process to review draft plans but this varied by bureau. Bureaus with a strong public constituency are encouraged to release their draft plans with an invitation for public comment before the plan is finalized. OEHR is also hosting a community forum on the City’s racial equity work including the plans.
OEHR is tasked with tracking and reporting to Council on the progress of the plans to achieve specific outcomes. They will compile the reports received from bureaus and present a summary to Council on an annual basis, including OEHR’s analysis and suggestions, if any. Bureaus are encouraged to also report on progress annually to City Council and the public.
All plans include mechanisms for accountability. Performance measures for each action are included. Measures often track how much was done and how well was it done. The responsible staff or positions are identified as well as the tool they will use to communicate the results of each action.
Plans are designed to be living documents that should evolve over time as challenges are identified and successes are built upon. The plans are outcome driven and bureaus are expected to report not just on actions, but also on the outcomes of those actions. If an action is not producing the desired outcome, bureaus can re-evaluate and adjust their efforts.
Bureaus’ annual updates will provide an opportunity to propose changes to their plans. OEHR will review this proposed changes during the annual update process and make recommendations. Bureaus are encouraged to engage the communities most impacted by the actions and any changes to them.
How will the Plans be implemented?
The Plans are not the change we seek. They do not even guarantee change. The City has a history of unfulfilled promises to communities of color, however, the Plans are a new public and measurable commitment to institutional change to achieve equitable outcomes. These commitments allow for the community, elected official, and staff to hold the bureaus accountable.
Implementation will require bureau resources: time, money, skills, and effort. Bureaus are proposing to change their policies, the way they do business, their habits, and cultures that exist within the organization. These commitments will be built into bureau work plans and budgets. Each bureau has a body that is stewarding its plan. In most cases the Bureau Equity Committee serves this function.