News & Update

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Transforming Organizations

In 2017, we released an internal learning report titled  “What Does it Take to Embed a Racial Equity & Inclusion Lens? that captures themes from internal interviews, a field scan, and learnings from our grantmaking and investments in cities across the country. There were twelve themes we uncovered in our scan of practices being used by organizations to operationalize racial equity.These twelve recommendations have guided our internal racial equity work in the last five years and we want to update you on what we have learned along the way and what we are continuing to test and practice.

For additional context, check out the first blog in this series: Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Systems & Place.


5. “Embedding” A Racial Equity And Inclusion Lens Has To Be An Overarching Framework In Every Aspect Of Our Work.

Our Recommendations:

Introduce and hold project teams accountable to using and being able to share how they used a racial equity impact analysis tool for decision-making that asks the following questions:

  • Are all racial/ethnic groups who are affected by this policy/practice/decision at the table?
  • How will the proposed policy/practice/decision affect each group?
  • Does the policy/practice/decision worsen or ignore existing disparities?
  • Based on the above responses, what revisions are needed in the policy/practice/decision under discussion?
  • Design and implement an audit tool that takes stock of all Living Cities work through an REI lens so that staff can practice applying this lens in an applied way.
  • Develop a set of norms and agreements for staff to engage in candid and authentic conversations about race without losing a sense of psychological safety.

Our Action/Progress:

Our CORE team leads our efforts to ensure staff are considering what it means and looks like to embed a racial equity and inclusion lens at every level of our work. Using our REI Audit tool, they check in with each team across the organizational level to help them create space to reflect on their own implementation of tools and resources available to help teams embed this framework into our work and to understand what the needs of teams and staff are in terms of practicing our values and anti-racist principles. This tool is also used yearly by teams to assess their progress toward achieving our internal racial equity goals helps teams keep one another accountable to the goals they set out for themselves. Some internal teams also set norms and agreements among themselves for the space together and also reflect on these norms and their accountability toward those norms and agreements they’ve committed to with one another.

CORE monthly workshops create space for staff to practice the PISAB anti-racist principles with each other and reflecting on their role and power on the personal and professional level. Our racial equity workshops are often kicked off with community agreements that the entire group has affirmed and committed to.

Deepening our competency and racial equity analysis around accountability to each other in this work is embedded into our culture at the organizational level through annual organization level racial equity analysis surveys, at the team level through REI Audits to assess a team’s operationalization of the racial equity lens through things like equity pauses during decision making and centering humanity in team processes and actions and at the personal level through Employee Resource Groups that employees are allowed to opt into and our own internal annual performance review process and objective setting process. 


6. We Need To Treat Racial Equity As A Real Competency And Skill.

Our Recommendations:

  • Adopt racial equity and inclusion as a core competency for employment.
  • Evaluate candidates for employment in part based on their racial equity and inclusion competency. Create a competency framework that includes prioritized competencies and skills (including from the list above and from the resources in this report) so that all staff have clarity around the organizational definition of racial equity and inclusion, and so that they can measure their own progress and work with their people managers towards improving their skills and competencies.
  • Provide multiple opportunities/offerings for Living Cities staff to build racial equity and inclusion skills and competencies. These might include individual coaching and training, all-staff conversations and training, conversations and trainings in conjunction with community, and time for self-reflection. All staff should, at a minimum, attend a 101-level training about the history of racism in America by the end of 2017.
  • Make articulating a racial equity and inclusion objective mandatory for all Living Cities staff.
  • Ensure that organizational leadership is working towards high levels of competency in this area, with some members of the leadership team moving towards a “mastery” level as defined by the competency framework.
  • Set up accountability mechanisms and systems of rewards so that all staff, regardless of race, are held accountable for racial equity and inclusion competence, and so that those who are performing well in this area are rewarded for that work.
  • Assign people to work on projects in roles that reflect their REI competence and skills, acknowledging that some teams require higher levels of competence and skill in this area, just as, for example, people with investment backgrounds are placed on teams with emphasis on investing capital.
  • Create a train-the-trainer model so that initial investment in outside training/facilitation/coaching can be brought in-house over time.

Our Action/Progress:

In our onboarding and interview process we are explicit about our focus on racial equity and the expectation that staff will engage in related conversation and training to deepen their competencies to that end. 

As part of our annual evaluation, we’ve included racial, equity and inclusion to our competency framework to outline the competencies we expect for staff to hold while doing their duties including power analysis, understanding history and core concepts of racism etc. 

To build a baseline and standard around training, we require all staff to attend an Undoing Racism training by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond within their first 90 days of employment to help us all begin from a shared analysis of the systems that impact our communities. The CORE team provides a number of other resources to help staff continue to build their capacity, ranging from books to training materials and healing spaces for staff to connect. Our CORE team has partnered with several organizations to help us further deepen our analysis on the systems affecting Black and brown people and low-income people and what it takes to organize for the policies and behavior change it’ll take to achieve racial equity like Compass Point, PISAB, 

Through our CORE work we’ve tested and are testing different models for supporting staff through this journey. This has looked like offering and requiring specific training, external coaching offered as professional development, internal Employee Resource Groups. While all employees are required to attend Undoing Racism within their first 90 days of employment, others may be required to attend additional REI training to build their capacity in certain skill areas for specific teams. 

CORE team members, for example, may attend a training on conflict transformation and use their learning to inform a workshop session on addressing conflict through a healing justice lens for all-staff. This way, we are operationalizing the “train-the-trainer” model.


Internal Scan: 2020 Racial Equity And Inclusion Competency Survey Results

LC REI competency framework

Normalizing Deep Conversations About Race Through Coaching


7. We All Must Be Able To Effectively Communicate About REI.

Our Recommendations:

  • Consider the ‘affirm, counter, transform’ framework for internal and external conversations about race. (See the Racial Equity Here communications guide.)
  • Work to be explicit about race in a culture of hiding racial inequities behind other words..
  • Leverage data whenever possible in our communications (internal and external) about race, but not at the expense of stories. In the end, it is people’s real lives that we hope will change for the better as we undo systems that created our historical and current inequities — stories tell us about the tangible impacts of these inequities and possible paths toward a more equitable future.
  • Adopt a practice of communicating about race that stresses values (“all men are created equal”), realities (“all men are created equal” as expressed by Jefferson referred only to white male property owners), and aspirations (we strive to make “all men are created equal” not just a value but a truth that we are willing to work hard to live in how we live, work, and engage).
  • Ensure that everyone at Living Cities understands and can define key terms related to racial equity (see glossary in Racial Equity Here communications guide).

Our Action/Progress:

We’ve hosted workshops on bystander intervention and addressing/identifying microaggressions and use exercises like the Affirm, Counter, Transform framework using role playing. In our workshops we also offer shared language around key terms we learn as we deepen our intersectional analysis as a collective.

Our language over the past few years has become more explicit to center and name race. While we have work to do, progress has been made. 

In our storytelling, our Learning, Storytelling and Results team has offered recommendations for ways they’re leveraging data to tell positive stories of Black and brown people and what it might look like to do so at your organization. This is still an area of practice for us across the organization but an intention that we’ve set.

Over the years, we have normalized conversations about race and racism across the organization– it’s often something we might even reflect on at the top of a meeting through a check-in question. Our values stress that these conversations must be had in such a way that grounds our analysis/conversations in the history of race and an uncovering of what has been concealed, clarity and understanding around the systems that currently exist and are compounded by race and racism and a desire and willingness to reimagine a future free of oppressive systems.


Checking In With Our Humanity


Telling Black Stories Inclusive Of Joy


Featured Image: Josh Macphee part of the exhibition Collective Communities: Actions on Environmental Crises

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