An initiative to support community coalitions in using public engagement and problem solving to create greater racial equity, using the Dialogue to Change approach.
Problems and Purpose
The purpose of Communities Creating Racial Equity was twofold: 1) to help cross-sector community coalitions develop their own ability to create sustained civic engagement on issues of racial equity; and 2) to support those coalitions in learning with Everyday Democracy and each other about how to connect community engagement to measurable racial-equity outcomes.
Background History and Context
Everyday Democracy, formerly known as Study Circles Resource Center, has conducted dialogues with hundreds of communities across the country for over a decade. One of their on-going efforts was to continue learning about the various conditions that ensure dialogues resulted in concrete actions and more equitable democratic processes. Furthermore, in 2006, Everyday Democracy published a dialogue guide for community engagement titled Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation. The goal of the guide was to support communities in organizing widespread Dialogue to Change processes to deepen their understanding of structural racism and connect community problem solving with action. During this time, nonprofit leaders, community activists, and public officials in racially diverse communities were searching for more effective ways to engage community members in addressing racial inequities. Communities were requesting tools to connect public engagement with demonstrable impact.
CCRE was an initiative to partner with communities to advance learning around two areas: dialogue to action tools that support bridging the gap between engagement and impact and evaluation tools that communities can track and measure progress towards more racial equitable changes. From the beginning, CCRE was designed to be a learning initiative in that Everyday Democracy wanted to learn alongside communities about what is needed to support this work.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
CCRE was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Their support allowed Everyday Democracy to provide each community with technical assistance and fund teams to travel to learning exchange conferences around the U.S. Everyday Democracy also provided action grants of $10,000 for each site to implement and support actions that emerged through their Dialogue to Change processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Through a request for proposal process, Everyday Democracy identified eight communities to participate in the CCRE project. Communities needed to demonstrate a commitment to organizing dialogue and collaborate with diverse community members for change on issues of racism and racial equity. In addition, Everyday Democracy intentionally selected communities that represented at least five regions in the U.S.: Deep South; West; Northwest; Southwest; Midwest; and Northeast.
The eight communities selected were Stratford, CT; Syracuse, NY; Montgomery County Public Schools, MD; Hopkinsville, KY; Lynchburg, VA; Jacksonville, FL; South Sacramento, CA; and New Haven, CT. All communities were at different phases of the Dialogue to Change process ranging from the organizing phase to having established dialogue programs. Everyday Democracy contracted with an evaluator from Center for Assessment and Policy Development to work with community coalitions as they created logic models (also known as “road maps”) and evaluation plans to track progress throughout the initiative.
Methods and Tools Used
Communities used the Dialogue to Change method to develop cross-sector coalitions to create sustained civic engagement on issues of racial equity. Logic Models were also used as a tool for communities to assess their own progress towards racial equity goals. In-depth stakeholder interviews and cross-site surveys were conducted to collect data for evaluating the CCRE initative.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Between 2008-2010, CCRE communities were engaged in dialogues, action planning, action implementation and evaluation. Throughout this time, Everyday Democracy’s technical assistance included coaching, training and site visits from multi-racial staff team assigned to each site. Tools including dialogue guides, how-to materials and resources about structural racism and racial equity were shared as well. Additionally, Everyday Democracy hosted two Learning Exchanges (LEX) during 2008-2010. The LEX provided a forum for networking and cross-site learning around the successes and challenges of implementing Dialogue to Change with a racial equity lens. Everyday Democracy offered $10,000 action grants for each site to support actions that resulted from the dialogues.
A second component of the CCRE initiative was to strengthen sites’ evaluation capacity of their dialogue and racial equity work. Evaluation liaisons were identified in each CCRE site, and they participated as member of the evaluation advisory group. Community evaluation liaisons supported their sites in creating the logic models or “road maps” so that communities could track specific racial equity goals and action steps related to their sites.
During 2008-2010, CCRE initiative engaged more than 3,000 people in 177 small-group dialogues, with large-scale action forums and the formation of 29 action teams across all sites.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In February 2010, the Center for Assessment and Policy Development (CAPD) conducted an evaluation on the Communities Creating Racial Equity initiative. Some outcomes are highlighted below. For the full report, please see the attachment below.
Coalition Building and Organize Phase: All CCRE sites created or expanded an existing team to implement CCRE. Most sites included people who could reach various constituencies closely impacted by the issue and people who demonstrated potential to implement actions as they emerged.
Dialogue Phase: Most sites indicated some success in recruiting dialogue participants from communities who experience barriers to civic engagement. Three sites expressed that they were successful in increasing the number of Latino/Hispanic participants in their dialogues, which was a goal they had set for their community. Another site was successful in engaging refugee community members, who previously felt unwelcome at civic events. Two sites also reported some success at engaging people who typically did not feel safe in participating in activities outside their neighborhoods or across groups.
However, there were some challenges that sites noted while recruiting diverse participants for the dialogues. Several communities expressed challenges to recruiting participants to dialogue about racial equity. These communities also expressed that they discussed more about race relations than racial equity.
Action Phase: Although action that would contribute to racial equity outcomes was emphasized at the beginning of the Dialogue to Change process, many communities did not have a clear sense of what that meant – definitionally or the community capacity needed to implement actions. Naming specific CCRE actions or a series of actions that could lead to tangible results and racial equity was challenging. In addition, two types of action approaches emerged – free standing action groups that advocated for change from “outside” and action groups that advocate for change from within systems.
Outcomes toward racial equity:
There were three areas where communities identified some outcomes toward racial equity. Five out of eight communities noticed progress in education and civic engagement/leadership. Two communities expressed progress in law enforcement/community and police relations.
Outcomes Toward Capacity Building:
Communities identified four areas that they experienced increased capacity building. Five communities out of eight noted they expanded the use of dialogue to change processes for community problem solving and understanding of racial equity and structural racism. Four communities cited the increased willingness to have productive conversations about race or to build relationships across racial divides. Three communities reported an expanded application of racial equity.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In summary, the tools and resources used during the organize and dialogue phase were effective and received well by the communities towards sustaining civic engagement on issues of racial equity. However, the tools and resources used to support the action phase received mixed results. In addition, communities expressed benefitting from the two national learning exchanges especially in building knowledge and learning from other communities.
There was some evidence that communities were moving towards creating racial equity in these three areas: education, law enforcement, and civic engagement/leadership. Communities also indicated an increased willingness to have productive conversations about race or to build cross-racial relationships after CCRE. At the same time, there were mixed results about the extent to which participants believe the process will make a difference in their communities among racial groups. White respondents were more positive about the racial equity outcomes, indicated feeling better off as a result of the CCRE initiative, and believed that tangible results were happening because of CCRE than respondents of color.
Lastly, CCRE initiative confirmed that community wide dialogues can be used to bridge racial/ethnic divides, create opportunities for community members to work together on issues, and generate and implement actions that could contribute to a community’s ability to reduce racial inequities.