An evaluative follow up to support communities towards creating racial equity using the Dialogue to Change approach.
Problems and Purpose
In 2015, Everyday Democracy conducted an evaluative follow up with five of the nine communities from the Communities Creating Racial Equity (CCRE) initiative to assess progress and outcomes towards their racial equity goals five to seven years following the dialogue process.
Background History and Context
CCRE was an Everyday Democracy initiative launched in 2007 to learn about and better understand the intersection of civic engagement using the Dialogue to Change process and racial equity. In addition, Everyday Democracy wanted to learn along with communities about what it takes to address racial equity.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The follow up evaluation was conducted by Everyday Democracy's Evaluation, Research, and Learning Team and made possible in part from funding support from the Whitman Institute.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
All nine sites were extended an invitation to participate in the evaluative follow up. Five of the nine sites that agreed to participate were: Albuquerque, NM; Charlottesville, VA; Hopkinsville, KY; Lynchburg, VA; and Syracuse, NY. Racial equity issues were addressed were in the public school systems in Albuquerque and Syracuse and in communities and public institutions in Charlottesville, Hopkinsville, and Lynchburg.
Four to seven individual Interviews were conducted at each site with people who were identified as key informants of the CCRE work. A total of 26 interviews were completed with 21 interviews conducted in-person and five by telephone.
Eight to twelve stakeholders at each site engaged in the Ripple Effect Mapping (REM) session. These participants had been part of the dialogue process and were identified as people who could speak to any community impacts from their racial equity work stemming from the dialogue process.
Methods and Tools Used
The evaluation used a ‘mini case study’ design where the scope was smaller and the timeline for data collection was shorter than most case study designs. The two primary methods used to collect data were key Informant Interviews and Ripple Effect Mapping (REM).
The interview questions were:
- What role did you play in the CCRE initiative? And what role do you currently play in advancing racial equity?
- Given the work already done around racial equity, how would you describe the current climate when it comes to matters of race?
- What remains as the toughest challenge(s) in conducting racial equity work in this area?
- What have been the most promising ways you’ve discovered that contribute to making racial equity central to the agenda to bring about institutional and community change? In other words, what works when promoting a racial equity agenda in your institutions and community?
- What is your vision for racial equity based on the work that has already been done and that you are currently doing?
In the REM session, participants engaged in appreciative inquiry, mapping, and facilitated discussion and reflection. The changes/ripple effects identified by participants were then categorized and coded as community or institutional changes. Data from REM sessions were further analyzed using a “community capitals” framework, which offers a way to assess community and institutional change efforts by identifying asset-based impacts. There are seven community capitals: social, political, natural, human, cultural, financial, and built capitals. 
During the REM session, participants were paired up in groups of two and asked to discuss the following two questions:
- What changes have you seen in institutions, communities, or citywide that can be associated with the dialogues on racial equity?
- What have been some of the unexpected or unintended changes or challenges that you have seen?
Then REM participants were instructed to write their partner’s responses to the two questions on a post-it, which were pasted to a ripple diagram drawn on a large newsprint or a whiteboard. Negative changes or challenges were posted on the outer edges of the ripple. Participants were asked to reflect on the ripple map and share what they learned.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
All interviews and REM sessions were conducted by an evaluator and a note-taker. See below for a brief description of what was discussed in the interview and REM sessions at each of the five sites.
4 participants were interviewed. Racial equity barriers discussed include institutional resistance to addressing racial issues, persistent leadership transitions, corruption, and institutional racism. Contextual factors that enabled racial equity included leadership from organized grassroots community groups, working the system from the inside out, and allies within the Albuquerque Public Schools. Interview respondents also discussed how the dialogue process helped to inform the development of the Family Engagement Policy and was the “method of choice” for addressing other community and social issues.
8 participants engaged in the REM session. REM areas of focus identified from participants' responses included families, schools, youth, and organizations. Participants discussed community level changes among families and parents, who were empowered to act on their own behalf, and institutional level changes, specifically a cultural shift in the school district.
5 participants were interviewed. Racial equity barriers discussed include historical and current community injustices, economic disparities, and gentrification and unaffordable housing. Contextual factors that enabled racial equity included city government leadership and support and increased public awareness. Interview respondents also discussed how the dialogue process provided the framework for the action work groups that formed from the dialogue and strengthened “connections” between city government and the larger community of Charlottesville. In addition, respondents shared that the dialogue process contributed to institutional changes like the establishment of the Minority Business Council, Workforce Department Advisory Council, and the Human Rights Commission as a part of the city of Charlottesville.
9 participants engaged in the REM session. REM areas of focus identified from participants’ responses included education, the social-cultural, government, and economics. Participants identified institutional ripple effects in the local government such as instituting “Ban the Box” policy and sociocultural changes such as increased opportunities for the public to attend cultural festivals, and presentations to learn about the history of different racial/ethnic groups in Charlottesville. Some barriers to change that were discussed include perceptions that Charlottesville was driven by “social politics” and had a “plantation culture.” Another barrier to change that was noted seemed to be “stronger white guilt” since the dialogues.
5 participants were interviewed. Racial equity barriers discussed include community attitudes that are resistant to change, lack of opportunities, power structure, persistent economic disparities, lack of a diverse teacher pool, and local policies on re-entry. Contextual factors that enable racial equity include community engagement efforts and local government leadership and support. Interview respondents also discussed how the dialogue process contributed to helping local leadership understand the mood of the community, and increase public participation, which extended the dialogues into the school system and police department.
10 participants engaged in the REM session. REM areas of focus identified from participants’ response included youth, education, criminal justice, and local leadership. Participants identified community ripple effects that include receiving funding for neighborhood improvements and a change in the Challenge Houses that provide a safe place for youth living in high-risk neighborhoods. Ripple effects in education were the mentoring programs for African American males and developing local leaders of color programs. In criminal justice, participants discussed how events helped improve relationships between the community and police. Barriers that participants discussed include a lack of teachers of color in the school system and a struggle to keep people engaged, especially in communities of color.
5 participants were interviewed. Racial equity barriers discussed included denial of racial inequities, mindsets and attitudes, community barriers such as issues with authentic engagement and racially segregated communities, and economic and employment disparities. Contextual factors that enable racial equity include leadership in grassroots community groups and champions for racial equity.
10 participants engaged in the REM session. No areas of focus were specified but some of the ripple effects participants identified include the city changing re-entry policies that impact people who were formerly incarcerated like “ban the box” policy, city cancellation of a local ordinance that was a barrier to getting housing, and institutional changes such as law enforcement hiring the city’s first Latino Chief of Police and schools hosting conversations on the intersection of race and student achievement.
7 participants were interviewed. Racial equity barriers discussed include racism, lack of accountability, cultural divide, and disparate disciplinary practices in the school system. Community barriers include economic disparities. Contextual factors that enable racial equity include community wide dialogues and leadership support.
9 participants engaged in the REM session. No areas of focus were specified but one of the ripple effects was that using a racial lens resulted in changes in school personnel’s perceptions, staff developing a “deeper understanding of youth,” and a teacher changing a reading list to increase the diversity of authors. Challenges that were discussed included “fewer teachers of color”, perceived lack of trust between ethnic groups and persisting institutional racism.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The evaluation questions of this case were:
- What contextual factors have affected racial equity work?
- What are some promising practices for sustaining racial equity?
- To what extent has use of Dialogue to Change process to address issues around racial equity contributed to institutional and/or community change?
In summary, contextual barriers to racial equity were:
- Institutional barriers such as resistance to addressing racial issues in schools (Albuquerque, NM)
- Lack of accountability in schools (Syracuse, NY)
- Community barriers such as historical community injustices (Charlottesville, VA)
- Segregated communities along racial lines (Lynchburg, VA)
- Systemic barriers such as entrenched power structures (Hopkinsville, VA)
Enablers of racial equity included:
- Leadership from grassroots organized community group (Albuquerque and Lynchburg)
- Buy-in to community dialogues across multiple groups (Syracuse)
- City government leadership support for racial equity (Hopkinsville and Charlottesville)
Promising Practices for Sustaining Racial Equity by CCRE Site were:
- Engaging community organizations, families, students and school personnel to get policy change in public school
- Leading the work through community coalitions and advocacy groups
- Developing allies within the school system
- Training police in how to have positive contact with communities, particularly marginalized communities
- Promoting more inclusive representation for minority owned businesses
- Leveraging city government influence for public policy change
- Promoting a diverse police force and providing training to improve community and police relations
- Developing and diversifying local leadership through programs and creating opportunities for people of color to serve in leadership positions
- Cultivating in-school champions working to help close the academic achievement gap
- Using dialogue/conversation as a community practice to bring the community together
- Building up community human capital by focusing on improving outcomes for youth
- Using different modalities to help people learn about racial issues
- Engaging community members in decision-making in the public sector
- Using a multi-layered approach to obtain buy-in to dialogue processes for racial equity
- Using dialogue to influence public participation in making institutional and community changes
- Developing programs that support equity in schools
The dialogue process was credited with being effective for addressing racial equity not just at the individual level but also at community and institutional levels. The ripple effect map data provided evidence that the Dialogue to Change process contributed to community and institutional changes and the strengthening of specific community capitals. Some examples included:
- Albuquerque organized and mobilized communities through Families United for Education whose engagement efforts led to passage of the Family Engagement Policy in public schools. (Human, social, and political capitals)
- Charlottesville established its first Office of Human Rights to address residents’ issues concerning inequitable institutional policies and practices. (Political capital)
- Hopkinsville made concerted efforts to diversify some of its government institutions resulting in greater diversity in the police department and on its city council. (Human capital)
- Lynchburg established a police advisory council made up of a racially diverse group of community residents, to advise the police department on hiring practices. One result was that the city hired its first police chief of color. (Human and political capitals)
- Syracuse city schools have seen an increase in the number of people of color serving in school administrator positions. Many of the schools have programs that promote racial equity and student engagement such as the ‘Seeds of Peace’ program. (Human and social capitals)
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Key lessons learned across the five sites were:
- Contextual factors matter and can either enable or be a barrier to racial equity. It is important to identify those factors so that enablers can be maximized to buffer the effects of barriers.
- In most instances, collective actions resulting from the dialogue process such as developing local leaders and promoting public participation in local level decision-making, have shown promise for helping to sustain racial equity.
- Dialogue to Change played a critical role in helping CCRE sites move forward in addressing racial equity issues.
A few lessons learned from conducting the follow up evaluation for Everyday Democracy were:
- Using a ‘case studies evaluation design’ worked well for collecting data on impacts on multiple CCRE sites.
- Ripple Effect Mapping was an excellent method for gathering retrospective information on events and impacts from those events that happened over time.
- Spending more time at each site is strongly recommended for future follow ups with CCRE sites. With more time, interviews could be conducted with more people and a series of ripple map sessions could be held to allow for a greater number of people from different communities to participate; an increase in participants would potentially yield data on an even wider range of community and institutional impacts.
 WSU Extension. (2011). Ripple Effects Mapping for Evaluation. Retrieved from https://naaee.org/sites/default/files/rem.complete.pdf
 Emery, M. & Flora, C. (2006). "Spiraling up: Mapping Community Transformation with Community Capitals Framework." Journal of Community Development, 37(1), 19-35. https://www.uvm.edu/rsenr/rm230/costarica/Emery-Flora-2006.pdf
Communities Creating Racial Equity: https://www.everyday-democracy.org/communities-creating-racial-equity