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Webinar Materials: “Using Tools And Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making”

Webinar Description

On October 15, 2014, PlaceMatters facilitated a webinar on “Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making”. Participants were able to learn about three strategies for thinking about and improving equity in our regions. University of Maryland demoed OppMap, a web-based tool for community-driven opportunity mapping in the Baltimore region. The Kirwan Institute showed how historical analysis brought clarity to equity discussions in Cleveland. MAPC shared lessons learned about how tapping into empathy can help cultivate an open environment for discussing equity.



  • Critter Thompson, Program Director, PlaceMatters (webinar facilitator)
  • Gerrit J. Knaap, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning & Executive Director, National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, University of Maryland
  • Holly St. Clair, Director of Data Services, Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Jason Reece, Director of Research, The Kirwan Institute for the study of Race & Ethnicity, The Ohio State University




Additional Links:

“Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making” webinar on October 15

Join PlaceMatters for a webinar on Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making.

Date: October 15, 2014

Time: 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm EDT


Join us to learn about three strategies for thinking about and improving equity in our regions. University of Maryland will demo OppMap, a web-based tool for community-driven opportunity mapping in the Baltimore region. Jason Reece of the Kirwan Institute will show how historical analysis brought clarity to equity discussions in Cleveland. Holly St. Clair of MAPC will share lessons learned about how tapping into empathy can help cultivate an open environment for discussing equity.

Questions? Contact Critter Thompson at PlaceMatters.

This webinar session is provided through the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The primary audience is members of the network, but anyone who is interested may participate.


NEW DATE: Engagement Tech for All Webinar now on June 26

Join PlaceMatters for a webinar on Engagement Tech for All.

Date: June 26, 2014

Time: 1:30 pm – 3 pm MDT


“Civic Technologies” are gaining increasing interest as a way to engage hard-to-reach populations in community planning and decision-making. Low income people, as well as people of color, immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, and youth are often un- or underrepresented in these processes.  Reasons for this lack of engagement include limited city budgets and staff capacity, absence of awareness of opportunities to engage, limited language skills and reading comprehension, and previous negative experiences resulting in mistrust or hostility towards government.  While not a panacea, civic technologies can enhance the toolkit available to planners and decision-makers who want to broaden public engagement. PlaceMatters recently released a report, funded by the Ford Foundation, on best practices in the use of civic technologies to reach underrepresented populations. The webinar will feature findings from the report, as well as case studies from communities that have effectively leveraged the widespread use of mobile phones, social media, and other technologies to engage a broad audience.  Join this webinar to learn more about the latest innovations in the field of civic technology, and the potential for these technologies to advance transformational change in communities, particularly around the lives of low-income people.


* Jill Locantore, Program Director, PlaceMatters
* Frank Hebbert, Director, OpenPlans
* Tamir Novotny, Senior Associate, Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities
* Holly St. Clair, Director of Data Services, Metropolitan Area Planning Council

This webinar session is provided through the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The primary audience is members of the network, but anyone who is interested may participate.

Linking Equity and Scenario Planning

Kirwan Opportunity Map

Example of Opportunity Mapping from Kirwan Institute

A few months ago, PlaceMatters hosted a webinar “Linking Equity and Scenario Planning” for the Sustainable Communities Grantees.  The webinar featured highlights of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning‘s GO TO 2040 process and its equity components, including increasing access to the scenario planning work via interact kiosks placed in strategic parts of the region.   Jason Reece from the Kirwan Institute gave a great presentation on Opportunity Mapping, which provides spatial representation of some of the inequities in access to opportunity. Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council then discussed the work they have done incorporating equity issues into both the process and content of their scenarios work.  Finally, I wrapped things up with a few additional thoughts on how to communicate complex information.

Our presenters had really valuable thoughts about the linkages between equity and scenario planning–both how to equitably engage people in the scenario planning process and what to measure and think about in scenario development itself. Issues of inequitable access to opportunity are complicated, difficult to measure, and difficult to talk about. Our webinar presenters are at the forefront of making equity a critical part of scenario planning discussions and are examples of how to embed the equity conversation in all aspects of our work.

Watch the webinar below, and please contact us with any thoughts and questions, as this is a topic we continue to explore.

Sustainable Communities Initiative: Equity and Scenario Planning Webinar from PlaceMatters’ Videos on Vimeo.

Scenario Planning and Equity

Last week, PlaceMatters convened a peer exchange event in Seattle to look at how to better integrate social equity and scenario planning. The event, part of the HUD/EPA/DOT Sustainable Communities Initiative, brought together regions from around the country who have strong track records of engaging both topics, and the peer exchange format allowed for some great conversations. A couple personal highlights:

  • Boston’s regional planning agency (MAPC) is doing some amazing things that link together data and mapping with the Weave  platform. For instance, the one pictured below links a chart and map so that you can highlight an element of either the map or chart and it highlights the corresponding element on the other side (rather than trying to make sense of my description, I suggest you test it out).

    DataCommon, built on the Weave platform

  • The Puget Sound Regional Council has teamed up with Impact Capital to develop a regional equity network that is making sure equity issues are central to their planning project. I was particularly impressed with the regional equity network concept (more on that here) and the way the small grants program is tapping into existing institutions and networks to build civic capacity and engagement.
  • Finally, Dr. Gerardo Sandoval, a professor at University of Oregon, is looking at how undocumented immigrant communities can be better engaged and included in planning processes, including scenario planning. He had some great examples of things like commute patterns by bike that would likely get missed in a typical scenario planning process. It’s incredibly easy to lose sight of how much diversity there is in the way people use the built environment, so his research is a much-needed check to the scenario planning and civic engagement worlds.

These sorts of conversations, in which professionals are able to share lessons learned and collaboratively talk about solving current challenges, are incredibly valuable but unfortunately rare opportunities. They’re possible because of the innovative Sustainable Communities Initiative, and I hope they’re able to become more regular parts of the planning world.

Finding the Balance: Light Rail and Neighborhood Integrity

The Denver Metro region’s light rail system is undergoing a major (albeit slow) expansion. Photo by Flickr user ercwttmn.

One of PlaceMatters’ major projects right now is a HUD Sustainable Communities grant in the Denver region to help with transit planning across several lines of the under-construction FasTracks light rail system (along with an impressive parallel community partnership called Mile High Connects). Our job is to architect much of the public engagement process so that people across the impacted communities can fully participate and contribute a meaningful way to key land use, housing, and transportation policy decisions.

These types of projects present a range of challenges, including the challenging of equity … relatively new in the space where federal housing, transportation, and environmental policy converge but with substantial on-the-ground implications, including those that Denver Post columnist Tina Griego wrote about last week.

Some of the equity challenges embedded in this project are regional in scope, such as thoughtfully and fairly distributing the dollars across multiple planned lines, and ensuring that development around transit stations affords people from a range of incomes the ability to use the transit system. Other challenges are more localized but no less important, such as protecting the integrity of neighborhoods that have a new transit line and transit stop (or that soon will have these). In the abstract, it’s easy to dismiss these types of concerns, since support for transit and for neighborhood revitalization is so widespread. But the quick escalation of property values that often accompanies new transit lines can be extremely disruptive, destroying local businesses and forcing people from their homes. And changes in land use around new transit stations can have a huge impact on the character of existing communities.

This is a tough project (and I’m very glad to see my extremely capable colleague Jocelyn Hittle as our point person), but it’s an important one, and if managed well the result will be good policy outcomes and community members along these transit lines that feel they contributed meaningfully to decisions that will impact their lives in complicated ways.

Participation By Design: Engaging Social Equity and Building Social Capital through Mapping Opportunity

This post, by guest blogger Jason Reece, is the fifth in a month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

A visioning exercise at the beginning of an opportunity mapping project in Merced County, California.

One powerful approach for promoting equitable planning policy and community capacity building is the Kirwan Institute’s “Opportunity Communities” model. Our model considers the multiplicity of factors such as housing, education, jobs, transportation, health, and engagement at the center of one’s life and community. This approach is based on the premise that everyone should have fair access to the critical opportunity structures and the necessary social infrastructure to succeed in life; and that affirmatively connecting people to opportunity creates positive, transformative change in communities.

The Communities of Opportunity model advocates for a fair investment in all of a region’s people and neighborhoods–to improve the life outcomes of all citizens, and to improve the health of entire regions. The Institute utilizes mapping and our Opportunity Communities model to address racial/social equity challenges, to promote community development for marginalized communities, and to affirmatively connect those communities to critical opportunity structures, such as successful schools, safe neighborhoods and sustainable employment.

Our organization’s signature approach based on this model is our Opportunity and Asset Mapping strategy. Opportunity and asset mapping creates composite maps based on numerous neighborhood indicators of community opportunity and vitality. Opportunity maps have been utilized in policy advocacy, litigation, applied research, community organizing, coalition building and to inform service delivery.

Opportunity mapping can delineate the needs, capacity and opportunities of marginalized communities, giving local partners and advocates a collaborative space for strategic planning and a communications tool. Mapping can provide an invaluable lens for identifying strategic points of investment, which is critical given the great needs (and limited resources) of marginalized communities. Mapping assets and need can also spur new thinking. This approach requires extensive engagement, involvement and participation of the various local community partners to be realized.

Our opportunity mapping projects have evolved over the past decade, originally centered on providing data-driven tools for policymakers. Our experiences doing this work in more than twenty states has illustrated the utility of utilizing opportunity mapping to also build capacity within communities. The impact of opportunity and asset mapping has been documented by many of our previous project partners. As described by our partners in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon:

“From an institutional perspective, involvement with this project has required us as an organization to reach out to potential partners we have not interacted with before. We have developed relationships with organizations working on issues such as smart growth, health disparities and education which have helped to inform and direct our fair housing work.”
-Erin Boggs, Deputy Director, Connecticut Fair Housing Center

“We have program outcome data on every program we fund, but we have never had a way to show impact upon a population or neighborhood. Opportunity mapping is a powerful tool that demonstrates the value of our work in a graphic and easy to understand way … our city budget continues to shrink but as we go forward we’ll be working on ways to refocus some of our investments.”
-Linda Lanier, Executive Director/CEO, Jacksonville Children’s Commission

“Within legal services, the mapping data is the foundation for a new place-based advocacy that seeks to bring intensive and comprehensive legal resources and social services to change outcomes in several low-opportunity zip codes or neighborhoods.”
-Fran Fajana, Director of the Race Equity Project, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

“The story of how our maps were created resembles the children’s story Stone Soup, in which a hungry community started out with nothing but a pot of water with stones and ended up with a rich soup that fed everyone because each person contributed something. Creating these maps was a community building experience that promises to have benefits that go beyond the maps themselves.”
–Andree Tremoulet, Ph.D. Housing Services Specialist, Washington County, OR, Department of Community Development

(The quotes are from The Kirwan Institute Annual Report 2010/2011 and Poverty’s Place Revisited: Mapping for Justice & Democratizing Data to Combat Poverty, published in the July/August 2010 issue of the Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty Law and Policy.)

Through collaboration with local partners, the Institute has utilized opportunity mapping initiatives to produce policy change and new investments to assist marginalized communities and promote community development. Some of these recent policy impacts include:

  • Establishment of a minority business accelerator in the greater Cleveland region.
  • Development of the Thompson v. HUD fair housing remedial proposal.
  • Utilization of opportunity maps to target affordable housing investments in the City of Austin, TX.
  • Establishment of a $5 million gap financing program to produce construction of affordable rental housing in high opportunity areas in Massachusetts.
  • Targeting of $20 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program investments into high- need, low- opportunity communities in Massachusetts.
  • Adoption of a Community of Opportunity policy framework as guiding principles for the Connecticut Department of Housing and Community development.
  • Adoption of a Community of Opportunity model for the Department of Community Development in Washington County, OR.
  • Expansion and targeting of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in Columbus, OH.
  • Targeting of more than $10 million in revitalization program funding directed by the philanthropic community in Columbus, OH to marginalized neighborhoods.
  • Adoption of opportunity- based school desegregation plans in Montclair, NJ and Louisville, KY.
  • Revision of Ohio’s Equal Education Opportunity Policy to reflect contemporary legal parameters, including recommendations for diversifying K-12 schools and reducing racial isolation, all unanimously approved by the State’s Board of Education.
  • Utilization of the opportunity and asset mapping framework to HUD funded regional sustainable communities’ plans in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the Puget Sound Region and Connecticut.
  • Adoption of the opportunity mapping methodology by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist with fair housing goals.

Opportunity mapping provides a framework and “space” for engaging a broad number of community stakeholders, while simultaneously focusing on the equity concerns of marginalized communities. To paraphrase Van Jones, sustainability means assuring we do not have a disposable society, meaning not only preservation of our natural resources, but also supporting our most important resource, people (and our human capacity). By understanding pathways to opportunity and seeking to open pathways to opportunity for all people, we assure that we support all people and a sustainable society.

This post was contributed by Jason Reece, Director of Research at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity.

Most Exciting Trends in 2012: Sustainability, Equity, Transparency

End of the World

We’re more optimistic about 2012 than some…

2012 could be the end of the world as we know it. Or not. Either way, some things definitely will be ending–for example, funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative program hasn’t been renewed for 2013.  Despite the end of funding this year, or perhaps because of it, I’ll point again this year (as I did last year) to the SCI program as something I’m excited about for the coming year.  2012 is our chance to get as much information out of these processes as possible and apply lessons learned to future regional or local sustainability projects (in whatever way they are funded). The projects that were begun in 2010 are well underway, and are already providing a slew of lessons learned for the 2011 grantees and sustainability planning in general.  Grantees have been tackling problems like data acquisition, equitably engaging citizens, managing large groups of partner organizations, and working collaboratively with groups opposed to the SCI process.  PlaceMatters is working with several 2010 grantees, and will be starting work with two more 2011 grantees (the Denver Regional Council of Governments and Erie County, PA).  We also are Technical Advisors around equity and scenario planning for the full program, so we will be sharing our continued lessons learned throughout 2012. Continue reading

Is Equity the Uber-Indicator?

PlaceMatters has always focused on making decision-making as inclusive as possible.  We’ve recently been focusing in particular on equitable public engagement, and are about to undertake some more focused research within our Sustainable Solutions Group projects on best practices in equitable engagement and how technology impacts the engagement of typically underserved populations.

Health and Social Well-being by Economic Equality

Health and Social Well-being by Economic Equality, from Sightline Institute’s “The Mystery Indicator of Sustainability” post

Consequently, I’ve had my eye on some conversations about equity.  I just came across a blog post from the Sightline Institute about how economic equality may explain many of the variations in measures of livability and sustainability that are tracked internationally and within the U.S.  Levin Nock, the post’s author, is summarizing the points in The Spirit Level, written by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of the Equality Trust. Some interesting correlations exist, and as Nock points out, even if only half of the measures discussed have a causal relationship with economic equality, that is still a big deal.  If economic inequality is the root

Recycling Rates by Economic Equality, from Sightline Institute's "The Mystery Indicator of Sustainability" post

Recycling Rates by Economic Equality, from Sightline Institute’s “The Mystery Indicator of Sustainability” post

cause of  issues like mental health and crime, which we often associate with economic issues, and

things like maternity/paternity leave and recycling rates, which

we probably don’t, we can address a whole slew of issues by addressing one.

As more research is done, we might find that this relationship isn’t causal, or, conversely, that the links are even stronger than initially thought.  It’s a complex issue and teasing out the relationships among so many factors is a tough job. Figuring out what to do with that information is even tougher. For example, free market proponents may feel that taking active steps to improve economic equality isn’t appropriate, regardless of the impacts of inequality on other measures.

Regardless of the degree of inequality’s impact or one’s thoughts on how to use that information, it’s clear that economic equality has some impact on a variety of livability measures. Since PlaceMatters focuses not only on engagement, but also on creating informed decisions through activities like measuring appropriate indicators and conducting scenario planning, this question will be one for us to follow in order to make our modeling and monitoring as accurate and streamlined as possible.

It’s also clear that equality in access to decision-making is important, regardless of the equity indicator question.  Decisions made by diverse groups of people are almost always better decisions (see The Wisdom of Crowds, among others).  Based on this fact, and the belief that decisions should be made by all groups that will be impacted by their outcomes, PlaceMatters continues to work to create decision-making processes that are equitable and inclusive, as well as informed, transparent, and long-lasting. We’ll be sharing the results of our research and on-the-ground experience with respect to equitable engagement and decision-making in the coming year, so stay tuned for more information and reflection.