On May 2, 2023, two members of the Medici Road team – Thomas Houston and Alyssa Smaldino – facilitated a FUSE Innovation Lab with Milwaukee County. Their Equity Office, particularly their FUSE Fellow Kristin Vogel, has been organizing a community engagement strategy that increases government responsiveness to community needs, and utilizes the data and stories shared by community members to inform decisions about resource allocation. They posed the question: how might we move beyond community engagement to increase community power?
As our team designed a session that could help them explore this question and then operationalize a plan in response, we acknowledged that “community power” is a big jump from a current system in which community members share data/ stories, wait to hear back, and then often learn that government has allocated resources to something completely different from their stated needs. This breakdown is not unique to Milwaukee County, but what we did see as unique in Milwaukee was an Equity Office team and County leadership that is ready and willing to make meaningful changes. So we offered a step in to bridge between the current and future states: Community Accountability.
We delved into our guiding questions to help the group navigate this new intermediary step:
- What does available data say about who is most impacted by racial oppression in a region?
- How might your organization (in this case, Milwaukee County’s Equity Office) be in deeper accountability to those populations?
- Consider who is involved in decision-making about your strategies, who receives the bulk of your funding, and who gets to define the metrics for success.
- What is your definition of community power?
- Are you honoring the power that already exists (in the community and in your organization) and leveraging it toward the collective well-being?
Looking at the to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s anti-racist principles, we see that Maintaining Accountability is about being “accountable to the communities struggling with racist oppression.”
Therefore, our guiding questions were designed to get the Milwaukee County’s Office of Equity from community involvement to community power, which is what they were aiming for.
We also acknowledged that “power” is a broad concept that can take many forms. When we talk about building “community power,” are we acknowledging the inherent forms of power that community already has? To ground these reflections, we leaned on the Sources of Power resource that was developed by the National Community Development Institute and popularized by the Building Movement Project.
Once we were aligned on what we meant by power, and how we might get there through a sense of accountability to the communities most impacted by racial oppression, we were ready to ideate solutions to improving the community engagement data system.
In the weeks since the Lab, we’ve received feedback that the conversations about accountability, power, and operationalizing racial equity have remained present across the Equity Office’s work. The frameworks you see above have entered the dialogue in high-level meetings, prompting deeper consideration on structural ways that public servants can live and practice these values within local government.
If you’re curious about how our guiding questions can inform a plan to operationalize racial equity in your workplace, we’d love to connect or hear what you’re learning through an email.
Thanks to Kristin Vogel, Paula Phillips and the whole Milwaukee County team for the fruitful collaboration and learnings!