Reexamining Our Work to Uncover Opportunities to Advance Equity

July 26, 2021
| Amanda Coleman
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Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied…equal opportunity to individuals and communities. Our country faces converging economic, health, and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism. (E.O. 13985)

In January of 2021, President Biden signed the Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government Visit disclaimer page (E.O. 13985), underscoring the urgent need for federal agencies to examine the role that their policies and practices play in contributing to inequities in service access, utilization, and outcomes. Identifying and dismantling systemic barriers within the federal government that perpetuate inequities requires collaboration within and across agencies, affected communities, and other stakeholders to build upon existing tools and resources and develop new practices and strategies. To facilitate that type of collaboration, OPRE is engaged in several efforts to support the Executive Order's implementation within the Administration for Children and Families and to strengthen OPRE’s focus on race equity in our research, evaluation, and data practices.

Earlier this year, we took stock of the resources developed under current and past projects to identify the most useful and relevant resources related to the Executive Order to share with federal partners, to learn where gaps existed, and to identify opportunities to grow our portfolio of work to support equity. I want to share a few of the resources highlighted by this effort:

  • Engaging Members of Underserved Communities
    The Executive Order and the recent OMB Memo on Evidence-Based Policymaking: Learning Agendas and Annual Evaluation Plans Visit disclaimer page (PDF) place heavy emphasis on the importance of partnering with communities to reflect their voices and perspectives in the work of government agencies.  Specifically, the OMB memo notes community engagement “allows agency staff to understand better how its policies, programs, and procedures affect and are experienced by recipients, the challenges those recipients face, and suggestions for improvement." Several OPRE products describe important principles, considerations, and strategies for involving communities in research that are also relevant for a broader range of government activities. Building upon the Children’s Bureau’s  Roadmap for Collaborative and Effective Evaluation in Tribal Communities, the evaluation team supporting the Tribal Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) developed a brief (PDF) to describe how the values of the Roadmap were applied to inform a robust evaluation approach. The brief and Roadmap emphasize that research and evaluation with tribal communities should be guided by tribal communities’ histories with the federal government, strengths and assets, rules regulating research, and involvement in every phase of the research process. Many of these principles can support strong evaluations with other communities that have been underserved.

  • Data Infrastructure
    The Executive Order focuses on strengthening the federal government’s ability to disaggregate data by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, or other key demographic variables to identify inequities and opportunities to support equitable access to programs and services. Several OPRE projects provide valuable insights about the capacity of existing data to tell us about the experiences of populations that are underserved. Our grantee the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families Visit disclaimer page has several resources, including an interactive data tool Visit disclaimer page that enables users to unpack national survey data to understand Hispanic families' diversity, including characteristics such as citizenship, literacy, and heritage. A brief from the American Indian and Alaska Native Early Childhood Needs Assignment Design Project explores the potential of national survey and administrative data to provide information on indicators of met and unmet needs for services for young American Indian and Alaska Native children and their families.

Examining our existing resources related to provisions of the Executive Order has provided an exciting opportunity not only to share relevant resources and learnings with federal staff working to implement the Executive Order and other interested stakeholders, but it has also allowed us to look at our past work with a slightly different lens. While we have identified a number of important resources, we also identified areas in which OPRE can grow its work.  OPRE is anticipating the award of several new FY21 projects that will help this growth. We are committed to strengthening our capacity to embed equity in our research, evaluation, and data practices and produce evidence that supports equitable policymaking and program design and implementation.


Amanda Clincy Coleman, Ph.D., is the Deputy Division Director of OPRE’s Division of Child and Family Development. Her work focuses on child care, early education and early childhood home visiting.

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