The Justice40 StoryMap: Using Data to Advance Racial Equity

Kirsten Cook, Data Research and Policy Manager and
Anna O’Driscoll, Data Analyst

One of the Partnership for Southern Equity’s Principles for Shared Prosperity is that “Equity is the superior growth model.” To understand this principle in another way, let’s look at two statements: 

  1. The U.S. would be a more prosperous place without racial wealth gaps in income. 
  1. The 2019 GDP would have increased by $3 trillion if we eliminated racial wealth gaps in income.1  

Both statements are true and they essentially arrive at the same conclusion: racial inequity harms the economy. But which statement is more powerful? 

We think the second statement is more powerful because of the clarity, details, direct sourcing, and call to action. At the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), we believe not only in the power of data, but also in democratizing data and organizing data as power.  

That is why, when PSE was provided last year with the resources to create the Data, Research, and Policy Unit, we were thrilled about the opportunity. The unit, which officially started in July 2021, supports the entire PSE organization, and works cross-functionally with all the issue area portfolios to leverage data, research, policy, and evaluation efforts that contribute towards racial equity and systems transformation.  

In alignment with PSE’s mission and values, we recognize that racial equity is a “way,” not a “what.” So, the team is committed to applying equitable methodology to every project. This means that the whole data process clearly defines the outcomes, with a clear commitment to equity throughout. We lead with research and policy efforts focused on Black, Brown and historically disadvantaged communities of color. We work to center racial equity, put data in the hands of people, and rely on Community-Based Participatory Research to define our project priorities. We approach data collection as participatory and maintain full transparency with the public.  

In this first blog post in our series on Research and Data for Racial Equity, we’ll focus on the first word in our unit’s name – data. Data adds an important layer in helping us understand the systems we’re living in and seeking to improve. Data can point out gaps, illustrate trends, measure and track success, and more. It should not replace real-life experiences to tell a story, but it’s certainly a helpful tool to pair alongside it. 

We’ve spent the last several months intentionally establishing this unit through an equity-informed framework, relying on data equity training and a variety of existing resources on the subject. While we are committed to continuously refining our framework, we wanted to share a few of the principles that currently guide our work.  

  1. We recognize the importance of taking the time to frame and word our research questions before diving into a project, ensuring that everyone involved knows what specifically we are asking and how the data we have can help answer the question.2  
  1. We’re committed to transparency throughout our organization. One way this transparency plays out is in the way we present our data sources. We intend to utilize a Data Biography Tool, which helps identify equity issues when using proxy variables and helps fix issues when combining multiple datasets to tell one story. Through the Data Biography Tool, we intend to be transparent in our work about information such as who collected the data; sample size; how the sample was collected; who was included/excluded from the sample; when the data was collected; specific measures used; why, where, and how the data was collected.3 
  1. Despite popular opinion, data is not objective. There is always some kind of bias in data sourcing, collection, and analysis because choices need to be made at every step that impacts the results. This is okay; the biases just need to be named, and the choices explained. That’s what we are committed to doing. 

We use data in each of our portfolios. 

One of the projects we’re engaged with right now is the Justice40 Accelerator. This is a major project which shares information, resources, and capacity with a cohort of frontline community organizations across the country to support them as they formulate projects and apply for funding made available through the Justice40 Initiative (J40I). The J40I is a political commitment from the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of federal investments in climate-related programs flow to disadvantaged communities.

Putting this funding commitment for environmental justice into practical operation involves a whole suite of complicated and unclear details. Our Data, Research, and Policy unit is partnered alongside the Justice40 Accelerator project to create a StoryMap that helps shed light on some of those details -contextualizing the circumstances within a long history of federal climate and economic decisions, highlighting some existing barriers that exist for frontline organizations in securing funding, tracking the actions taken thus far, and ultimately crafting a story that helps us “leverage this pivotal moment to radically reimagine the government resource delivery system as a restorative and reparative framework to better support Black and historically disinvested communities of color.”4 

We’re excited about the way we can use the data in this project to convey the story in a more powerful and compelling way. Above all, we’re excited about all the future opportunities our unit will have to share data for the purpose of organizing around a vision to transform unjust systems.  

[1] National Equity Atlas.
[2] Informed by the “Foundations in Data Equity Training” by
[3] Ibid.