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.
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
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.