Equity in Education Networks: A Tool for Inquiry - Digital Promise

Equity in Education Networks: A Tool for Inquiry

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October 22, 2020 | By

Our work over the past five years convening education innovation ecosystem builders has shown the potential of networks to address our deepest challenges in education. But they can also perpetuate the very inequities they seek to address.

Spurred by a call to action at our 2016 Education Innovation Clusters convening, we launched a national Equity Working Group to critically examine diversity, equity, and inclusion in their networks and curate resources to support the journey. This group developed and workshopped an initial “equity audit” that evolved into our newly published framework, Equity Inquiry for Education Networks. Many others have informed the tool and our ongoing learning along the way. 

Equity work requires a deep, sustained commitment to recognize and dismantle inequitable systems, cultures, policies, mindsets, and behaviors.

Equity work requires a deep, sustained commitment to recognize and dismantle inequitable systems, cultures, policies, mindsets, and behaviors. This framework is designed as a starting point—but not an end point—for reflection. It provides education network leaders and partners with a set of questions to prompt an examination of equity in key topic areas:

  • Understanding Your Community
  • Network Health
  • Programs and Initiatives
  • Communications
  • Events

Commit to the Equity Journey

“Racism is the deadliest disease in America and can’t be cured overnight,” writes Kelly Saulny, director of strategic partnerships at Camelback Ventures. There are no checklists or quotas for this work. It is personal, organizational, and ongoing, as it has been in my own continuing equity and anti-racist journey.

Advancing equity in education requires an explicit commitment to racial equity and to centering the voices of those who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, and people of color. Equity work requires individuals and organizations to identify and dismantle systems of white supremacy as they show up in decisions, behaviors, and relationships.

To start, we recommend networks and organizations:

  • Conduct a culture survey to gauge how people view and experience the network from an equity lens
  • Engage with resources and experts who can support their ongoing equity journeys
  • Assemble a team to conduct the inquiry that reflects the range of stakeholders in the network and community and amplifies marginalized voices
Advancing equity in education requires an explicit commitment to racial equity and to centering the voices of those who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, and people of color.

Understanding Your Community

Before going into any of the modules, inquiry teams must develop a shared, fuller picture of their community by examining demographics, identifying equity gaps and barriers, and surfacing and affirming community assets. With this lens in mind, participants can explore the other inquiry topics.

Network Health

Network scientists have found that healthy networks are diverse, inclusive, and dynamic. The prompts in this module examine network health from an equity lens around key areas:

  • People and Partners: To what extent does the network equitably engage and include marginalized communities and voices?
  • Culture and Commitment: How do marginalized communities experience the network? How does the network self-reflect and change?
  • Leadership and Decision-Making: Who accesses, influences, and comprises leadership in a network?
  • Access and Participation: How are resources, opportunities, and knowledge shared equitably across the network?

Program and Initiatives

Programs and initiatives are at the heart of how networks seek to effect change in education. But too often programs are designed for—not with—the communities they are intended to serve. This section of the equity inquiry looks at network programming in key areas:

  • Strategy and Alignment: How do programs and priorities reflect a network’s strategy and values?
  • Design, Leadership, and Participation: How is the program’s design informed by the needs and desires of marginalized communities? How do they lead, design, and benefit from the work?
  • Impact and Evaluation: How is impact defined and measured from an equity-centered approach?

To learn more about how Digital Promise is supporting an equity-centered co-design process for education research and development (R&D), follow the work of our Center for Inclusive Innovation and explore our Inclusive Innovation framework.

Two other modules focus on Communications and Events, helping education innovation organizations examine how they center marginalized voices in these key network activities. Communications looks at content and creation, design and packaging, and sharing and dissemination. The Events section looks at access and participation, space and belonging, and planning, execution, and leadership.

The Work Continues

Equity work requires both self-reflection and reflection as an organization or network.

Equity work requires both self-reflection and reflection as an organization or network. The tools are neither definitive nor exhaustive, but they reflect a learning journey that continues.

I’ve been pushed in my journey by many colleagues, friends, and leaders. One of those leaders is Kimberly Smith, executive director of the League of Innovation Schools and the new Center for Inclusive Innovation, who has named key ways for white education leaders to act as “co-conspirators”in the work for racial justice.

We’d love to know about the resources, organizations, and leaders you’re learning from in your own equity journey. Share learnings, reflections and other ideas for the tool using this form.

Explore and engage with Equity Inquiry for Education Networks now!

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