Building Equitable Ecosystems - Digital Promise

Building Equitable Ecosystems


Since 2012, Digital Promise has convened Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters), local communities of practice that bring together educators, entrepreneurs, funders, researchers, and other community stakeholders (e.g., families, local government, nonprofits) to support innovative teaching and learning in their region. At the 2016 Education Innovation Clusters (EdClusters) Convening in Providence, Rhode Island, participants began and committed to an ongoing critical discussion on equity in their networks. Two key takeaways emerged:

  • If an improvement isn’t equitable, it isn’t innovative; equity is critical for true innovation
  • For equity to remain a central focus, it must be measured

With renewed commitment toward defining and expanding inclusive innovation, an Equity Working Group was launched with EdCluster members from across the country, and over the course of 2017 and 2018 resources were curated to support improving equity within these networks. The group also developed and workshopped an equity assessment to further inform the work within their communities and organizations. This resource, a compilation of that work, includes both links to resources and worksheets.

Equity is centered within the broader framework of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) DEI work requires self-reflection, group-reflection, participation in difficult conversations, willingness to listen and prioritize the perspectives and feelings of others, investment of time and energy into community partnerships, and ongoing assessment of progress and policies. This resource includes starting points and guidance for beginning conversations and presents strategies for providing more equitable community based learning experiences with the goal of improving academic outcomes for all students.

This resource can help:

  • Define local educational inequities
  • Assess an organization’s current practices and policies around DEI, and
  • Strategize specific improvements regarding operations and policies.

(Note: For this work to be authentic and intentional, organizations must design a comprehensive approach for examining implicit biases and organizational culture, which is a critical body of work that is not addressed here.)


“Educational equity means each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential.” (National Equity Project)

Students enter school having had different levels of access to early learning opportunities. This opportunity gap directly affects achievement. To support each and every student to high achievement, schools, and education organizations need to provide equitable–not equal–resources to students.

What is educational equity?

Providing equitable resources includes increased support for historically underserved populations, including students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, immigrant and undocumented families, students from lower-income families, and any marginalized students and families. It also means increased representation of these students and their families in environments where educational decisions are being made.

Why approach it from a local level?

Educational inequities differ between regions. Historical context and regional demographics determine who has access to resources and who leads decision-making in education systems. Once communities identify local educational inequities, they can map out clear strategies to improve access and representation, resulting in better outcomes for students.

How are these resources organized?

The resources have been organized in three steps: 1) develop shared understanding and definitions that will guide the work; 2) collect and analyze demographics; 3) conduct an audit of practices, policies, and strategies currently in place.

Getting Started: Defining Your Equity Focus

People approach DEI from different backgrounds and levels of familiarity, and individual beliefs and perceptions on these topics vary widely. The resources in this section can help you initiate critical conversations about your organization and its goals related to DEI. A starting point is confirming alignment across your organization regarding the definition of DEI and the value of DEI in your organization’s work.

Baseline Definitions

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are nuanced topics with different emphases specific to regions, education systems, and workplaces. For that reason, it’s important to develop an organization-wide understanding of equity and DEI values before making meaningful internal improvements. The following definitions offer a baseline overview of each concept. (Also see the tools in Section IV)

  • Diversity: “…all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. While diversity is often used in reference to race, ethnicity, and gender, we embrace a broader definition of diversity that also includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. Our definition also includes diversity of thought: ideas, perspectives, and values. We also recognize that individuals affiliate with multiple identities.” (Independent Sector)
  • Equity: “…the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society.” (Independent Sector)
  • Inclusion: “…the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people. It’s important to note that while an inclusive group is by definition diverse, a diverse group isn’t always inclusive. Increasingly, recognition of unconscious or ‘implicit bias’ helps organizations to be deliberate about addressing issues of inclusivity” (Independent Sector)

The Equity Spectrum

Consider: Where does your organization currently stand on equity? Where do you want to be?

DEI issues affect every aspect of an organization, from goal setting to staff and clients to communications, operations and finance. The Organizational Equity Spectrum outlined below may be a helpful way to start to engage in an equity discussion. The spectrum offers three approaches organizations can take when designing equity strategies.

  • Equity as a Strand: Organizations who have a deep focus on equity in a specific area. For example, a STEM organization who has a specific program for K-6 high-poverty students within the context of their broader work.
  • Equity as a Lens: Organizations who utilize an equity lens across all of their work. For example, a philanthropic organization who requires their grantees to meet equity-focused criteria and outcomes in all of their grants.
  • Equity as Core: Organizations whose core mission is equity-driven and whose work focuses 100% on supporting underserved populations. For example, a non-profit who provides mentoring to underserved students of color.

*Note that no point on the spectrum is necessarily better or worse than the others; they simply represent different points of organizational focus and provide a framework for discussion.*

Organizations can host internal discussions to gauge their placement and set goals for modifications in many ways, including surveys and organization-wide conversations designed to illuminate blind spots and promote collective understandings.

There are many ways to invite stakeholders and staff to share feedback on current approaches to DEI, including attitudinal surveys, conversation cafés, and facilitated DEI trainings. Examples of these tools and resources are listed below as a starting point. Because people come into this conversation from different backgrounds, experiences, familiarity and comfort, approaching these topics with care and consideration can help create a safe, inclusive space where all feel respected and heard.


Resources by Category

General DEI Resources

Article or Report
Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices
Organization or Program
  • City Bridge: Nonprofit that incubates and launches new schools and transforms existing ones within Washington, DC with an equity-focus.
  • DEI Expert Hub (Catalyst Education): Platform to submit specific DEI projects/challenges, and receive proposals from a curated collection of expert consultants in the DEI education space
  • National Equity Project: Nonprofit focused on improving educational outcomes for underserved communities
  • The Equity Lab: Nonprofit offering long- and short-term trainings on race, equity, diversity, and inclusion for individuals and organizations
Tool or Toolkit
  • America Healing Racial Equity Resource Guide (Kellogg Foundation): Toolkit for building racial equity in communities
  • Conversation CaféA method for engaging in difficult conversations through rounds of dialogue, instead of open debate
  • Equity Toolkit (NGLC): Tools for developing an equity lens in professional learning, organizational growth, school culture, and next gen learning design
  • Informing the Plan (Racial Equity Tools): Various tools for assessing racial equity on community and organizational levels
  • Liberating Structures: Various tools for opening dialogue to all individuals on a team
  • New Schools Venture Fund DEI Resources (New Schools Venture Fund): Extensive list of tools and resources regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in education
  • Racial Equity Impact Assessment Toolkit (Race Forward): Toolkit for minimizing negative outcomes of policies, programs, and practices, through a racial equity lens
  • Racial Equity Toolkit (Government Alliance on Race and Equity): A toolkit addressing equity specifically in a racial context, including a sample tool used by the city of Seattle


Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices

Content and Curriculum

Article or Report
Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices

DEI Level-Setting Resources

Article or Report
  • 2014 Equity Report for Atlanta Public Schools (Atlanta Public Schools): This report includes a history of equity audits in education. The audit used a framework from “Equity Audits: A Practical Leadership Tool for Developing Equitable and Excellent Schools.” It relied on APS administrative and financial data, geospatial data, and Census data.
  • Equity Audits: A Practical Leadership Tool for Developing Equitable and Excellent Schools (See also: this summarizing article) (Educational Administration Quarterly): A framework for educational equity audits. Broad topics include teacher quality equity, programmatic equity, and achievement equity.
  • Transfer Access Survey for Two Year Colleges (Center for Urban Education Policy, The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, and University of Massachusetts at Boston): This resource is specific to community colleges, but is helpful to guide equity assessments in any educational organization. Topics include: services, financial aid, staff, communications/marketing, policy, practice, standards, and mission.
Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices
Organization or Program
  • DEI Expert Hub (Catalyst Education): Platform to submit specific projects/challenges, and receive proposals from a curated collection of expert consultants in the DEI education space
Tool or Toolkit

Design Thinking

Article or Report
Organization or Program
  • Creative Reaction Lab: A nonprofit organization focused on collaborative youth engagement and equity-centered community design
Tool or Toolkit
  • Liberatory Design Cards (Stanford A toolkit for recognizing, reflecting on, and addressing historical inequities in the design process


Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices


Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices


Article or Report

Programs and Initiatives

Article or Report
Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices
Tool or Toolkit
  • NGLC Equity Toolkit (NGLC): Tools for developing an equity lens in schools and school-based settings, including professional learning, organizational growth, school culture, and next gen learning design

Staff, Culture, and Leadership

Article or Report
Guidelines, Check List, or Best Practices
Tool or Toolkit
  • Dialogic Interviews (Deeper Learning): Guiding questions for opening dialogue about equity and diversity
  • Enhancing Cultural Competence (University of Kansas): Toolkit for building a culturally competent organization
  • Inclusion Survey (Culture Amp and Paradigm): An internal survey focused on DEI in hiring and recruiting, as well as in organizational culture


Article or Report
Organization or Program
  • AT&T Access: Low-cost internet access for qualifying households
  • Comcast Internet Essentials: Low-cost internet access for qualifying households
  • Everyone On: A national nonprofit with a tool that connects individuals with low-cost internet resources in their area
  • Hotspot Program (Digital Wish): A nonprofit that provides free hotspots to eligible public and nonprofit private schools
  • Tech Goes Home: A Boston-based nonprofit organization focused on increasing technology access and use among students, parents, and schools


The Conversation

Additional links, ideas, and feedback can be sent to and we will continue to update this resource.

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