May 18, 2021
Exygy and the Justice Collective discuss the role that equity plays in the affordable housing space at Good Tech Fest 2021.
Civic
Thought Leadership

Ivy Teng Lei:

Welcome everybody to our panel. We're super excited to share a little bit about ourselves, and more importantly, really shine light on the important issue that we're very, very passionate about. We hope to bring the entire audience along as we discuss some of the challenges as well as some of the learnings in both Roshen and Danielle's capacity and their in the organization that will get a little bit deeper, , shortly, , today's panel is how might we equitably scale affordable housing solutions? My name is Ivy Teng Lei. I am the Head of Growth at Exygy. I am very, very honored to be sandwiched on my screen between Roshen and Danielle. , my role here is a moderator, so really to kind of push the conversation together into a central theme and really hoping that, , the audience as well are engaged through questions that you can put into your chat that we'll take at the end of this panel with that. Danielle, would you like to kick off the introductions?


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

Hi everybody. It's good to see some of you and feel the rest of you. I am joining you from New Orleans, so it's getting late here, but I'm going to keep my energy up. I am the Head of Growth and Expansion and a Co-founder at The Justice Collective. The Justice Collective is a Black and Asian owned, social impact consultancy based in Oakland, California — we are geographically distributed across the country. Our work really centers on identifying opportunities for organizations to be more impactful and achieve their missions in the world. Our entry point to that is advancing equity, diversity and inclusion inside of those organizations. My background is in urban planning. I'm a planner by training. I worked in the planning department in San Francisco for a couple of years and started the racial equity work in that department.


Then I left the City to lean into TJC full-time. In this capacity I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of different housing organizations, both city agencies with the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development in San Francisco, as well as affordable housing developers, like SAHA, and CDFIs like the housing trust. And so this Venn diagram between our communities, historic and persistent inequity, and how we can create innovations that really improve those disparities in our housing ecosystem that are really central to my personal mission in the world. So I'm excited to be sharing the stage with my friends over at Exygy, and I'll hand it over to you, Roshen.


Roshen Sethna:

I'm Roshen Sethna. I'm one of the three partners here at Exygy, so I focus on all of our civic sector work here. Exygy partners with social social sector organizations to design and build technology that improves lives. We work a lot with nonprofits, government directly, philanthropy, and we are often their design and technical team. We take a very equity-focused lens to our work because we work on a variety of issues such as affordable housing, criminal legal system reform, transit, the environment, things like that, for the past five or six years or so. We've been building out an open source tool that is an affordable housing platform. It allows jurisdictions to basically manage their affordable housing stock and deliver it more effectively and equitably. We've been working with four jurisdictions here in the Bay Area to implement that and talking to a bunch across the US to do it as well. My background is in the nonprofit sector. I was a social entrepreneur before this and also as an affordable housing counselor in Houston, Texas really early on in my career. So housing has been an arc for me.


Ivy Teng Lei:

Thank you so much Roshen and Danielle for the introduction. A little sneak peek into how we were kind of thinking about this panel: I think as Roshen and Danielle and the team was putting together the concept, we really came into a discussion around what equity actually means and its peers’ definitions. I'd love to hear from the both of you, what that sounds like and what that looks like in your work. How have you seen it actually manifest, and what are some of the things that we can share with that audience?


Roshen Sethna:

Yeah, I'll let you go first on that one.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

When we think about the civic sector and when we think about our government agencies, there is the shift from a very embedded notion that everyone gets the same. That is, fundamentally, contradictory to the notion of equity. So this notion that "equality is the language that is written into our city charter as it was written into our policies and processes." But the reality is that equality leaves out the fact that we have a long, extensive history and a number of current conditions across all different contexts that really drive disparate outcomes amongst populations. And so when we consider: what is the role of each of us to advance an equity frame? It really requires us to ask the question: what do people need? And then meet that need, versus everyone gets the same. And so in the work that I've done with the cities that are grappling with that, really shifting that, doing the same approach to community engagement is not actually providing equal support and equal access, you have to really shift to focusing on the outputs — not just the inputs, as we tend to do.


Roshen Sethna:

That's a super good point. I think at least in the US context, it's really easy for us to focus on the individual and what can the individual be doing better — or what can I, as an individual be doing better? We just have to look at this as like a, "what are the containers or the environments we have built that are causing inequity?" In housing, you know, it's decades of discriminatory policies that have pushed Black and brown people out of certain areas, that discriminated against low income families. So, I think understanding how the inequality was created in the first place and the historical context of it is really key to how we actually reverse it — because it's not an individual problem. It's a historical context problem. It's a container problem, it's an environmental problem, and we have created those environments.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

Can I add real quick, you know, one of my favorite questions to ask when I'll lead trainings with partners is, "if everyone's on camera, you know, how many of you are affected by red lining?" And for those of you who, hopefully we're all familiar with redlining on this call. The facts matter is that everyone has been affected by redlining, right? It has continued to shape our communities. Our communities have a legacy literally built into the built environment that persists to this day that's influenced by red lining. And so, not only are we affected by redlining, not only were many of our grandparents affected by it, and our parents, but our offspring, if we choose to have them, will also be affected by it as well if we don't apply an equity frame and fill those gaps.


Roshen Sethna:

Maybe you can actually describe redlining for folks who might not know about it?


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

Redlining is a policy that was put into place and really solidified post-WWII, when vets were coming back from the war, and the GI bill was passed. So the GI bill was passed to allow veterans of WWII to really access a number of social resources and safety nets. And one of the biggest aspects of that was providing access to really low interest rate mortgages. Redlining was a process of adding a grading system to certain neighborhoods, depending upon the population of the proportion of the population. And that was Black, transitional, or white. Those ratings then were connected to whether or not you were able to access a mortgage, and or how properties were valued in those particular neighborhoods. What we saw happen, is that the suburbs were actually subsidized, right? So at the time, only white folks could move to the suburbs. Their property value was much higher than the same house would have been in the inner city. And so we still see persistent residential segregation in most, if not all, major metropolitan areas across the US.


Ivy Teng Lei:

Currently I am located in San Francisco and it's so clear exactly the types of neighborhoods have been left behind. And we're seeing changes throughout even, like legislation that is trying to undo some of the harm. But even that, like, we're seeing how COVID has inevitably affected specific areas harder than some of the other zip codes. So thanks so much for sharing that. I think what would be really interesting to dig into a little bit is knowing the history and knowing the disparity that exists so vividly in our communities, how do those perspectives get brought to the work that you both do on a day-to-day basis?


Roshen Sethna:

It's incredibly hard as a consulting firm — especially as a design and technology consulting firm coming into work with the government or working with communities. I think there's inherently a power dynamic, right? When we walk in the room and there's also a power dynamic that our clients have with the community, meaning government has with the community or a nonprofit might have with the community. And they're paying us, and that adds to the power dynamic. And so I think one, we have to recognize that. Danielle has always promoted that like understanding when you walk into a room, the power dynamic you might have in a certain room might be different in another room. So we try to design our processes to engage people in different ways, and different things work in different situations.

The typical process of engaging stakeholders in the community and everyone in digital product creation tends to be interviewing and user testing, and things like that. Again, that can be very one directional, you know — you have a designer interviewing someone who might be searching for affordable housing and things like that. So I think you have to find ways to break those molds. Some of the things we do are one, we work really closely with community leaders and people who are already in the communities doing that work. They have the trust of the community. We might, you know, bring in heads of nonprofits into our process and be way more in touch with them because it's part of their day to day. It's part of their job, finding ways to compensate.

If we're asking for people's time, we're making sure that we're compensating them for that time. And then being cognizant of who we're asking and when. When someone's going through an emergency themselves, maybe that's not the right time for them to engage with us. If someone went through an emergency and was unhoused for awhile, and has housing now, has that experience and wants to help contribute to making the process better for someone else. We've had people help at that stage. And then kind of asking who you're actually making a step back in order to create room for other people. A lot of times in working with government, you have people that have worked in housing for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. They know a lot about the space. And so we all tend to do this where we're like, we know what the answer is.

We know what the problems are like, this is the answer. We try to initiate a process where it's like, okay, this is our hypothesis, and we still need to test it. And maybe I need to step back and see if what I think is actually the right way.It's instilling that mindset, and creating that space for other people to fill the space that tends to be filled by subject matter experts that we tend to be like, oh, you're the expert. You should know everything, but like what's an expert? Lived experiences are also expertise as well. Those are some of the things I'd say, at least from the digital side.

Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

That's such a good point of how do we create space for voices to be amplified. And a big part of that is how are we defining our stakeholders, right? And our constituents. And then where are we creating multiple entry points for them to engage? And so something that we see happen often in the context of government is that the loudest voices are the most well-connected voices of the folks who can show up at the planning meeting that's happening at 2:00 PM in the afternoon. They are the ones whose perspectives are then shaping policies. And so one of the biggest lessons that I learned when I was working in the city is like, what we think is like the baseline for folks to engage. And at the time it was like, you know, make sure it's after 5:00 PM and you have sandwiches. 


I remember having a conversation with a health center that was situated in one of the two remaining Black enclaves in San Francisco. In the Fillmore, it was a health center focused on Black women and infant health. If you know anything about those disparities, Black women in San Francisco, and even more broadly across the country have mortality rates that are higher than many developing nations. We are on par with many developing nations — even if you control by income. So this is a racialized disparity, not just an income based disparity. And so this community health center I'm reaching out to them and asking "what does community engagement look like for you all?" How do you get the mothers that can access your services to make it all the way here? There's the Fillmore, and then there's Bayview Hunters Point, which is the other Black enclave, which is like really far away unless you have a car. And even then it's really far away for them, they were like, we pick them up, we drop them off, we bring them here, provide them with services. We make sure that someone can watch their kids while we're talking to them about nutrition or whatever they're there for. And then we also give them a Target card for their time. To really help fill the gap of maybe what they could have been doing to earn money in that timeframe. So maybe they were watching the neighbor's kids and now they have to make choices and trade-offs for that. 


That list is really long, but it's really important because they understand: here are the barriers to folks receiving our services and they are determined to find ways to fill those barriers. And so the same goes for our housing system and whether or not folks can access, , resources that are to them. So really trying to identify like, what are the real needs and how do we remove those barriers from those, from those, from those places and spaces.


Ivy Teng Lei:

I think the, both of you touch on several very important points. One is like, how do we ensure folks who are already in a very difficult situation are still able to make it and still able to be compensated, whether monetarily or being very mindful of their schedule and their time to still be at the table when decisions are made? As we all know the government and the agency only have so much experience or expertise, so to speak that, what Roshen had referred to when it comes to truly serving the communities in need. We really saw that come through during the pandemic, and still are seeing that through in both of your roles. Danielle in your previous career working with the City, as well as now, being a consultant and really uplifting those gaps. And Roshen in your position as a strategist and a consultant for government agencies. What are some common pitfalls that you see, or even mistakes you see, government agencies making as they are well-intended trying to serve the communities that they are looking to serve.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

All the, all the things I listed, you know. One of the biggest double-edged swords of government is its reliance on the written word. In some ways the written word is important because it allows us to track what happened, right. It is a way that we capture history. It is a way that we transmit information. It is a way that we intend to ensure everyone's on the same page, even that phrase on the same page as a reference to the written word. But the flip side to that is that it leaves out, especially when in government, we do not have solid coverage around language access. San Francisco does a really good job of this in some ways, but in other places and processes has huge gaps, right?


So folks that English is not their first language, for example. We have folks who are illiterate. Or functionally illiterate. We have folks who are blind, are vision impaired and unable to see or read in that way. And so not only that reliance on the written word as, as like the entry point to accessing resources, but also even the language that's used via the written word. I was filling out an RFP earlier and I'm reading this thing and I'm like, "I have three graduate degrees and I do not know what any of this. I don't even know what to put on this form right now — it's absurd." I sort of think that a mom and pop vendor, for example, or someone who's looking for housing assistance can navigate these complex systems that ended up itself is one of the biggest challenges with government is we have to have the written word in some ways, but in other ways, the primacy of it really misses out on huge populations.


Ivy Teng Lei:

Before, before you jump in, I want to make sure something that Danielle has said during one of our discussions that I really want to quote her on, is "how do we bring people closest to the pain closer to the power?" And that just resonates so well in what we're trying to kind of elude to here.


Roshen Sethna:

Yeah. I love that phrase. We learned so much from Danielle. We definitely run into that in our work too. When we are using written word, we make sure we're assessing reading level, as well. And just understanding the words we're using, the amount of text and things like that... The list is just so long with public sector services. A lot of bigger institutions make this mistake: centering the organization and the department and the agency instead of the end user.


So "as the department of blah, blah, blah, the department of housing XYZ, like we need people to know that we exist in our brand and like what our services are." And like in reality, an individual just doesn't really care. They're just like, "yeah, some of my services might come from here. Some one might come from here and I'm just trying to find them and access them." That's the first one I'd say is like, there's a lot, especially for using San Francisco as an example, it's a very federated city. So each department and agencies have a very separate brand and logo and things like that. And what San Francisco is trying to do now is unify and say like, "let's bring everything in one place and just say, 'it's it's housing services and you don't have to go to the Homelessness Department or the Mayor's Office of Housing and the Veterans Department, or, you know, all these different places to find the services'".


The second thing I'll say is we have a structure that puts the burden of accessing services on individuals. So that's a norm in the US: you have a form, you go to the DMV, you apply for something, you get it. And it's always on us to fill out that form and access it. We need to shift that burden to government and just deliver services. And we're starting to see some of those trends federally with the childcare tax credit. How can that just go through a department and get out to people who we already know are eligible? Why do people need to apply for it? Or Code for America is doing this work around record clearance. If someone exits the criminal legal system, can we automatically clear their record if it's XYZ type of crime? Why do they have to know that they need to clear their record and apply for that clearance? We need to do a lot of shifting of the burden of that from people back to government.


Ivy Teng Lei:

One of Exygy's close friends and advisors, Vu-Bang, always talks about how folks who are applying to a $6,000 apartment have this easy access, luxurious journey into finding their apartment. And someone who is looking for affordable housing deserves the same humanity and the same assistance because we all deserve to be housed. And it's this like onus that is always on those who are most marginalized to speak up, like to do the work, to like find the housing application to fill it out perfectly when it's not created with them. Like Roshen said, unfortunately, centering the folks who are, who have been in the department, but not necessarily have actually gone through the journey of looking for housing themselves.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

This is one of those areas where historic context is really important for us to consider. So when we think about why these systems were put in place, like the spirit of government, like that many folks who get into government believe and embody is really about service, right. And many of the structures and systems that persist even now were intentionally meant to gatekeep and exclude. Now they do it in a "race neutral" way. If I think of equity as an example. The higher the bar being raised, that was never corrected for, it was never post corrected. So this notion of like, how can government actually bridged towards people, not people, you know, have to, to fill that gap that they didn't create, that they in fact oftentimes were born into. I really love that, that reframing of like, let's just get the resources to the people if that's, if that's the point.


Roshen Sethna:

Yeah. Like we created the system where people have to find all the resources. Why did we do that? But to your point, there's historical context there.


To our advisor, Vu-Bang's, point, I mean, there's so many things that we know take a lot of time. Like all of us do take a lot of time doing our taxes for example, but if we're wealthier, we can pay someone to do that and outsource it. Across class, there's just drastically different burdens in terms of what it takes to access services. And you just have to spend way more time, whether it's filling out forms or waiting in line or things like that to get basic services when you're a low income family. In San Francisco, where you're paying like $6,000 a month in rent for an apartment, and you applied for that on Zillow in like 10 seconds. And, you know, you're able to get it there's way fewer barriers that you're crossing. We have to add up all the different social services that people might need to access and understand: the barrier of time is really huge. If you're talking about just housing, it's one thing. But if you're talking about food, if you're talking about transit... every piece kind of adds up and that's a huge time burden across class.


Ivy Teng Lei:

That's actually a great transition to the next question. As we've seen technology and awareness around racial inequities becoming more of both a tool and an important piece of consideration when we're making — whether that's design decisions or policy decisions— we often see the evolution of policies being created by a bunch of people. Then they get excluded and then they, again, then get delegated. And through that journey, there are unintended flaws and consequences that create or perpetuate further inequities. Sometimes they get it right. But like, even with that comes like collateral damages. And oftentimes those are folks who don't have the time to raise their hands and be like, "this is not okay." What are some examples of that happening? And are there examples that you've worked on that you could use to kind of illustrate some of those dire consequences?


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

One of the reasons that that happens is because we have a kind of bias built in along the way, right. And by bias, I mean like people who are executing and making decisions all along the way. And so when we think about a policy being creative, where, like I was saying before, the loudest voices are the ones that are shaping a policy, then that policy gets, you know, maybe, , like iterated a little bit and then it has to be implemented and then it's implemented, right. And then it's delegated to an individual. And so there's something here about how do you ensure that the individuals and the collective kind of bodies along the way are as representative of the end user as possible. So that both matters on the kind of the tech side of it, right?


It also matters when we think about government. And so the importance of both representation of folks who, again are the end user, but also a deep investment in the knowledge and skill of everyone to be able to identify where those potential pain points are. And so the more again, that, and I keep going back to it, that we can ground ourselves in a historic and current context and conditions that are shaping these outcomes the better, if you slow down, you're able to say, "wait, hold on. I actually think this doesn't go far enough." Or, "are we considering an impact that we may not have otherwise considered?" And so it requires this representation of investing in people's skill and capacity and a pace that allows you to be thoughtful and intentional about how you build and execute the thing. And people don't like to slow down. But it's actually really critical to be effective in implementing equity.


Ivy Teng Lei:

I think sometimes governments are slow for other reasons.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

It's true. But I am telling government to slow down when politics are the driver over everything else. Right? Like things move really quickly when a decision-maker says "prioritize this." But then we have other aspects of bureaucracy that slow things down. And so it's in relationship. But if we're not asking the right questions at very specific junctures, we miss opportunities to improve.


Ivy Teng Lei:

Yeah. For sure. It's like slowing down for the right reasons. Not because like, that's just the way it's always been. Roshen?


Roshen Sethna:

Yeah. The policy thing is super fascinating. In the equity space, we always talk about intent versus impact. You might have had a certain intention, but the impact was different. I think that's the same thing with policy. Like you might be crafting this policy and you think it's going to help, you know, these types of families not get displaced, and then the impact might be different. Here's where I think some design and technology skills can be applied to policy. We talk about this concept of agile policymaking or iterative policy-making. So is anyone actually measuring the impact of a policy and shifting that policy if the intended impact is not happening? I don't think our law-making system was really set up that way, but I think, , I've actually heard of some examples locally of agile policymaking at the city municipal level.


So I think it's starting to become a little bit more of a popular concept. For example, in San Francisco and a lot of cities across the US have this — it's called an inclusionary policy. So it essentially means that any new construction in the city a percentage of those housing units have to be rented out below market rate. So you might have a new building that there are some $6,000 a month units. A percentage of those units have to be rented out at below market rate. When we were talking to people, getting those units, it was just interesting because they were like, "yeah, we don't really fit in this neighborhood. People kind of exclude us. We don't have grocery stores and other things accessible that are also affordable. So it's just really hard to live in this neighborhood."


So yes, theoretically, great. We have more units that are, you know, renting out below market rate, but what is the actual impact on the ground? Another example of this is in the housing application process, a lot of housing developers were asking for social security numbers. When we redesigned that process, we were really questioning like, "okay, what all is really needed for people to apply for affordable housing? Why is a social security number needed?" We asked that a bunch of times in different sessions and basically came to an understanding with different housing developers, that mostly people were using it as a unique identifier to say, "okay, this, this is this person's application." And we're like, "okay, great. There are a lot of other ways we can uniquely identify someone like we can use name and birth date and flag when there's some duplicates for someone to review, but we don't want to unintentionally create a database of people that have and don't have social security numbers." We should think about the negative externalities that could come out of doing that. So it's about proactively thinking about negative, externalities on policy or design, proactively.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

The conversation around immigration, right. And the broader context of what those pressures are and what populations are currently kind of under attack that is important for folks making decisions along the way to understand, as well. It doesn't exist in a vacuum, is my point.


Roshen Sethna:

We didn't anticipate what happened when Trump first took office with, you know, a bunch of resurgences around xenophobia and. The election hadn't happened when we were designing this stuff. It's so hard to be a designer, but it's so critical to ask these questions of ourselves because we don't know the impact that something could have down the road if we don't ask them that.


Ivy Teng Lei:

I think the important point is like: xenophobia didn't exist just because of the last administration. And it's like, when we make decisions around policy and technology, we have to safe proof it enough that no matter who takes it, the next administration and administration, after that, the community that we want to serve will not become a list to go down. And I think like New York City went through that when Trump got elected, it was like, "oh, you didn't think about how by separating people with municipal IDs. and folks without documents and like with documents and how that could be used as a weapon." We can't guarantee what's going to happen — knock on wood. Like we just elected a democratic president, but like xenophobia existed way before that white supremacy existed way before then.


How do we protect and actively ask those questions so that those considerations are brought up in every aspect of that design? I'd like to complicate that a little more. I think oftentimes in America, there's also always this zero-sum game. Like by giving marginalized communities the things that they need for basic humanity in an equitable way, it's taking away from others. And there's this idea between the wealthy and the not, and the white and the not, and as someone who's Asian American, I think there's always this idea around, "oh, if this group gets this, then this other group will then not get it." And it's like, we're fighting for this same slice of pie, when in reality: check out all the other slices, these other people have held onto for decades. How are those considerations being brought into discussions while you're working with some of the clients?


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

Instead of thinking about slices of pie, and divvying up them even smaller and smaller, it's like, how can we grow the pie to fit even more inside of it? One of the things that's been really kind of critical and important to hammer home across all sectors and all fields of focus is that when we generate solutions that fill gaps for the most marginalized of us, then, other people and other groups end up benefiting. I'll give you a really concrete example. And it's also really relevant to kind of our national dialogue around police brutality. So one of the policies that folks who are uplifting the struggle for to end police brutality against Black folks is we really want police to be trained to de-escalate conflict, right? So if they're pulling someone over, we want police to be equipped to de-escalate the conflict.That is a policy recommendation that folks who are advocating for a more just criminal justice system talk about. Who else might that benefit? Other than unarmed Black folks who are being murdered by police, that's gonna benefit people who English is not the first language, that's going to benefit people who are hard of hearing. That's going to benefit people who have a mental health issue or are experiencing a crisis who are neuro-atypical, right. And so thinking about a solution like that, while the origins of it are meant to fill a very clear and stark disparity around police brutality, there are other groups that would benefit from police being equipped to de-escalate conflict. And so we can apply that same thinking to all other areas. When we fill those gaps for the most marginalized, we create conditions where everybody, everybody really wins and ends up benefiting in the long run.


Roshen Sethna:

Taking it back to your point about xenophobia existing long before Trump, and it is going to exist long after Trump... I mean, we're, again, designing within all of these systems: racism, sexism, homophobia, all of them. I talked to friends of mine about how universal programs like Medicare for all and things like that will benefit everyone. And yet I think we still have to make sure we're designing them in a way that they get to everyone equally. We can take a little bit of this lens, like "what are basic needs that everyone needs met?" And like, "how do these solutions impact multiple groups?" Because they do. One thing you could say, maybe if we're talking about a lot about Republicans, but I think the Democratic side things tend to play a lot into identity politics. And sometimes that's good. We do need to understand the different groups that get impacted by things differently, but also we need to go after universal programs that benefit everyone as well.


Ivy Teng Lei:

On one of the panels that we recently hosted at Code for America, Anton Robinson from the Innocence Project had said, "we can't talk about today's racial injustice without reckoning with the racial path of America and the racial founding of America, and the racial start." And it's an incredible piece of what may not be like an automatic association when we talk about design decisions or policy decisions. But I am hopeful that as we are having this conversation that the ripple effects of that being considered will somehow make it into boardrooms and somehow make it into policies.


Ivy Teng Lei:

Michelle Klein asked: "in the situation where policy has a certain intention or an unintended impact, what is the next step here? Is there a way to test certain programs for a short period of time to a smaller population, similar to the way products are beta tested before full rollout?"


Roshen Sethna:

I mean, this is my dream. This is what I talk about all the time. I don't know if policymakers have this, you know, process down at all. I think I talk about this at every chance I can get so that it becomes more of a thing. Code for America folks talk about this a lot. I think there's an ability to start to put clauses in the policy to say, "Hey, let's track these metrics. Let's check in in a year, let's see where they're at. And let's iterate on the policy." We haven't seen that a ton yet, but, like I mentioned, I've heard it kind of whispered at the municipal level in California a bit.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

We tend not to look back and reflect on how things went. You don't even have to have a super formal process. You just need to normalize reflection and introspection. So when, when we're thinking about how a community engagement process might just like pausing and saying like, "what, what are the plus deltas of this? Like, what went well, what would we change? Who did we miss?" You can do that in both the micro and the macro context. What I'll also say is that when it comes to addressing disparities, our timelines also have to be different, right? So we are filling gaps that to Roshen's point are not only decades, they're like centuries in the making.


And so this notion that even in a small pilot period of time, we're going to see the sorts of gains that we would hope for or the gap completely filled is actually probably not the case. And so what we do find tends to happen is that folks will try it for a period of time, then they'll be like, "oh, that didn't work. Let's try the next thing." Instead of pausing and saying, "but what do we want to retain from this?" And incorporate that into next time. And so not doing and folks who are funders, that's really important for philanthropy to hear too, right? Because oftentimes philanthropic focus and cycle, you know, it was like five years or three years or 10 years or whatever, which sometimes it's often not long enough to really see the sorts of gains and change that you would like to see. And then you're asking non-profits to pivot and do something different. And so really adjusting our time horizon and managing our expectations around impact is critical.


Roshen Sethna:

The way policies are created can be just all over the place. A lot of times, private sector organizations will write policy for policymakers. We need to figure out, first of all, who's actually writing the policy. And then second of all, written policy is also different. People need to then interpret it. And I think it can often be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. So I think there is some wiggle room in the interpretation of a policy to say, "Hey, let's shift something. If we learn that it's not having the intended impact." And you can probably shift something within still the confines of the written policy. And then the third thing is, there is a trend towards more observation and data and tracking, and even qualitative tracking. These are long-arc changes. And the best we can do is understand like, "okay, what is being influenced now? What is being influenced next year? How did a pandemic affect it?" You know, and, and really just tracking and understanding how things are shifting to better inform the policy change.


Danielle DeRuiter-Williams:

Yeah. To follow-up around what's preventing that testing and reflection, I think one, we tend not to have a culture of like reflection and introspection. Two, we are constantly under pressure to shift focus and that really prevents us from being thoughtful and iterative over time. This is one of the places where TJC works across all sectors intentionally because there are things to learn across all sectors. And so government has its way, the tech sector has its way, the nonprofit sector has its way, but there's not enough cross pollination. And so this is why I love when Exygy is working with government partners, because they're able to bring design thinking to historically and really presently contexts that are lacking, oftentimes that design thinking and that agility for a whole host of reasons. There's a bit of a culture shift that has to happen, and that plays out not only on like at the individual and kind of team level and even agency level, but like, how can we ensure that our resource allocation is reflective of building in those places in spaces to really iterate on things, right? The "get it in by this date, because that's what the policy says," instead of saying, "what's the outcome that we want to drive towards, and then work back from there to determine how much time it will take you to get to that outcome." That's a really key shift, that has to come both from the top, but also has to be executed and implemented at the individual level.


Roshen Sethna:

A lot of government partners tell me they don't get rewarded for trying something new. They don't get penalized for sticking with the status quo, even if the status quo is not great, but they will definitely get penalized if they try something new and it's worse. That's a lot of the retraining we do. Just saying, "what are the small ways?" Like if you've never engaged with end users, how about just talk to three? That's better than talking to none. We start to shift the culture in very, very small ways.



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