In a short but powerful meeting on June 23, elected Metro Council members unanimously approved Metro’s first-ever Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. This was a major milestone in Metro’s path to put racial equity at the forefront of all of the agency’s services, plans, policies and procedures.
Metro serves more than 1.5 million people in the 25 cities and three counties that make up the Portland, Oregon metropolitan region. Metro is unique among regional governments in the country because it is governed by an elected body of seven Council members. Metro has jurisdiction over a number of functions that cross city lines, including planning and coordinating regional transportation investments, setting the region’s urban growth boundary, managing a network of parks and natural areas, managing the regional solid waste and recycling system, acting as a research clearinghouse, and operating four popular venues that in 2013 received 3.4 million visitors.
Metro has been working on equity issues for a number of years, and the agency now has a clear strategic direction and specific goals to guide this work. In 2010, the Metro Council adopted equity as one of the six major desired outcomes for the region. This action kicked off a six-year process, with significant community participation, for staff and regional leaders to develop a plan to guide the future of Metro’s equity work. During these six years, the extensive community involvement has led to stronger relationships, improved trust and increased accountability between Metro and local communities of color.
Collaboration with a number of stakeholders, including co-creation of some aspects of the work, was sometimes difficult and resource intensive, but the outcomes are much stronger and Metro’s Strategic Plan is a testament to this fact. In the words of one of our community partners, Rekah Strong, Chief of Operations and Equity at the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette: “One of the things that is most critical is that true change, especially in marginalized communities, it comes from those communities,” she said. “You [Metro] had an engaged process that brought community members to the table as experts. It was not in a pejorative, paternalistic way. It wasn’t ‘Come to the table, I want to hear about what you are saying,’ but seeing them as experts.” Metro is proud that partnership with the community has become a hallmark of its Strategic Plan and will continue to pursue this partnership.
One of the most important moments in the creation of the Strategic Plan took place at a Metro Council retreat on July 31, 2015, when staff presented the recommendation to focus the strategy on racial equity. Listening to the input from local communities of color and philanthropy organizations and working with consultants from the Center for Social Inclusion and the Government Alliance on Race & Equity, staff reached the conclusion that racial equity was the most strategic way to focus Metro’s equity work. This had been a difficult conversation among advisory committee members, Metro leadership and staff until that date, but Metro Council members unanimously agreed on advancing with racial equity. In the next 10 months, staff conducted extensive community and staff engagement, paying special attention to engaging communities of color, to finalize the equity strategy.
The Strategic Plan includes five long term goals: convene and support regional partners to advance racial equity, make Metro’s services more welcoming for people of color, hire and retain a more racially diverse workforce, engage communities of color more meaningfully and effectively, and allocate resources to advance racial equity. The Strategic Plan also includes a tool to infuse racial equity into decision-making at the project level and a robust plan for participatory implementation and evaluation.
The approval of the Strategic Plan by Metro Council was the end of an important phase. It reaffirmed Metro’s commitment to focusing on racial equity, involving communities in the heart of this work, and making Metro a more effective government agency by dismantling barriers and increasing equitable outcomes for people of color. As Metro swiftly moves to implement the Strategic Plan, one of the first steps taken is to formally join GARE. We look forward to working with the Alliance members and learning from one another as we move forward with making government truly effective for all its constituents, especially those who have been historically marginalized.