What are indicators?

Indicators are proxy measures for abstract concepts that are difficult to define, such as justice or economic opportunity. For example, if we want to measure economic opportunity, we might use the unemployment rate as an indicator.

Equity Indicators specifically compare outcomes for two groups and measure the disparity. For example, an equity indicator might compare unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities.

Structure of Equity Indicators tools

The tools are structured into four levels:

1. City

2. Themes: Broad categories representing priority areas for the city, such as economic opportunity or public health.

3. Topics: Specific areas we want to look at within each theme. For example, within the economic opportunity theme, we might look at the topics of poverty, employment, and business development. 

4. Indicators: Proxies that get at a specific disparity experienced within that topic. For example, within the employment topic, we might look at ‘unemployment by race’, or ‘annual income by gender’, or ‘labor force participation by disability status.’

For each tool, there is an equal number of indicators per topic, and an equal number of topics per theme, so that each indicator and topic has equal weight within the framework.

Information on scoring at all levels is available here.

Selecting Indicators

Indicators must use data that is regularly collected and disaggregated by at least one characteristic such as race/ethnicity, gender, age, or neighborhood. The only exception to this rule is when the indicator measures an outcome for a specific disadvantaged group (e.g., accessibility of public transit for individuals with disabilities).

We must be able to interpret a positive or negative change. For example, if we use ‘crime’ as an indicator, we aren’t able to determine whether a higher crime rate demonstrates an increase in crime or that people are simply reporting more crime.

Additional considerations

Equity Indicators tools track change on a regular basis, and on some measures, noteworthy progress may be seen. However, many of the inequities they measure are deeply entrenched and are not going to disappear in a year, or, in some cases, for many years.

It is also important to note that not all of the areas and measures represented in Equity Indicators tools are under the control of local government. Some are under the control of federal or state government, and some are not under the control of government at all. The hope is that regular monitoring will keep attention focused on these areas of inequality, urge action, and show when incremental change has occurred, which in itself can be a sign of real progress.

Equity Indicators tools are not designed to measure the impact of specific programs or policies, and do not allow change—or lack or change—to be attributed to one specific source; this would require extensive, targeted evaluation work. That said, they do provide information about where changes are happening, and how those changes align with local and other efforts to reduce disparities.

Together, this information may suggest what efforts and strategies are related to the changes, where the City may want to focus additional analytical work to understand the impacts of their efforts and strategies, where there is a need to enhance or adjust them, and where new ones need to be developed.