By Marilyn Rubin
Equity measures as part of agency performance assessment are integral to the growing focus of governments throughout the United States on equity in decision making, programming, and service delivery. In this project, we are studying how state governments in the U.S. are using equity measures as part of agency performance assessment protocols.
We have divided the U.S. into five regions and are using several different pathways to identify the use of equity measures in the states in each of the regions. The pathways are:
- Legislative actions and documents
- Chief Executive actions and documents
- Agency actions and documents
- Central budget office instructions
- News and other media
Once we complete the research on individual states, we will synthesize common elements of equity used by governments in agency performance assessment and provide recommendations for New Jersey agencies to use in their assessment of performance and service delivery. Recommendations will provide agencies with information to use to develop equity measures that consider questions such as (1) how can equity measures help to identify and remedy gaps in access and disparities in performance outcomes across demographic subgroups (e.g., racial groups); and (2) what challenges exist when implementing equity performance measures in a state as diverse as New Jersey. Recommendations will suggest the types of data that agencies should collect as they move forward to include equity in their performance assessment. Because state government agencies follow instructions for funding issued by their central budget office, the project will also identify and synthesize equity-related language used by state government central budget offices in their budget instructions to agencies.
What Have We Learned So Far
We are in the early stages of looking at the equity pathways states are taking both government-wide and in four policy areas: criminal justice, education (K-12), the environment, and natural resources. Although art-related agencies are not a specific focus of our research, related work that has been undertaken by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies illustrates the type of equity-related commonalities we hope to identify as we delve into the specified policy areas and more general government actions and documents.
Actions of State Arts Agencies
The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) is a national, not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization of state arts agencies. Every state has a state arts agency. In NJ, the NJ State Council on the Arts, a division of the Department of State, was created in 1966. It is funded with an annual appropriation (a percentage of the State’s Hotel/Motel Occupancy Fee) as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 2021, NASAA undertook a study of equity in arts agencies in four states: California, Maryland, Massachusetts and South Carolina. The results of the study based on interviews conducted of officials in the four states showed that:
- The arts agency in each state has a cohesive vision of what equity looks like.
- Each agency addressed equity in its most recent strategic planning process and recently evaluated its grant-making practices.
- Among the four agencies, one of the most important aspects of equity is staff engagement.
- Each of the four agencies is committed to publicly highlighting its work on equity.
- All four agencies identified similar challenges:
- Agency capacity related to staffing and funding;
- Recovering from constraints imposed by COVID-19;
- Historical injustices especially regarding marginalized groups;
- State and federal regulations; and
- Political conflicts.
These findings will inform our research and will help to provide the context for our recommendations to NJ to buttress its efforts to move forward in incorporating equity into the performance assessment of State agencies.
 In Pursuit of Equity: Four Case Studies of State Arts Agencies. https://nasaa-arts.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Equity-Interviews-Case-Studies-Report-12.9.22-Update.pdf