Creating New DEI Evaluation Measurements for REI

By: Mary ZumBrunnen, Assistant Director

Michigan State University (MSU) is dedicated to providing opportunity through education and building the future of Michigan and the nation with the talent and contributions of individuals from all backgrounds and communities. Within, the faculty and staff are working to advance equity by eliminating race and ethnicity opportunity gaps across all subgroups of students by 2030. Externally, MSU is also striving to dramatically advance social justice and ethics, ensuring equity, addressing disparities and empowering communities through scholarship and engaged research. At the Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED), our programming has always focused on building capacities of socially and economically distressed communities. In 2022 and beyond the Center is particularly focused on resiliency planning, financial resiliency, 21st century communications and circular economies through the lenses of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

At CCED, our U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration University Center for Regional Economic Innovation (REI) is helping lead this effort by using its 2023 Call for Projects and program year to gain a better understanding of how Michigan economic developers, community leaders, regional development district staff, government officials, planners, and other colleges and universities are incorporating DEI into project strategies for more equitable economic development. In this call, all projects eligible for funding must be focused either statewide, within opportunity zone designated census tracts, and/or Michigan Economic Development Corporation Re-development Ready Communities serving Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed (also known as ALICE) individuals and families.

This year’s call is anticipated to help the Center develop a baseline of measurements of how more equitable economic development within urban and rural areas of Michigan may be conducted. Strategic change-making requires leaders to proactively invent their community’s economic development future. Though communities may have an end goal in mind for what the future could look like, the “how” of getting there is a journey we additionally hope to measure.

With this information in hand, it’s hoped our partner organizations such as the University Economic Development Association, can also benefit from “boots-on-the-ground” benchmarking and evaluative steps by creating space for mutually accepted goals and balancing those goals with realistic case study objectives. In this work it’s important to acknowledge opinions and perceptions that may also help or hinder results including perception versus reality. By collecting these equitable economic development case studies as part of a baseline analysis, we will be data driven; available to help educate public officials; build outreach and engagement support, as well as; provide a foundation for mutually accepted metrics.

Traditionally, economic development has focused on community growth, per capita income, housing sales, educational attainment and workforce dynamics, to name a few. Sometimes called the “triad of infrastructure”, a community’s potential for economic development historically depends on the supportive infrastructure in place, typically including: 1) human capital, 2) physical assets, and 3) public policy. Then it is evaluated against job creation or retention, business growth or retention, company interactions, workforce readiness and a diversified economy. But what about community?

Many within the economic development professional practitioner world consider themselves “motivator-in-chief” or community champions. So, how can they convene a cross-section of the community, drive collaboration and achieve a result where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts for more equitable economic development?  There are about six questions we’d like to consider within the 2023 REI project call to help understand this. They include the following:

  1. Within your community what diversity, equity and/or inclusive objectives are, or will, you incorporate into your project strategy?
  2. How did you develop these?
  3. How does leadership within your community support this project with a DEI lens?
  4. How could this help drive internal organizational DEI and/or economic development programmatic activities?
  5. How will you nurture a new or growing ecosystem of collaboration and DEI partnership (particularly with top-down leadership) over the course of the grant period?
  6. How will you continue to explore and discuss DEI in your project throughout its duration and beyond?

Additionally, as we jointly work throughout the grant period, we will also check in regularly regarding:

  • Pursual of diverse ideas?
  • Understanding who’s at the table?
  • “Whose” problem (as far as perceived ownership) are applicants working to solve?
  • Who are additional community partners that can add value to the conversation?
  • What impact can this work have on existing systemic racism?
  • What considerations are there for an integrated strategy’s wider impacts on a community?

In this way, the CCED is looking to align MSU’s larger body of work with Outreach and Engagement through the four pillars of more equitable economic development directly within communities across the state. We are honored to be at the table learning from communities in this important work including understanding differences and similarities in defining what the foundations of DEI are regionally, surfacing the layers of diversity and new elements in development, understanding biases and unique tools to help mitigate them, lessons of inclusive leadership, new project tools for inclusive decision making and more! It is anticipated that this will be an ongoing opportunity to share back with readers what we’re finding on the ground and encourage more open and consistent dialogue.

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