Process Equity Wins


Artwork by Jillian Adel from Amplifier Art

Earlier this week I had my annual lunch with my friend Moz. Moz and I get together about once a year to catch up and learn about what each other has going on. Our work is similar but different enough that we don’t interact often. Over lunch, he told me about the projects he’s working on and then he asked what I was up to. As we ate our Thai curries, I mentioned how I know we won’t win the whole fight for the advocacy effort we’re leading, but we’ve had some process wins. Moz stopped me and said, “Wait, you need to take credit for that.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about so he repeated it back to me: “You need to take credit for your process wins. I don’t think anyone else is using that term.” That conversation led me to think we need to slow down and celebrate these process wins as equitable wins. Another friend, Diana, pointed out I’m not good about shouting out our wins which we need to do to build momentum and for movement building.

Equitable Process Wins

The short version of capturing process wins is recognizing when a process has changed to be more equitable. A process win is looking at how crappy a former process was and shifting power and resources to be more equitable. It also recognizes the process is sometimes just as important as the outcomes in working towards undoing racism.

In my day job, I advocate a lot. While the outcomes of the advocacy are important, I also strive to get the processes right. This means making sure the processes are centered on meeting the needs and desires of those most impacted by disparities, by pushing beyond just access and inclusion towards practices that disrupt usual power dynamics, pushing for fairness and equitable outcomes. Most of the time we barely scratch the surface of these things when we advocate, but we still push for it in our advocacy.

As an example, a few years ago I was doing some advocacy to raise the issue that Asian students are not the same as whites and shouldn’t categorically be lumped together or excluded because some Asian students are doing well. We were able to get a meeting with the gatekeepers and policy analyst working on the report to make the case that they should be using disaggregated Asian data. In the meeting, the policy analyst shared disaggregated data but we couldn’t convince them to retroactively change their decisions. I walked away pissy and annoyed, but my very calm and sage colleague said, “The win is we got them to acknowledge they have disaggregated data and to look at it.” My colleague was right, we got the organization to change their process and future processes. We didn’t hit the home run of having the organization reevaluate how they center communities, but the small process win means data usage now looks different. The organization is now much better about recognizing the diversity of Asians in data.

Recognizing process wins is important because these are the smaller acts that lead to longer and sustainable change. When we slow down and recognize how processes are altered we can begin to identify smaller actions that go into building more equitable movements.

In another example, a colleague shared how her organization was involved in an anti-gentrification effort. The new development would displace many immigrant businesses. At first the developer went through the city’s mandated processes and token community engagement and considered that to be enough. My colleague and others organized the community and with a nonprofit’s help they were able to form a coalition that pushed for a community benefits agreement (CBA) to be put in place and recognized. While the coalition didn’t get everything they wanted into the CBA their wins were in changing the process of engagement and having the CBA in place for future developments. Essentially, they changed the rules of engagement.

Bending the Rules toward Justice

When we change processes we seek more justice. It is time to claim those process wins and build from them. When we do this perhaps we are meeting Martin Luther King’s words: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Bending towards justice is a long process, but the more we recognize the good we’re doing the more we can shift the arc of the universe towards justice.

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