The White House Equitable Data Working Group (EDWG) released A Vision for Equitable Data in April 2022. The report outlines the recommendations of the Working Group established by Executive Order 13985 in January 2021. The Working Group was tasked with identifying inadequacies and areas of improvement within federal data related to equity, and outlining a strategy for increasing data available for measuring equity and representing the diversity of the American people and their experiences.
The report is an important step toward ensuring equity is at the forefront of government policies and programs. Three priority uses for equitable data were presented in the report:
Generating disaggregated statistical estimates to characterize experiences of historically underserved groups,
increasing access to disaggregated data for the evidence-building, and
conducting equity assessments of federal programs.
The Data Coalition supports these priorities, along with the report findings and recommendations – particularly the emphasis on the collection and disaggregation of demographic data as well as the suggestion that agencies work with federal statistical agencies to incorporate and protect demographic data. In July 2022, the Data Coalition Initiative met with staff from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (HOGR) at their request to discuss the EDWG report, gaps in the report, and potential areas for Congressional and Administrative support.
There are opportunities to further strengthen an environment that will support a more equitable data system. Data Coalition members used the time with the HOGR Committee to offer insight into certain aspects of improving data quality and designing an equitable and inclusive process, from designing data collection plans to ensuring data are useful for end users across communities. Data Coalition members’ comments fell into four general categories: fostering trust by inclusive engagement, developing and using data standards, increasing accessibility, and bolstering accountability.
Opportunities to Strengthen the EDWG Report
Beyond engaging all levels of government and the research community as highlighted in the report, it is crucial to have meaningful stakeholder engagement, especially with those communities affected by data collecting. Meaningful engagement fosters a sense of trust as well as prevents data collection and use causing unanticipated harm to people. This trust is essential to ensuring that the data collected from individuals and communities are high quality and relevant to policies that aim to help those same communities.
Data standards are also necessary to ensure a more aligned, equitable federal data ecosystem. Developing consensus standards needs to be done in collaboration with communities of practice, data contributors, and potentially impacted communities. Though agencies may have the authority to identify preferred standards, they lack the authority to adopt standards. Adopting consensus standards among agencies can provide more clarity for those collecting and using government data. Similarly, consensus data standards can facilitate data sharing amongst agencies – reducing burden on both government and taxpayers.
The report discusses the need for increasing accessibility by making data more understandable and useful. To address this, the government can bolster human capital to support data capacity on the government level and address capacity to use data in order to engage those contributing data. Additionally, agencies and other stakeholders should demonstrate the value of data in addressing underserved community needs.
Provision of data access tools and developing usable online data portals are ways to tackle accessibility as well as enhance transparency and accountability. The EDWG approaches accountability and transparency from a taxpayer lens – but in terms of equitable data use and impact, there needs to also be a requirement to tell the story of the data impact, putting more emphasis on the benefit for a community for using this data, in turn incentivizing continued data contribution.
Legislative & Administrative Recommendations
With this in mind, the Data Coalition offers the following recommendations for how to further the EDWG’s efforts:
Leverage existing provisions from the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 to improve collection, management, and use of data
Pass the National Secure Data Service Act (H.R. 3133)
Fund federal, state, and local government to adopt and modernize data systems
Develop legislation to adopt consensus-based data standards, including requiring collection of data that informs agency equity assessments using a uniform standard that can be adopted at all levels of government
Build additional funding flexibilities into the grantmaking process to enable agencies to direct grants toward building capacity without needing additional funds
The EDWG report includes critical steps to make data more equitable and the HOGR Committee’s interest in gathering stakeholder input to understand ways to bolster the report’s recommendations is encouraging. In addition to Congressional and Administrative opportunities, continuing to engage in discussions with data and equity experts as well as the communities providing and using the data, and leveraging existing authorities and expertise with the government will all contribute to facilitating a more equitable data system.
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