Tuesday, March 2, 2021
The unserved and/or underserved are often the unknown when designing equitable access to resources or services. This has become very clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has starkly revealed pockets of population—many people of color--who lack access to critical functions and resources, from testing to medical care to jobs assistance. Looking at correlations between data has helped us uncover potential inequities and steered us to improvements in many areas.


King County’s commitment to becoming a “Best Run Government” means we commit to our underserved communities by understanding and connecting with them through quality services, products and delivery.  To get there, we are reimagining government by using pro-equity and anti-racist change strategies. We’re identifying these strategies with the input of our racially diverse communities to ensure they work as promised. Our Best Run Government values include Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) principles, using Equity Impact Reviews (EIRs) on technology projects, Lean principles, and the use of a mobile platform to reach the widest possible audience.

We passionately believe we must lead with racial justice to confront the serious historical and racial inequities that exist in our community. We focus our racial justice where disparities are greatest. Becoming a Best Run Government means putting racial justice at the center of our work through implementation of our Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Strategic Plan.

Governments need to look at data across our communities, whether it be people’s health, access to housing and living wage jobs, graduation rates, incomes and incarceration rates, to understand the burdens and barriers for communities of color. We know the most persistent and detrimental disparities are starkest in our community when we look at race. When we lead with racial justice, we commit to taking on the root causes of our most challenging problems and to focus our resources on places on which we can have the biggest impact. The county’s ESJ approach is comprehensive, working to address all forms of inequities, discrimination, and bias. On our journey, we are identifying the most effective tools and strategies to affect inequities. We then can take those tools and apply them to eliminate all forms of discrimination and disparities.

Developing an Equity and Social Justice Strategic Vision

Racial injustice and other forms of inequities creates burdens and barriers that keep people from thriving in our underserved communities. The county’s The Determinants of Social Equity and the Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan together lay out a roadmap for advancing racial equity in eight policy areas. Similarly, we have goals for building our capacity to address racial equity in six areas.  Launched by former King County Executive Ron Sims in 2008 and formalized by our current Executive, Dow Constantine, along with the Metropolitan King County Council in 2010, the Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) initiative is an integral part of the County's work and is supported by an ESJ Office established in early 2015. The ESJ strategic plan was developed with employees and community partners. It is a blueprint for action and change guiding our equity policy direction, decision-making, planning, operations, and services; and along with our workplace practices to advance equity and social justice within county government and in partnership with communities.

This plan represents a critical opportunity for King County to do ground-breaking work:

  • Applying a theory of change that fundamentally shifts the County away from policies and practices that react to problems and crises in favor of investments that address the root causes of inequities. This inexorably leads to better quality of life and prosperity for all our communities.
  • Balancing bold vision with actionable and measurable objectives.
  • Allowing for innovation and adaptability across King County government to help us be dynamic and culturally responsive, moving us towards the goal of racially just investments in both the county and our community.


Our Pro-Equity Policy Agenda seeks to expand access to opportunity in eight areas, including:

  • Child and youth development,
  • Economic development and jobs
  • Environment and climate
  • Health and human services
  • Housing
  • Information technology
  • The justice system
  • Transportation and mobility

Along with expanding opportunities and access in these eight areas, the county is advancing pro-equity policies, systems, and practices in six areas of governance:

  • Leadership, operations, and services
  • Plans, policies, and budgets
  • Workforce and workplace
  • Community partnerships
  • Communication and education
  • Facility and system improvement

Given the need for increased coordination and solutions that match the scale of inequities being encountered, King County government is committed to advancing regional collaboration with partners for greater, more sustained change.

As an ESJ focused county, formulating policy guidance means incorporating the ESJ shared values from the strategic plan into analysis and decision-making for its operations and service delivery. Budget decisions, rates, and allocation, including the base budget, reflect the values and strategies of our ESJ Strategic Plan and are tracked and tied to outcomes.

Tracking Progress and Investments using ESJ Dashboards

The county’s Equity and Social Justice Dashboards support these strategies. They set equitable targets and increase visibility of appropriate investments levels where the needs are greatest. ESJ dashboards help us comprehend disparities to support unserved and underserved communities. Employees are using the Determinants of Equity and the King County Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan to guide this work. We have also been reviewing the narrative and dashboards on shared public hubs like Communities Count. Another important data set is our Community Conditions Maps. These working tools can tell us by quintile cartography where the needs are greater for any indicator.  We are working to make various data analysis layers (maps, priority population characteristics, community conditions, equity indicators and department actions) available to the public on Open Data. Map layers can be pulled into other applications by community groups to help make more equitable decisions about resource needs.

When maps are leveraged into equity dashboards and then put into Open Data they can be used by public and private partners.  King County values dashboards because they allow transparency into proposed or actual investments which can be viewed in real time. Published Equity Indicator/Community Conditions data, as dashboards, can be used by King County, the public and regional partners to make more equitable decisions about county resources.

Informing planning and decision-making with Equity Impact Reviews

Understanding the feasibility and impact of upstream investments creates pro-equity and anti-racist opportunities. Equity Impact Reviews means that our Best Run Government principles are built into our strategic planning and budget processes. The EIR process merges empirical data and community engagement findings to inform planning, decision-making and actions which affect equity in King County. The most effective equity impact reviews always occur during the development and implementation of a proposed action or project. It creates a collaborative work environment that lets us embed equity and anti-racist values into our work and projects.

Employees must identify equity frameworks as central to the completion of our equity impact reviews. These include:

  • Distributional equity—the fair and just distribution of benefits and burdens to all affected parties and communities across the community and organizational landscape.
  • Process equity—inclusive, open and fair access by all stakeholders to decisions that affect community and operational outcomes.
  • Cross-generational equity—the effects of current actions on the fair and just distribution of benefits and burdens to future generations of communities and employees.

As employees conduct this review process, they are required to use a pro-equity lens and consider organizational and cultural diversity, using participants who regularly engage with communities or connect with affected parties or stakeholders. They also involve managers and leadership and engage subject matter and feasibility experts. This team approach uses Equity Impact Reviews, community engagement and materials in a variety of languages and data resources to better understand how well proposals might meet our goals.

We have extended the use of Equity Impact Reviews to our technology lines of business within the county. This approach allows further upstream reviews of the processes to determine the best approach for technology solutions, rather than addressing just individual projects. Our intent is to embed equitable thinking at the core of our technological innovation.

Achieving Best Outcomes using Equitable Lean Thinking

We believe in marrying equity and social justice principles to Lean Continuous Improvement processes to achieve the best outcomes. Process equity relies on all affected parties having access to and meaningful experience with civic and employee engagement. Removing barriers to public participation and increasing how we listen to our communities are basic requirements.

Combining equity and social justice principles with Lean thinking, while difficult, evolves into a wonderful, effective state of Equitable Lean Thinking. This necessary process now informs how we do business as usual. It requires strong organizational change management and a focus on addressing the barriers and burdens that keep racism alive. We believe Equitable Lean thinking is transformative during project application and outcomes. It becomes a basic, shared responsibility of each employee. It means the critical aspects of equity and social justice and Lean principles are compatible and whole. In the work environment we are championing, every employee will be able to answer that “I have the skills and tools to apply social justice effectively to my work.”  It likewise focuses the public-facing equity and social justice responsibilities and engagement.

Connecting with Community through Mobile Technology Platforms

Connecting with our community through shared technology is also a priority. King County has more than 26,000 acres of parks and natural lands, 175 miles of regional trails and 180 miles of backcountry trails plus rural and urban communities. Creating easy access for all persons to participate in enjoying and protecting our lands is key. One way the county ensures this is through its King County Connect application. This app includes our noxious weeds smartphone tool. This tool allows underserved communities to inform county government about their environmental concerns. Any person who encounters noxious weeds can easily provide clear, geo-tagged locations to the right county agency. The easy-to-use app features a library of photos and weed descriptions to help users identify the plant. If a user is unable to identify the plant, one of King County’s specialists personally responds. The Noxious Weed App intersects with our goal of making our services easily available to all our County communities and residents, wherever they live, at a time and place of their choosing.

The county’s previous approach -- the public would email or call the county with an approximate location of suspected noxious weed, requiring considerable staff hours to follow up -- presented considerable barriers and burdens for the public and resulted in substantial underreporting. We continuously focused during app development on what our customers needed and how we could make the reporting process more effective, equitable and efficient for them. Underserved communities have greater access to cell phones than to full web applications. The app does not require residents lacking home computers to visit a library or community center for access. Our app for the first time invites the public, wherever they live or recreate, into a convenient dialogue with our noxious/invasive weed control program and specialists. If you have a smart phone, you can participate. The app is available in multiple languages, making its use equitable to any county residents who speak English as a second language. Allowing urban and rural communities throughout King County to use the app, regardless of spoken language or home computer access, supports our equity goals.

In King County we know the focus on equity and social justice makes us better together. Racial inequities affect all of us and our ability to live well and thrive. With our goal to become a Best Run Government, King County is rising to the challenge of creating communities that flourish and thrive. In developing its strategic plan, the county has created a vision for equity and social justice that is our new foundation for success. To realize this vision and achieve our goals, the county is following equity and social justice principles while using tools such as Equity Impact Reviews, Equity Lean thinking and mobile technology. However, these tools are not enough. We must always work to do more to connect with our underserved communities. With these commitments, we will continue transforming King County into a government that values and supports all who live, work, or visit here.


Government agencies can improve and become more equitable by following these principles:

  • Remembering their “why.” The leads to good customer focus and understanding the needs of the communities they serve.
  • Anticipating the technical needs of a virtual community and innovating on how to quickly meet needs by focusing on existing skills and technologies.
  • Practicing kindness, thoughtfulness, and consideration in all aspects of their work.
  • Adopting an Equity and Social Justice initiative backed by strong champions and sponsorship at the highest levels.
  • Conducting surveys and town hall meetings to gain insight on the communities they serve.
  • Training employees and leadership on equity and social justice principles.
  • Establishing an equity impact review template to guide our review processes.
  • Embedding equity and social justice into Lean practices.
  • Being intentional and transparent about how data is collected, stored and used for reporting.

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