Stone Inequality & Social Policy Seminar: Xavier de Souza Briggs


Monday, January 30, 2023, 12:00pm to 1:15pm


Allison Dining Room

Keeping Promises While Keeping Score: The Practice of Racial Equity Scoring in Policy Making and Implementation

Xavier de Souza Briggs, Brookings Institution

Abstract: Concern for the distributional effects of public policy has a long and mixed history in policy analysis and the policy making process, for methodological, ideological and other reasons. Operationalizing equity, including racial equity, in policy implementation is somewhat newer, especially when coupled with calls for user-centered program design and delivery, or for placing the lived experience of those government aims to serve–or “citizen science” or “community knowledge”--at the center of program reform and redesign efforts. But in public, private and nonprofit management, the concept of tailored services, innovative targeting, and other practices for moving beyond one-size-fits-all delivery is not new. Nor is the call for more participatory planning and policy making, including meaningful engagement of historically underserved and disenfranchised groups in decisions that affect their lives. What, then, does a normalized practice of “equity impact assessment,” also known as equity scoring, offer to government and its public trust? How has the practice evolved, what challenges does it face, and–two years on from the largest mass protests in American history, following the on-camera murder of George Floyd–what questions does equity scoring raise about making “a different way to govern” possible and real across the country? This talk reports on the first of a two-phase collaboration by the Brookings Institution’s Valuing Black Assets Initiative and The New School’s Institute for Race, Power and Political Economy (see Op Ed and report, October 2022).

Xavier de Souza Briggs is a senior fellow at Brookings Metro. He is also a senior advisor and co-founder of What Works Plus, a collaborative of philanthropic donors promoting equity and resilience through America’s generational investments in infrastructure and climate action. Briggs is an expert on economic opportunity and inclusive growth, racial equity and pluralism, housing, urban and regional development, and democratic governance in the U.S. and abroad. Briggs has testified before Congress on several of these topics. His recent work at Brookings has focused on inclusive markets, good jobs, equitable climate action, and tangible ways to advance equity in the way government works. He has helped catalyze public conversation about: how big federal bets on “new industrial policy” can generate real and lasting economic benefits for the workers and communities that need it most; the power of equity impact analysis to help government serve everyone more effectively and regenerate public trust; lessons of the pandemic economy about how to make worker-centered innovation the new default in business; the importance of a “one fair wage” minimum for businesses as well as their workers and local economies; the need to address a disconnect between changing racial attitudes and institutional change in America; the urgency of engaging communities and investing in “shovel-worthy” infrastructure, not just “shovel-ready” projects, to ensure that historic federal investments expand access to wellbeing and promote equity; what a more democratic and equitable federalism would require and what it would mean for America’s future; and how to develop successful communities of practice, to drive learning, collaboration, and better outcomes, in and around the public sector.

Briggs’ books include The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America, which won planning’s top book award; Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe, a four-nation comparative study and finalist for the C. Wright Mills Prize for best scholarly book on a social problem, and Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty, winner of the Louis Brownlow Award. In 2020, he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Business, Public Service and Sociology at New York University and was a volunteer on the Biden-Harris Transition Team, conducting agency reviews, serving on the volunteer interviewer corps, and advising on business recovery, climate action, racial equity, worker empowerment, improving government effectiveness, philanthropic partnerships, and other issues. Prior to joining Brookings, Briggs served for six years as vice president of the Ford Foundation. He led the foundation’s efforts to develop an actionable framework for understanding and challenging the drivers of inequality in our world, and also to build the field of impact investing and commit $1 billion of endowment assets, the largest-ever for a private foundation, for that purpose. He served on the executive committee of the board of Living Cities, a consortium of America’s largest private foundations and financial companies. Previously, Briggs was professor of sociology and urban planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he launched the popular open-source tools of the Community Problem Solving Project and Working Smarter in Community Development and served as head of MIT’s Housing, Community, and Economic Development Group. Earlier in his career, Briggs worked as a community planner in six low-income neighborhoods of the South Bronx, as a senior policy official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and as a faculty member at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Briggs currently serves on the boards of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Demos, the Global Impact Investing Network, JUST Capital, and One Fair Wage, as well as the steering committee for the nonpartisan Resilience Roadmap Project. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Public Administration. Briggs was a Rotary Scholar in Brazil; he holds an engineering degree from Stanford University, an MPA from Harvard, and a PhD in sociology and education from Columbia University.

Click here to read the report.