Analyzing equity benchmarks across a wide range of topics (i.e., education, health care, housing and economics) is much more feasible and important than ever before. The wealth of open data has placed public sector organizations in an excellent position to sponsor and coordinate more intensive, wide ranging equity benchmarking and indexing activities. As with any emerging field of work, though, we have to walk before we can run, so there are some foundational practices we should do before creating equity benchmarks.

A key factor to consider when managing expectations around what will come from the early stages of this work is the complex work of understanding the breadth of individual data sources. There are more data sources available for equity benchmarking work than ever before, but as with any data source, each carries its own specific DNA. Public Sector leaders have incredible amounts of access to equity-related data sources, but depending on the context, the individual data sources as they currently exist may not be well positioned to speak in concert with one another.

Initial benchmarking should simultaneously focus on cataloguing the characteristics of each data source and identifying any barriers to communication with other data sources. In many situations, the data being incorporated into equity benchmarking activities have their structures determined by existing governance, regulatory, and legislative frameworks. At the onset of a benchmarking process, mapping out precisely how different data sources can talk with one another will bring about more alignment that allows for deeper insights that are of high value and integrity.

The detailed and intensive work of cataloging and mapping equity-related data sources can seem daunting, but it’s a necessary first step toward high integrity insights that communities can use to empower and improve decision-making.