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Connecting Social Equity to Our Work

From the Accord3.0 blog.

What is social equity and how can it relate to our work as mediators and facilitators? As an urban planner, I am dedicated to pursuing principles of social equity in my work. Planners often have to serve as facilitators in contentious meetings related to urban development, environmental resources, and land uses. Oftentimes, those who may be adversely impacted by decisions are not represented at all.

We know that there are many reasons for their absence, and these are tied to social equity. In a time of rapid urbanization, climate change, and potential for natural disasters, questions around equity are fundamental to address. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in 2015 that “social justice and equity are core aspects of climate-resilient development pathways that aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C as they address challenges and inevitable trade-offs, widen opportunities, and ensure that options, visions, and values are deliberated, between and within countries and communities, without making the poor and disadvantaged worse off”.

The pursuit of social equity has become a priority in many organizations’ plans, programs, and projects. This is due to the understanding that social inequities have continued to exist, including those related to wealth, gender, sexual orientation, race, and political representation. While there have been efforts to create equitable policies, these policies continue to fall short, as they are often confused with ideas of equality.

Equity significantly differs from equality. Equity recognizes that people come from very different backgrounds and some groups have not had the same access to resources, information, or opportunities as others. Equality, on the other hand, focuses on treating everyone the same regardless of background or access to resources. Equity attempts to correct the wrongs from the past through making a more concerted effort to reach groups that have been historically marginalized or underrepresented.

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) in their 2014 report, Equity in Sustainability, defines equity through four components: distributional, procedural, structural, and transgenerational.

Distributional Equity – sustainability programs and policies resulting in fair distributions of benefits and burdens across all segments of a community, prioritizing those with highest need.
Procedural Equity – inclusive, accessible, authentic engagement and representation in processes to develop or implement sustainability programs and policies.
Structural Equity – decisions are made with a recognition of the historical, cultural, and institutional dynamics and structures that have routinely advantaged privileged groups in society and resulted in chronic, cumulative disadvantage for subordinated groups.
Transgenerational Equity – decisions consider generational impacts and do not result in unfair burdens on future generations.

In order to take social equity into account when conducting our work, we should ask ourselves some questions while developing a mediation session or facilitating a workshop:

  1. Who will be impacted by the decisions that will be made? How will these individuals and communities be impacted? (Distributional equity)
  2. Are those who will be impacted represented at the meeting? (Procedural equity)
  3. How will we ensure that the decision-making process is inclusive, and that everyone’s voices are heard? (Procedural equity)
  4. How can we break the cycle of any structural inequities that exist? (Structural equity)
  5. How will the decisions made impact future generations? (Transgenerational equity)

In asking ourselves these kinds of critical questions in the course of our work as mediators and facilitators, we are creating a more equitable world.


References (for additional reading)

American Planning Association, Planning for Equity Policy Guide, 2019.

Equity in Sustainability: An Equity Scan of Local Government Sustainability Programs. Urban Sustainability Directors Network. 2014.

IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.

Kagan J.A., Ronquillo J.C. (2019) Ho‘oponopono and the Kanaka Maoli: The Elusive Quest for Social Equity in the Hawaiian Islands. In: Johansen M. (eds) Social Equity in the Asia-Pacific Region. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham


Layla Kilolu

Layla Kilolu is a graduate student in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her research is focused on how resilience strategies are created, monitored, and measured from a social equity perspective. She has contributed to sustainability efforts at Sea Grant, Elemental Excelerator,… MORE >

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