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Philadelphia Technology Office Focuses on Racial Equity

The Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology has created a Racial Equity Action Plan. Equity plays an integral role for an office tasked with supporting other city departments with technology.

Silhouette profile group of men and women in shades of blue and red representing diversity.
The Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology's (OIT) Racial Equity Action Plan outlines how the department will center equity in its work to support constituents and other city departments with technology.

The city of Philadelphia has centered equity in recent years with efforts such as an open data tool for greater transparency, partnering with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Alia to improve safety net benefits for workers, and the use of the Innovation Fund to support projects that will help agencies better serve the community.

Philadelphia remains one of the most segregated of major cities, according to census data. In September 2022, the city announced its Racial Equity Strategy, which called for all city departments to create a Racial Equity Action Plan by the end of 2023. The final cohort of city departments, which included the Office of Innovation and Technology, concluded development of plans this year to use data and technology as well as other resources and strategies to improve city services. This is especially important for OIT, whose work is centered around the use of technology to serve both other departments and Philadelphians.

Philadelphia CIO Sandra Carter and her chief of staff determined which individuals within OIT would add value to the conversation throughout the plan’s development, Carter said.

Six staff members from OIT, representing different OIT teams, participated in the development of this plan, with several other people included in discussions as subject matter experts for particular areas, said Kistine Carolan, senior program manager with OIT.

The plan lists three priority strategies for the city: equity projects, workplace equity and digital equity.

It also outlines the next steps OIT aims to take for each. For prioritizing equity projects, DEI and OIT will develop an equity scoring matrix and hire an equity data analyst to drive action. For advancing workplace equity, OIT will enhance internal professional development and external recruitment in a number of ways, including developing relationships with historically Black colleges and universities as well as groups serving diverse communities. For supporting digital equity, OIT will work to distribute city devices and public access Wi-Fi to residents based on need.

The plan also outlines performance measures to determine whether strategies are working effectively to improve service delivery for Philadelphia residents.

Philadelphia IT Manager Deshawn Jones said OIT takes a three-prong approach to diversity and equity: first, as an employer; second, as a service provider offering support within the city; and third, as a public-facing agency. For this reason, Jones said the city took a holistic approach to creating this plan to touch on all three.

Carolan noted that while OIT’s primary role is to support other departments with technology, OIT also works on other initiatives like the website and launch of transparency dashboards.

One specific city dashboard, the Racial Equity Strategy Dashboard, was created to track city department progress on this initiative. OIT did not lead the creation or management of this dashboard, but the office is participating in it, Carolan said.

When it comes to the role of data in decision-making, it is a foundation for making decisions with equity in mind because data helps the city see where gaps exist in the community. This clarity informs action, Carolan said.

“The other half of that is, as they start to work their plans and as they start to implement some of these changes, the data then will reveal how impactful and how positive those changes were to see where we need to shift and change if necessary,” said Carter.

The city worked with other departments in creating the strategic plan to align internal efforts and learn from one another. In particular, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has operated in an organizing role to connect OIT to other teams and other departments to come up with and implement new projects, Carolan explained.

One component of the racial equity planning process was a year of comprehensive training and support.

Carolan said this starts with helping cohort participants understand what racial equity means and which systematic inequities exist, followed by an analysis of root causes and potential solutions.

As Carter explained, the cohort was immersive in terms of training, but there has also been executive-level training. Through quarterly meetings with DEI, the city can help monitor plans and progress and ensure department executives receive similar training regarding equity, enhancing the city’s whole-of-government approach.

Carter also underlined that DEI is not new to Philadelphia, citing programs and digital equity work already actively in place across the city and within OIT.

“I think, the fact that there’s a history already, anything that this team does going forward can only add to what's already in place, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do,” Carter said.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.