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Marin County, Calif., Uses Tech to Build Racial Equality

Liza Massey, CIO of Marin County, just north of San Francisco, discusses the intersection of digital and racial equity, and the importance of getting the community involved to push efforts forward.

Marin County CIO Liza Massey
Marin County, Calif., CIO Liza Massey has served as a tech leader for a long list of state and local government agencies in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Her resume also includes stints as the leader of a nonprofit tech organization as well as the founder of a private consulting firm. All of this makes Massey an ideal leader for Marin’s ongoing work to foster equity with tech, efforts that involve a number of cross-sector collaborations. GT recently spoke with Massey about the push for equity, community involvement and why it’s all so important.

1. How is Marin County using tech in the service of racial equity?

Marin County has been addressing racial equity in two ways. We’ve had a data-driven dashboard for some time that includes tracking racial demographics for county employees. We use that to analyze, report and identify where we need to take action to address racial inequities in our workforce. Now, our digital and data teams are working with the Marin County racial equity officer to create a public website. Part of that will be a dashboard, and the purpose of the website and dashboard will be to aggregate data that allows analysis of racial equity in a variety of areas, not just county government employees.

The other initiative is Digital Marin, a county-funded cross-sector project with the goal to create a digital infrastructure strategic plan. We want universally accessible, affordable, reliable, resilient broadband throughout Marin — for everyone. We have taken special efforts to ensure Marin’s underserved areas are represented in the needs assessment and the planning process. 

2. How are members of affected communities participating in these processes?

Getting community members involved is critical. We’ve found that, especially with the Digital Marin project, community advocates have to step up and lead the effort; it’s the best way to ensure success. One of the guiding principles for us has been that we want to work with the communities. We don’t want to assume what they need.   

3. Are there other jurisdictions that served as models for fostering racial equity?

Closest to home, the city of San Rafael, which is in Marin County, started a digital equity effort in its Canal neighborhood. It really set a model for partnering with community advocates, but also business stepped in; so did government, schools and nonprofits. We even had private donors writing big checks. Other projects then really followed that model.

Then there are certainly jurisdictions across California that are all doing the same thing. But you can look all over. Memphis has deployed great broadband infrastructure to provide broadband to their citizens. You can look at Philadelphia and their smart city efforts. The way they approached it and developed their plan is something I’ve looked to as we’ve developed our plan, but we are doing it differently. We took it all together, and then looked at our community and determined how we need to do it.

4. Why is digital equity so important for Marin?

Equity has been on Marin County’s agenda, and there have been actions toward it for some time. The unrest that occurred last year around racial justice really accelerated and showed the importance of it, and I think we’re not the only government that felt that way. The Digital Marin project was conceived and funded prior to last year’s unrest, and it always had the goal of broadband for all and addressing the digital divide.

We know the digital divide disproportionately affects people of color. During our needs assessment, we also identified another group that disproportionately experiences the digital divide, and that is older adults. Older adults are the fastest growing demographic in Marin County, so without targeted efforts by the project, we could have 70,000 people in that group experiencing the digital divide. We’ve looked at the numbers, and we’re making a targeted effort to work with representatives of that community. We included them in the needs assessment, but we really need to make sure that we’re adequately addressing their needs.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.