This is the first intro post from the UNC MPA Project Team that is collecting data for the ELGL Diversity Dashboard project. We’ve asked our team members to do weekly blog posts on their project, research process, and the overall goal of collecting better and more informative data about the race and gender of people serving in CAO and Assistant CAO positions in local government.
My name is Toney Thompson and I am a first year MPA student for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I am from Columbia, South Carolina and have lived in various places across America from Boston to Colorado.
The reason I chose to work on this exciting project with ELGL is because I am really interested in how policies and administration interact with communities to create or not create equity for minority populations. Also, often times people in power are not intentional in creating equity for their communities or reflecting the diversity in their communities.
This project gives myself and my great team members an opportunity to study diversity in government administration for the State of North Carolina. And hopefully our research will spark a productive conversation for many North Carolina government officials about their hiring practices in a rapidly changing America.
Our team is in the nascent stages of our project. And any type of project like this in the beginning stages has many challenges. One of the biggest challenges that I see is in the data collection itself for this project. A dataset will only be effective if there is an understanding and clarity about data definition.
For example, what is going to be our shared definition of a municipality, town, township, etc? What are going to be our shared definitions of people’s identities? How are we going to define the different types of governments? And what does “reflect” really mean when we are going to determine if government leaders reflect the communities that they serve? Ultimately, as a team we have to come up with these shared definitions and also develop questions that will match these definitions.
Another big challenge that I see is that this data is not going to be readily available. Most likely we will have to survey all of North Carolina to collect this information and getting people to fill out surveys is unfortunately one of the more difficult tasks to accomplish in our modern society.
Also, these surveys will most likely get a snapshot of government official demographics and if we truly want to get at this “reflect” question, then it may take collecting demographics of government officials going back years. That idea is even more daunting as most governments do not even keep or let alone think about keeping such data.
These challenges are fundamental to our research and will most likely be limitations to whatever our end product will be.
However, we all wanted to do this project because there has to be a starting point. And ultimately we want to create a model that is replicable for other groups to use in the future.
So, the more time we put in on the front end, getting the definitions and research model right, the easier it will be for future groups and studies.
We’ll share posts from the UNC MPA project team each Friday! Stay tuned to learn from each member of the project team, and also for more information about the project model the team is creating for ELGL.