The Importance of Social Equity in Public Administration

Public administrators have spent decades working to make the United States an equitable, fair and just society. By applying theories of social equity, public administrators are capable of increasing the public’s access to education and resources, while ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard when discussing matters of public interest. Their noble efforts may have even helped inspire the emergence of numerous social movements, such as “Occupy Wall Street” and “Black Lives Matter.”

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by University Of San Francisco’s Online Master of Public Administration degree program.

The Importance of Social Equity in Public Administration

What Is Social Equity?

According to the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), social equity in public administration can be defined as “the fair, just and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract; and the fair and equitable distribution of public services, and implementation of public policy; and the commitment to promote fairness, justice and equity in the formation of public policy.”

NAPA measures the level of social equity in public administration through four criteria, which are distributional equity, outcome disparities, procedural fairness and process equity.

Distributional equity involves making a commitment to provide resources, equal access and targeted intervention, such as when efforts are made to correct wrongs and reduce risk factors for historically underserved groups. Outcome disparities can be rectified by investigating what causes disparities. Procedural fairness involves a guarantee of due process and equal protection when hiring, promoting and awarding contracts. And process equity can be ensured by providing consistency in service delivery.

Social equity also involves considering the mental and physical conditions, social class, language, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference of individuals and groups within a population.

What is the Difference Between Equity and Equality?

The concept of equity ensures that each individual is treated in a fair and just manner. However, the ways in which specific individuals are treated may need to be adjusted for the sake of leveling the playing field.

In contrast, equality assumes that each individual starts out on equal footing and receives equal treatment from the beginning.

Social equality is built upon three pillars. Ensuring the fair administration of laws, seeking out and qualifying minorities for positions in the workforce, and encouraging moral public leadership that motivates individuals and communities to practice social equity are all fundamental aspects of social equality.

How Did Social Equity Emerge in America?

According to early evaluations, social equity initiatives and many other public programs were not being implemented effectively and efficiently for all citizens. The 1968 Minnowbrook Conference shed light on an array of issues related to the field of public administration, including social equity.

H. George Frederickson advocated for equity to join efficiency and economy as the third pillar of public administration. According to Frederickson, applying social equity in public administration initially concentrated on “issues of race and gender in employment, democratic participation, and service delivery” after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the late ’60s.

Over the past several decades, many administrators have worked to shape the theory of social equity into what it is today, including Roddrick Colvin, Kristen Norman-Major, Mario Rivera, Audrey Mathews and Blue Wooldridge, the current chair of the Social Equity in Governance panel for NAPA.

What Challenges Face Efforts for Increased Social Equity in America Today?

Social equity is facing an array of challenges, including gaps in health outcomes between races and ethnic groups, unequal access to opportunities, and widening disparities in income, wealth and education. Unfortunately, the concerns of immigrants, ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups are not being as clearly communicated as the interests of the wealthy and “well-off.”

While scholars and practitioners work to study and document the details of social equity in the United States, it is ultimately the responsibility of public administration to address these issues.
Increasing social equity requires a multifaceted approach. Thinking globally but acting locally is one method for bringing society closer to social equity. For instance, while reform policies related to education, public housing and transportation are enacted federally, they are implemented locally. It is also important to question who benefits from a specific public program or policy, and whether the program or policy is effective.

Using the power of counselors, teachers, police officers and others who implement public policy and interact with people directly is another method for encouraging the growth of social equity. People in these kinds of hands-on positions may have administrative discretion to fit written law into a community’s unwritten moral code. Even though elite officials may prefer to use a less hands-on approach, they stand to benefit from change that works its way from the bottom up.

Moral indignation draws from public energy to power the way forward, driving the population to effect change. Using video, social media and print to dramatize efforts could raise awareness and eventually lead to increased social equity.

Various movements have been calling for change and shaking up the United States, and the next generation of public administrators is entering a government that’s ready for change and action. This change starts with each individual becoming aware of the integral role they play in promoting social equity.

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