KLA Perspectives

"The Latest": Monthly KLA Email

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jul 10, 2018 10:34:54 AM

In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." 

These days that's especially true when it comes to local governments' pursuit of sustainability, resilience, smart city and livability goals. As the KLA team churns out new analysis, resources, blog posts and podcasts on these topics -- "KLA Perspectives" -- we want to ensure you don't miss the next big thing. 

Read More

Topics: sustainability

How We Can Use this Heat Wave to Get Ready for the Next Ones

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jul 5, 2018 3:02:36 PM

As many of us are gearing up for an extra long holiday weekend, it will be hard to leave “our work” at the office. I have been tracking the weather in my hometown of Boston as well as in a number of my client cities particularly in the Northeast, and it is hard to ignore the oppressive heat wave that is hitting the country (and, heck, the whole world) right now.

Meanwhile here in Massachusetts, about 70 cities and towns have just completed and sent in their final reports for a new state program called the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program. Through the MVP process, cities and towns are engaging key stakeholders and the public to identify four key hazards, the assets that will be impacted by these hazards, and the solutions that can enhance their resilience to these hazards.

And right now one of those hazards is hard to escape: the heat. 

While conversations and news coverage of climate change impacts often focus on sea level rise or flooding due to more intense storm events, it is the sustained temperature increases that is our biggest enemy at this moment in time.

Read More

Topics: sustainability, climate change, heat waves

Recycling: Perspectives from Austin (New Podcast)

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jun 26, 2018 9:03:11 PM

Recycling. It has been called the “gateway to sustainability” for cities. It’s one of the first things individuals and businesses think of when you ask them what it means to be “green.” And it’s making all sorts of news headlines these days.

Recycling, waste reduction in general and plastics pollution have been in the news recently in part because China announced a ban on some imports of waste and recyclables.

When the KLA team sat down to identify who would be the best local governments to talk to on the subject for our podcast, Austin, Texas, came to mind. A lot of folks in our field have heard about Austin’s zero waste goal (by 2040) which has been around more than a decade (there’s a good EPA case study on this) and calls for the City to 75% diversion by 2020 and 90% by 2030.

Read More

Topics: sustainability, cities, recycling, zerowaste

The State of Climate Adaptation: Guest Post + Podcast with Joyce Coffee

Posted by Kim Lundgren on May 30, 2018 10:06:42 AM

Guest Post by Joyce Coffee of Climate Resilience Consulting.

Even as we work tirelessly and in the face of great obstacles to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, humans have already set in motion impacts from climate change -- many of which we’re witnessing in real time: more frequent and intense storms, flooding, sea level rise, drought and extreme weather events. Thus, communities around the world are embracing climate adaptation measures and plans to be resilient to what the future will bring -- and what the present is already delivering.

Read More

Topics: sustainability, adaptation, resilience, cities

Participatory Budgeting: How to Put the People in Public Works (APWA)

Posted by Kim Lundgren on May 17, 2018 11:03:35 AM

This article originally appeared in the American Public Works Association (APWA) publication The Reporter's May 2018 issue.  

By: Kim Lundgren of Kim Lundgren Associates and the APWA Center for Sustainability (C4S) and Jennifer Godzeno, Deputy Director at the Participatory Budgeting Project

Listen to a podcast on the topic of Participatory Budgeting with Kim and Jen. 

In Public Works, we often struggle to tell our stories and effectively engage the public, particularly given the fast pace of our day to day. We are busy answering calls when people have thoughts about potholes, water/sewer service issues, road closures, trees that need to be trimmed, new playground and park equipment and everything in between. Most people in our communities don’t grasp what it takes to deliver all of these services every day, ensure public safety is always the top priority, and fund all of these activities. And if we don’t effectively communicate with and engage the public, we can’t expect them to understand.

But what if we could give everyone the opportunity to look behind that curtain -- to participate in helping make the tough decisions about what will get funded and what won’t. At a minimum they could appreciate the delicate balancing act we play. And that transparency could help forge a working partnership with constituents as we work together to make our communities better places to live.

That’s where Participatory Budgeting (“PB”) comes in. PB is an open, democratic process through which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Participatory Budgeting gives ordinary people real power over real money.

Started in Puerto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989 and introduced in the US in Chicago two decades later, PB is gaining steam because of the myriad of challenges it addresses and benefits it offers communities large and small, including:

  • Building community leaders
  • Creating a bottom-up conversation that illuminates a community’s needs and makes local leaders more responsive
  • Expanding civic engagement
  • Enhancing how informed the public is
  • Fostering effective and fair leadership How does it accomplish all of that?

The Participatory Budgeting Project breaks the process down into fives stages: 

  1. Design: A steering committee, representative of the community, creates the rules in partnership with government officials to ensure the process is inclusive and meets local needs.
  2. Brainstorm: Through meetings and online tools, residents share and discuss ideas for projects.
  3. Develop: Volunteers, usually called budget delegates, develop the ideas into feasible proposals, which are then vetted by agency staff.
  4. Vote: Residents vote to determine how the available budget will be spent to fund proposals. It’s a direct, democratic voice in their community’s future.
  5. Fund: Winning projects are implemented, such as laptops in schools, Wi-Fi in public parks, or traffic safety improvements. The government and residents track and monitor implementation.

From the point at which a local government thinks “hey, this could work for us” through to actual implementation can feel like an eternity. The planning stage can take 3-6 months followed by 5-8 months for the implementation stages. It involves getting buy-in among the right players and departments internally and externally, determining the budget and scope, identifying a budget and securing funding, and a significant amount of prep work.

So is it worth it?

No longer an experiment, PB is a proven method globally that has been in the US less than a decade and is already showing results. Research by Public Agenda found that “46 jurisdictions across 13 cities in the U.S. and Canada undertook PB between July 2014 and June 2015. During that time, public officials allocated nearly $50 million to PB projects. 73,381 residents voted on 892 projects, and 360 projects won public funding.”

Oakland, California, used PB to help low- to moderate-income communities decide how to to spend almost $800,000 in federally administered HUD Community Development Block Grants. These grants require public participation in deciding how to use the funds, but without PB can be ineffective. In 2017 more than 1,200 Oakland residents voted for projects including meals, mobile showers, and health services for the homeless, housing counseling and legal advice for tenants at risk of eviction, life-skills classes and other support for immigrants and seniors who speak English as a second language, and internship and apprenticeship placement and career counseling for youth.

Greensboro, North Carolina, was the first city in the South to give PB a test run back in 2015-2016. They completed the second PB cycle for 2018-2019 FY funding and are planning a third round. Here are some fast facts from the first PB exercise in Greensboro:

  • City Council set aside $500,000 for PB projects, up to $100,000 for each of the five City Council districts
  • 1,098 residents engaged, 675 ideas generated online and at over 25 events
  • 40 Volunteer budget delegates and facilitators, 28 committee meetings, 2 staff meetings, 1 open house, 10-15 staff reviewers, 75 initial project proposals.
  • 200 residents attended 10 Community Expo events; 46 projects for the ballot.
  • 1,100 voted at 10 locations and selected 26 winning projects, including murals, crosswalks, road and sidewalk safety features, playground and pool equipment

Indeed, many of the projects that are funded through PB fall under the Public Works umbrella. In the most recent cycle of PB in New York City, about 40% of the projects funded were for infrastructure improvements and most of the remaining going to schools. Examples abound from coast to coast of PB-funded bike lanes, community gardens, transit upgrades (like bus station shelters or benches), playground equipment, street lights and composting facilities.

 

You can easily integrate Participatory Budgeting into your current planning and budget processes.

A Few Ground Rules for Participatory Budgeting 

  1. With intentionality, PB advances equity. PB can offer community members something other meeting and engagement processes cannot: a guarantee that your voice will count. The binding vote ensures people will see tangible results, which inspires a more diverse constituency to participate. There are also opportunities at the design, brainstorming and development points of the PB process when community based organizations can be involved and that go beyond a typical advisory role. When cities allow grassroots organizers to play a meaningful role in designing and implementing PB, they can bring in underresourced communities and get diverse perspectives. Indeed, a study by Public Agenda found that PB is reaching historically disenfranchised populations.
  2. The stakes have to be high enough to matter. PB can be used at the city, county, state or even national scale, but you can also use it at the department level at your city or even a school level. You want to make sure that the money is enough for the stakes to matter and to inspire participation. PBP’s basic rule of thumb is $1M per 100,000 population or 1%-15% of budget.
  3. Real youth engagement. New York City has successfully incorporated PB for a variety of budgeting processes, and they are making a concerted effort to bring in the youth voice. Mayor DeBlasio has pledged to ramp up civics education in schools, including a new pot of funds to expand PB to every public high school as part of an action civics initiative. Harvard University led a study of Boston’s pilot year of the ongoing “Youth Lead the Change” PB process that focuses exclusively on youth 12-25 and found, among other benefits, the empowerment factor and the model of “Change Agent” volunteers. Youth engagement in PB is both valuable -- fresh perspectives, no hidden agendas, and a sense of ownership -- and transformative. If at a young age you learn the skills to engage and see your participation as expected, your community involvement will last a lifetime.
  4. You can’t assign this to an intern. The good news is, you can integrate PB into your current planning and budget processes. PB can streamline the civic engagement work that agencies are and lighten this burden for government staff. But it’s not something you can then offload to an intern -- or even to just one person. Some combination of staff (it is recommended to have the equivalent of 2 full time staff), a volunteer steering committee and community partners much take ownership for the following PB elements: a) Community Outreach & Partnerships b) Group Facilitation & Training c) Volunteer Recruitment & Coordination d) Administrative & Logistical Support e) Budgeting & Technical Support f) Communications & Promotion g) Digital Technology Coordination h.) Research & Evaluation
Participatory budgeting won’t change the fact that Public Works departments have to juggle immediate -- often emergency response -- needs, city priorities and community member desires -- all on a constrained budget. Some projects will get funded and others will have to wait in line. But with PB, those decisions are made together with community input and in a manner that fosters a mutual appreciation and understanding.

Additional Resources:

Read More

Topics: sustainability, public works, cities, participatory budgeting

What We Heard at APA's NPC 2018

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Apr 25, 2018 10:18:49 PM

The KLA team just returned from the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in New Orleans -- both exhausted and reinvigorated. From the Women in Planning steamboat cruise to adventures in the French Quarter to watching our colleagues (and some of our work) on the Green Streets Lawrence Health Impact Assessment (which we did a podcast on last year) recognized with an Achievement Award, it was certainly a celebratory trip.

But you could find us most of the time at our booth in the Exhibit Hall’s Tech Zone where we were busy chatting with planners, students, researchers, and other consultants from the US and around the world.

The “Podcast for Planners” sign caught their eye, and dozens of people snapped photos so they could log on to iTunes or Sound Cloud post-conference and get our SAS Talk with Kim (Sustainability Action Series) podcast in their que. Our most recent topics include open data, climate adaptation planning and participatory budgeting. Sounds like a bunch of you listen to podcasts on your commutes!


Our Storytelling Guidebook was another popular request. If you didn’t get a copy, download it for free here. We were thrilled when more than 40 people packed the Tech Zone presentation area for our “How to Turn Your Data Into a Story” interactive session. What resonated with people was all the data we have access to, but that we either keep it buried in internal documents or put confusing, out-of-context bar graphs and pie charts up on a website and expect people to “get it.” It can make a huge difference if we tease a story out of the data.

KLA Community Dashboard: Keep the Conversation Going from Kim Lundgren on Vimeo.

And our new video about our Community Dashboard 2.0 grabbed their attention. You can watch it here. After they watched it we walked them through a few of our current Dashboards --- from Nashua , Encinitas and Cambridge – and showed them some of what we’re working on and that you’ll see soon in San Antonio and Indianapolis, among others. (If you missed it, you can learn more about the Dashboard here. )

Engaging Planners with Community Engagement

Heads were nodding and sighs were audible as we talked about this all-too-common scenario: You spend so much time and resources on the planning process, whether it’s a comp plan, sustainability plan, transportation plan, etc. You do a pretty impressive job of engaging the community through meetings and events and online tools like social media and surveys. You get them jazzed. You build a fancy website. Your plan is passed. And then what? Does the plan sit on the shelf? Is your community left wondering what’s happening, if the plan is working and what they can do?

That’s where a platform like a Dashboard can keep the conversation and the engagement going beyond the planning process. The theme of community engagement was ever present for KLA at the conference, both in what we were discussing at our booth but also in the sessions we attended -- where we heard about Austin's efforts to think outside the box (we liked their engagement of business owners to reach employees); the "On the Table" approach from Lexington, KY, that lets people connect over food in the forum with which they are most comfortable; and the online engagement strategies employed by MetroQuest

We came away from NPC18 with new ideas for how we can refine our tools and services to address current needs, new insight into the challenges that planners face especially in the sustainability sphere, new friends (plus lots of time to hang out with old friends, like Doug Melnick of San Antonio, at right) and new partners.

P.S. FEMA's Virtual Reality experience IMMERSED could be a game-changer for communities where flooding and natural disasters are a concern -- which pretty much covers us all. It's a truly powerful exercise that lets you experience and flood crisis and see the benefits of hazard mitigation first-hand. We were blown away by it and could see this being particularly useful for elected officials and other decision makers. 

 

Read More

Topics: sustainability, cities, planning

Podcast with the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities Storyteller: Putting Open Data to Work for your Community

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Apr 19, 2018 10:03:50 AM

“Open Data” feels like the buzzword that just won’t quit. It was popping up so much in client conversations and at conferences that we knew it was time to do a SAS Talk with Kim podcast on how open data policies are being implemented in cities and the opportunities to improve government services and strengthen the community.

We went straight to the source with the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities Storyteller (cool job title!) Alex Dodds.

Listen to our Open Data Podcast.

At its core, the Sunlight Foundation is “committed to improving public access to public information by making it available to the public, online [through] civic technologies, open data, policy analysis and journalism.”

A KLA colleague also just attended an Open Data session at the TomTom Founders Festival in Charlottesville that included representatives from OpenGov, the City of Seattle and Results for America.

Open Data > Raw Data

The key theme in my chat with Alex and during that session was the balance between open data and raw data -- the notion that it’s not enough to pass an open data policy and start publishing it. We heard two sayings that summed it up nicely:

“If you build it, they might not necessarily come.”

“You can lead a horse to data, but you can’t make him think.”

This goes way beyond asking someone in the IT department (though that is usually where open data responsibilities are housed) to just a pdf online or give access to a database. The Governing Magazine reporter who moderated the Charlottesville panel noted that when cities and companies want you to NOT find something, they just dump all the data in your lap (in the old days that was giving them the keys to a giant warehouse of boxes; today’s equivalent is pointing them to a massive website database or spreadsheet).

The open data we’re talking about -- that can truly empower the community and make local governments not just more accountable but more effective -- provides a roadmap. You have to curate and interpret the data, put it in context and use storytelling to foster what is called “data literacy.”

Open data typically covers things like car accidents, crime reports, 911 calls, construction permits, restaurant inspections, and service requests. When pieced together and put in historical context, data points of that nature can be life-changing for the community. It can inform major policies and programs, confirms assumption or turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Let The Sun Shine In

Of course there is an inherent challenge to open data: It can expose shortcomings and make people inside the local government feel vulnerable. Indeed, it often means a culture change that has to start at the top with leaders who embrace transparency.

As one panelist in Charlottesville said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” By “lifting up the hood” you are showing accountability and building trust with the community. After all, if you don’t share the news that isn’t good, people will be skeptical when you share the good news. It proves you have nothing to hide. And it gives local governments new partners. You bring your community along on the journey, build a shared narrative and can work together to solve problems.

Open data can also pinpoint inequities, but the local government must connect the dots for the disparities to be addressed. One Charlottesville panelist cited an anecdote about ambulance response times in New Orleans. The basic gist was that the city used data to reposition EMTs around the city to ensure faster -- and more equitable -- response times. You can check out a full case study by Results for America.  

So how do you get beyond the stacks of raw data to meaningful open data? Alex talked about the Sunlight Foundation’s Tactical Data Engagement 4-step, people-centered process:

  1. Find a general focus area by observing community information needs.
  2. Refine information use cases by interviewing stakeholders
  3. Design a plan by coordinating with target data users
  4. Implement an intervention by collaborating with actual users

The Sunlight Foundation describes the importance of Tactical Data Engagement this way: 

“Cities across the United States are making public data more open and accessible to their residents. Mayors and city staff are improving their policies and technical offerings to make more and more information about how local governments function available online. These developments represent a sea-change in our societal norms and expectations about the public right to government information. We believe Tactical Data Engagement is the next step in that cultural movement toward transparency and accountability. While open data policies and portals are invaluable components of improving local governments’ outcomes, the ultimate goal of all government work — including open data — is to improve the day-to-day lives of the people in a community.”They are piloting this approach to helping people put data to use in Austin, TX, Norfolk, VA, and Madison, WI.

As we often note when discussing our Community Dashboard with cities, today we have easy access to mountains of data. How we choose to open that data up to our communities and turn it into compelling stories will determine the impact it can have.

Listen to our Open Data Podcast.

Open Data Resources:

Read More

Topics: sustainability, cities, open data

Making a Plan for the 2018 National Planning Conference

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Apr 17, 2018 9:07:49 AM

We're packing our bags for APA's National Planning Conference and hope to see you in New Orleans!

Five Reasons We're Excited About NPC2018: 

1. Meeting You! Come to the KLA booth in the Exhibit Hall’s Tech Zone (across from the poster presentations) to:  

  • Learn how to better communicate the value of your projects and programs for FREE
  • Find out how to keep your community engaged...beyond the planning process
  • Check out our storytelling resources
  • Get a sneak peek at v 2.0 of our Community Dashboard
  • Join us Monday 4/23 at 1:30pm for a 30-minute, interactive “How to Turn Your Data Into a Story” session on the Tech Zone stage.

2. Getting a Little Silly. Join Kim and Angela Vincent (in full SNL characters) for a "Fast, Funny and Passionate" skit on Monday 4/23 11:15-12:30, "A Wesilient Interview with Baba Wawa." 

Kim will also be speaking at the "Read My Mind! I'm the Client" session Monday 4/23 4:15-5:30. 

3. Taking a Cruise. What's not to love about the Women and Planning reception: "Sunset Steamboat Tour with Food, Drinks, and Jazz!"

4. Giving Stuff Away. We've got copies of Paul Hawken's Drawdown, the cookbook Food is the Solution, and more to give away. Visit our booth to find out how you can win one of our raffle prizes. 

5. Learning Something New Every Hour. Four of KLA's team members will be there, so we've been pouring over the conference program to make sure we're hitting all the hot spots. Here are just a few of the sessions we have on our "must see" list: 

Leveraging Partnerships to Increase Community Engagement

 
 
 
 

 

For Your Travels!

If topics like participatory budgeting, smart cities, open data and climate resilience are of interest to you, download some of our recent SAS Talk with Kim podcasts to listen to on your drive or flight to New Orleans!

Read More

Topics: sustainability, APA

Kick Start Branding for Your Next City Initiative with These 20 Questions

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Mar 27, 2018 10:30:15 PM

You’re embarking on a new city-wide planning process or developing a long-range sustainability, resilience, climate action plan or similar. Chances are you want to go beyond “Our City's Sustainability Plan” if you want to effectively grab the public’s attention.

At this same time, local governments don’t often have the luxury -- in time or dollars -- of a robust branding exercise for every new program, initiative or planning process.  

That’s why I asked Robin Samora to join me for our latest episode of the SAS Talk with Kim podcast. Robin is a friend who has worked with KLA on our branding and marketing strategies and who shared lots of great insight and tips that local governments can use to manage a smaller-scale, internal branding process.

LISTEN NOW. 

One of the themes in my chat with Robin was the tendency -- not just at the local government level but across the board --  for our messages to convey the *what* of a particular service or initiative, instead of the WHY. Why does this particular initiative or program exist? Why is it important to people in your community? What’s the value proposition? Robin echoes the sentiments of branding experts the world over: branding is how you (your product, your service) make people feel. That’s why you need to get beyond calling it just a “Sustainability Plan” -- which is the what, not the why.

Part of that "why" value proposition is often a call-to-action (or "CTA"), particularly for cities who need their citizens to come to an event, give feedback on a proposed plan, make a lifestyle change, etc. That makes the delivery of your brand -- from the right spokespeople and “brand ambassadors” to targeted messaging and tactics -- critical.

Finally, you want to make sure to do due diligence in terms of institutional memory. Know your city’s branding (and any expectations of alignment with it), what market research already exists, what similar initiatives or programs have been promoted in recent years as well as what has worked and what hasn’t worked. That helps establish what messaging and tactics you might want to tap or, conversely, avoid.

In addition to KLA’s experience with Robin and other consultants in our own branding journey last year, we’ve worked with several clients to develop branding -- and attendant marketing collateral -- for their sustainability planning initiatives. (See some examples below.)

As a result, we’ve compiled a list of 20 questions to ask -- along with a few tips -- during the branding phase of your initiative.

 

  1. Will you be developing a separate graphic identity (i.e. logo, set of icons) for the initiative or program? Tip: If you don’t have internal design resources, consider a relatively cheap option like Logo Tournament.

  2. Will you need both a name and a tagline (i.e. mantra, motto, strap line) for the initiative or program?

  3. What is your city’s “brand personality”?  

  4. Are there particular features or characteristics for which your city is already known -- i.e. historical figures or events, sports team, cultural, universities, personalities (grit, innovative, etc)?

  5. Does your city have a style guide or branding outline you need to follow (things like logo, typography, color, photography usage)?

  6. What efforts similar to a sustainability/resilience/climate plan has the City done in the last decade?

  7. What were they called?

  8. Are they still visible or in people’s memories?

  9. Was the overall reception positive or negative?

  10. What market research has been done in your community? Tip: Start with your Economic Development Department, Chamber of Commerce or your Convention and Visitors Bureau (or equivalent).

  11. What kind of research and testing, if any, have been done around messaging and concepts like "sustainability" "resilience" "climate action" and "livability"?

  12. What kind of message testing will you be able to do in advance of your initiative or program launch? Tip: You can pull together a simple focus group, online survey or social media contest to elicit feedback. Also, think about tapping a local high school or university class to support your research.

  13. What are some key words or phrases associated with your initiative or program? Tip: Do a "word storming" session (which you can do in person, over the phone or via a shared doc online) where key staff and stakeholders share words and themes -- be sure to include "words to avoid." 

  14. What groups and individuals are considered leaders (or “influencers”) in your community?

  15. Do you have relationships with those people or ways to reach out to them? 

  16. What target audiences (i.e. moms, lower income, seniors) will you be trying to reach?

  17. What is the core value proposition to them? Tip: Consult with groups and individuals who serve these communities to ensure your messages will resonate. Get concrete examples of the language your audience uses and primary issues impacting them. 

  18. What are the best ways to reach these audiences -- and the barriers? Tip: Ask your community partners where these audiences can be found (in the physical community and online).
  19. What do most people in your community already know about the initiative, program or topic and what misperceptions might there be?

  20. Will you need to include translations for non-English speakers? 

That's just a starting point, but if you take the time -- with the right people involved -- to answer these questions honestly and thoroughly you will be leaps and bounds closer to a final brand.  The KLA team (in our KLA capacity and with previous clients/jobs) has worked with numerous local governments and community organizations to answer these questions, develop a brand and/or create basic guidance to pass off to designers, and ensure brand consistency across all outreach channels and collateral. Some examples of that work are below. It's a good reminder of the hard work, stories and meaning behind every brand you see. 

 Be sure to listen to our chat with Robin to get more insight. 

LISTEN NOW. 

 

 

Read More

Topics: sustainability, community engagement, branding

Celebrating KLA's DBE Certification

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Mar 27, 2018 11:30:48 AM

Guest post by KLA Intern Ana Kutcher

Three years ago, our CEO Kim Lundgren took a risk and started Kim Lundgren Associates. What started as a small project with one local government has now grown into a thriving business with an increasing client pool. We’ve come a long way!

Being a woman-led company in a widely male-dominated field isn’t always easy. Entrepreneurship has historically been a man’s game, but in the past few decades the US has made significant steps to help support traditionally underrepresented groups, like minorities and women like Kim, own successful small businesses. One of which is the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise certification program --- and KLA recently became certified.

Fast facts from the U.S. Census Bureau as reported by CNBC:

  • Women launch an average of 849 new businesses per day
  • There are 11.6 million women-owned companies across America
  • Those companies employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue

What is DBE and How Does It Help Your Company? 

So what is a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, and how does a DBE certification benefit a company and a community?

Here’s a quick history of DBE courtesy of the National Law Review: “DBE was initially a federal program designed to ensure that funds allocated for...highway construction projects were used to foster equal competition amongst firms in a nondiscriminatory manner. However, in recent years DBE’s use has been expanded by other governmental entities.”

The US Department of Transportation defines DBEs as a “for-profit small business where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51% interest and also control management and daily business operations.” Disadvantaged groups such as African Americans, Hispanics, and women fall under this category, and the DBE certification provides their businesses with equitable opportunities to compete for federally-funded contracts. This is a chance to level the playing field that has been unfairly balanced for decades.

What’s even better is that the DBE certification isn’t the only opportunity to get support as a women-owned small business. Programs like the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification and the Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) are also built to help companies like KLA meet their business development goals. In 2015, $17.8 billion of all federal funding contracts eligible for small businesses were awarded to WOSBs. That’s a significant feat and step in the right direction -- though it’s still just 5% of all contracting dollars (a goal established by the federal government more than 20 years ago), so we have a ways to go.

For African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, in addition to DBE there is also a Minority Business Enterprise or MBE certification.

Why DBE is a Huge Opportunity for Community Equity

For local governments, DBEs (and similar certifications) represent a huge opportunity to walk the equity talk. Governments at all levels have either mandated specific DBE procurement requirements or have promised to infuse planning and other processes with equity. If you want to reach out to and include more minorities as you craft a vision for the community’s future, an easy way to start is by having city staff, consultants and contractors reflect the community’s diversity. Many localities, companies banks also offer specific programs and support for DBEs including competitive grants, loans for entrepreneurs and trainings.

Even though most localities have some DBE mandates, it is often focused on work that has traditionally been male-dominated (note the roots in highway construction). One way to make the process even more effective is to mirror those requirements in sectors -- like planning and communication -- in which women have emerged as leaders. 

Once requirements are set, enforcement is crucial. New Orleans recently commissioned a study of the city’s DBE program amid accusations it was not working as intended. The results showed progress for minority- and woman-owned businesses in securing government contracts but struggles competing for private sector work. This type of review and accountability is critical to ensure that these certifications are used as intended and that equity goals are being pursued.

The US needs more companies led by historically marginalized groups and more work allocated to them. Promoting equity in the business world and in every community is a challenge, but certifications like DBE are designed to get us there.

We encourage other businesses to pursue DBE certification if you're eligible,  and we hope that local governments recognize the tremendous potential from an inclusion and equity standpoint that robust, enforced DBE procurement practices offer. 

Read More

Topics: sustainability, DBE, women, equity