Social Equity And Cost Recovery: Parks & Rec Expert Jamie Sabbach on How Agencies Can Get Started

We sat down with Sabbach, President & CEO of 110% to discuss how agencies can take real action towards social equity and the technology they can leverage to do so.

July 15, 2021 5 min read

Achieving social equity in our communities is something many can agree is a priority. But without a proper understanding of the challenges parks & recreation agencies and their respective communities face, tangible progress can be slow.

In a recent article on the topic, Jamie Sabbach (P&R veteran and Cost Recovery consultant) asks: “Why is it that social equity is a part of P&R’s daily nomenclature yet is not part of any substantiative collective action?”

We sat down with Sabbach, who is also President & CEO of 110% to discuss how agencies can take real action towards social equity and the technology they can leverage to do so.

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jamie sabbach parks and recreation consultant

The Truth About Social Equity

What do parks & recreation professionals typically misunderstand about social equity?

There is a common conflation of the definition of equality and equity in our field. Equality is when everyone receives the same opportunities, equity is when each person is allocated the opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome, on par with the rest of the community.

Specificity is the basis for cooperation. You must be aligned on what the terms truly mean in order to address them head on. Without alignment, tangible next steps will be hard to determine.

social equity in our communities

Agencies may also struggle with believing that inequity is an actual problem that needs to be addressed without the right demographic or anecdotal data. For example, we sometimes hear affluent regions say something like, “we don’t have that in our community.”

But they might want to consider that people who need help might not ask for help; pride can be an issue; also cultural and racial hurdles that would prevent disadvantaged people from reaching out are a common barrier.

Just because you have a social equity policy integrated into your Master Plan doesn’t absolve you either. How often do you truly consult that policy? What does putting that policy into action really look like?

Can you explain the relationship between cost recovery and social equity?

Fundamentally, cost recovery is an exercise in fiscal responsibility and financial discipline. It’s looking at how the agency is spending and investing taxpayer dollars in order to best benefit the community.

A service for the purpose of the “common good” is, by definition, accessible for all, of universal value to the community, and essential for improved quality of life. Through cost recovery, we see opportunities for excess revenue that agencies can reinvest back into the organization and improve social equity.

Look Inside the Toolkit

What should parks & recreation professionals look for in technology to achieve social equity?

Technology provides access to information and tools that agencies wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, cost recovery technology helps bridge the gap in understanding where agencies are choosing to invest taxpayer resources and where they may have opportunities to make better choices.

Another tool would be community segments – being able to map out the different demographics at play in the communities they serve, making it easier to target residents that have been under-served and/or under-represented.

social equity community segments

Using technology to pull knowledge and to illustrate stories about who does and does not use services is central to demonstrating value and identifying blind spots.

What would you say to people that are uneasy about disrupting their operations through an assessment of their community impact, service categories, etc.?

The nerves might come from us taking the veil off and finding that we may have been making poor decisions, even if well-intentioned.

We must focus on the “whys” of any process. Why are we doing this assessment? Agencies want to do their best and are interested in finding out who does not have access to the services they’ve created.

At the end of the day, evaluating efforts and identifying next steps is better late than never. The work done today will impact the community for the better tomorrow.

You often talk about “garbage in, garbage out” when it comes to setting up a data analysis system. Can you elaborate on what that means?

You can’t tell a story with data if the input doesn’t reflect reality.

We have seen organizations that don’t want to give us all their data because they know it’s not totally accurate. So, in this scenario, the output needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But doing any type of data analysis is a good starting point nonetheless.

Another challenge we often see is getting accurate data from agencies that use pen-and-paper for administrative tasks like registration. Remedying this is rather straightforward: if you use an activity registration software, you’ll be able to pull data directly from that platform, without any manipulation.

In essence, if your data is clean and rooted in integrity, you can be confident in the output of the data, that it is a complete and accurate picture of your fiscal reality.

How can data play a more active role in social and fiscal decision-making?

It’s a key indicator. Data is only as good as the analysis, and only as good as the story we tell with it.

Convert the data into a narrative that can help agencies navigate future plans, and root them in tangible objectives, such as providing more access to services to marginalized community members.

What action will you take once you have the data’s “story” in front of you?

Getting Started Right Now Looks Like...

If someone was to take away just 1 thing from reading this Q&A, what would you want it to be?

Focus on impact. What impact do you want to make on your community? Once you have clarity on what the community needs and the hurdles to getting those needs met, you can work backwards.

Stop asking for more of what does not exist. Rather, do better with what you have.

And if an agency professional wants to go above and beyond today – what would you recommend they do?

Creating common definitions and common language in the organization: what is equity and what is not; what is a need and what is not; what is accessible and what is not. Common language is how you work from the same place and row together.

Start with basic understanding, so you can launch in a more unified and accelerated way.

This starting point gives agencies a good foundation for moving forward on their social equity and cost recovery objectives. However, putting these tips to action is the only way communities will actually benefit.