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Best Practice

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Policy Arc

Intersectionality of Policy Making across the Oregon Advocacy Commissions

Prepared by Barbara Ramirez Spencer (OCFW) and Robin Morris Collin (OCFW)

Introduction to Intersectionality

As Audre Lorde said in her 1982 address at Harvard University, ‘Learning from the 60s’:

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

What is Intersectionality?
  • The concept of intersectionality is not new, but the term is gradually working its way into the mainstream. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor of intersectionality and social policy studies, at University of California at Los Angeles and Columbia University in 1989, intersectionality acknowledges the multiple overlapping, or intersecting, of social identities and related systems of oppression. Today intersectionality is a sociological theory, describing multiple threats of discrimination when an individual’s social identities overlap with a number of minority identities.
  • Gender and race are important components of identity but there are many others. Age, ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, primary language, income, location, religious affiliation are just a few of the many elements that come together to shape our experiences and needs.
  • Good policy making incorporates an understanding of the multiple, overlapping factors that play a large role in the life of every Oregonian. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of identities with issues.

In its early years, intersectionality was a response of black feminists to the double oppression of being female and black, and also recognizing white privilege. The term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA in 1989. Today, intersectionality is a sociological concept, describing multiple threats of discrimination when an individual’s social identities overlap with a number of minority identities. It holds that racism, classicism, transism, etc., cannot be separated from one another. The Women’s Foundation of Oregon’s 2016 Count Her In report is founded on the intersectionality of key challenges across multiple communities of women. The poet and feminist Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” It is important to think systemically when using an intersectionality lens.​

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The Policy Arc is a policy process model that details the trajectory from legislative concept to action which was formally adopted by the Oregon Advocacy Commissions in 2017 as a reflection of their own best practice in policy advising.  It provides the OAC’s with a policy planning tool and timeline preparation to address specific community issues through public policy means over a period of years that may be phased over a number of legislative sessions, administrative rule cycles, applied policy research, and community and partner engagement.

Policy Arc

All policy begins with a concept and hopefully ends with a desired action.  The initial conceptualization addresses a need or problem.  There are specific stages to the policy arc from the initial conceptualization of need or problem to be solved.  The second stage is the formation of a plan or strategy to address the need into a proposal.  Then the approval of the proposal or, in the case of a legislative bill, the passage of a bill and the allocation of resources.  The next stage is the implementation of the law into program. Finally comes the evaluation of results and redefinition of the issue, need, or problem.

The Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs (OCHA) has incorporated all aspects of the Policy Arc into its planning and work that produced MH and Hispanics Report, and will guide the policy work and outcomes into the future.   From the opening steps of initial study and framing of the problem, approaching the Governor’s Office, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to become partners in the work, conducting qualitative and quantitative research, incorporating stakeholder input and review with a coalition of culturally responsive MH providers statewide, and along with bi-cameral and bipartisan legislators, and best practice review and compilation of the report with the services of CORE, have prepared this report.   MH and Hispanics Report is the first, seminal report on the status of Hispanics Report MH, usage, and policy recommendations in 20 years for Oregon.

The first step in developing a legislative concept is the identification of a problem and that process usually starts with a needs assessment.  This step is the foundation from which all other phases of the policy arc will unfold.  It is also the most political.  There will be many perspectives on just what constitutes the problem and just as many about the nature of “the problem.”  For that reason, rigorous research methods are applied to an analysis of the problem.  Multi-method approaches including quantitative and qualitative methods are applied to the study of a problem.  In the case of OCHA’s Latino Mental Health Needs assessment, it was also critical to use a social action research (SAR) approach.  SAR follows certain investigatory principles that seek to insure social justice, fair, and democratic framework to community-based research.  Thus, the community is involved in all phases of the research, identifying the questions to be asked, and having a voice throughout the process.  OCHA Commissioners made sure that community stakeholders had input and this was part of the political process.  The Oregon Advocacy Commissions Office made sure that the legislative priorities identified by the needs assessment were posted on their website and that stakeholders received timely updates on legislative progress (or the lack of progress).

The second step in the Policy Arc is to develop policy proposals based upon the research findings.  Data gathered by the various researchers was pooled and cross checked to identify themes to which bill proposals could be developed and presented to legislators in search of legislative sponsors.  The concept proposals were generally met favorably by Oregon law makers, because the concepts had such strong supportive data and strong community-based advocates.  Nonetheless, each bill promoted by OCHA was subjected to the usual process of hearings, bill-working, fiscal review, and House and Senate votes.  If the proposed bills passed they would go to the Governor for her signature.  This last act signifies the next step in the Policy Arc, that of authorization.

Once signed into law, the initiating concept goes through a rules-making process prior to implementation.   Implementation is the next crucial step.  Here, the initiating concept may be hard to recognize and again, this is a time for strong community advocacy to insure as much as possible of the original concept is retained.  Much depends upon the agency and how the agency administration decides how to implement the new regulations.  The final step in the Policy Arc is evaluation, and in this last step, the originating concept (or the problem being addressed) will get redefined as solved or not solved, or partially solved, etc.

The Policy Arc may appear to be a linear process, but, it is anything but that.  As one can see from the final evaluation step, it circles back on the initiating problem definition.  Communities and their policy partners within government, NGO’s, researchers, and community will continue to assess and redefine the problem again and again.


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Hope for the Power of Data & Research for Furthering Equity
Although the collection and maintenance of data for historically-marginalized groups is a sensitive matter that requires a good deal of care and security, having these data is the necessary first step to doing work, grounded in data, that centers historically-marginalized groups.  And having such data enables a consideration of what is working for whom, to what extent, and also sheds light on how practices can be improved for greater positive impact.  Not collecting such data eliminates the possibility of any work that has the potential to improve service.

Importantly, every aspect of research design and analysis is colored by the lens that guides them.  In other words, concerns about how data are used in research are legitimate and based in reality; like all human endeavors, the perspectives of those leading the work shapes the small, medium, and large decisions of whose needs are being prioritized and what biases are built in to the work.  While this potential for human influence is indeed cause for a great deal of care and oversight, it is also a reason to have hope for partnerships, working together to wield the power of data collected well and research conducted to further equity and drive examination of systems prioritizing the interests of those for whom systems have historically been inadequate.  With leadership from individuals from historically-marginalized groups and genuine partnership from others to support, data and research has tremendous possibility for furthering equity for all.​

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As part of their statutory missions, the Commissions maintain an independent policy voice within the three branches of state government, collaborating with the Governor’s office, Senate President's and House Speaker's offices, legislators, and judicial branch, in support of mutual areas of public policy concern, addressing long standing issues and lifting lesser known but important policy areas into prominence with advocacy, equity-focused policy research, partnerships and community engagement. 
OCBA's Partnerships:

Community Partnerships:
The Oregon Commissions on Asian and Pacific Islanders Affairs, Black Affairs, Hispanic Affairs, and the Commission for Women work with their constituent community partners to grow the voice of underrepresented and marginalized communities in public policy statewide. Together with community partners, the OACs plan legislative advocacy, host joint legislative days at the Capitol, co-host community forums, and study long standing community challenges.     

Departmental Partnerships:
The Oregon Advocacy Commissions engage with state departmental leadership to plan and conduct equity-focused joint policy research; develop partner research/data sharing agreements; present research outcomes; advance equity-focused legislation and administrative rules, and access to granular data and equity-focused analytics.

Governor's Initiatives Partnership:
The Oregon Advocacy Commissions have a long history of working with Oregon governors to bring community voice and equity focus into their strategic initiatives to build a more equitable Oregon. This has included voter registration, supporting key initiatives around family leave, affordable housing, home ownership, diverse work forces, access to higher education, excellence in schools, and diversion from prisons, mental and behavioral heath services.

Legislative Partnerships: 
The Oregon Advocacy Commissions build policy partnerships with legislators during interim around emerging issues and policy considerations, with OAC presentations to legislative committees, joint policy research, legislative partner discussions, issue forums, shared listening sessions, and OAC workgroup engagement. 

Research Partnerships:
The Oregon Advocacy Commissions develop ongoing collaborations and partnerships with interested universities statewide for equity-focused policy research with the Advocacy Commissions.  This may include research with graduate/PhD students or faculty, jointly writing grants, and co-authoring research articles impacting equity in the OACs’ constituent communities.

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The Oregon Commissions on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (OCAPIA), Black Affairs (OCBA), Hispanic Affairs (OCHA), and Commission for Women (OCFW) met jointly in 2017 to continue their annual review of best practices for equitable policy monitoring, advising, and research which they regularly incorporate into their work individually and with partners.   Following a presentation and discussion hosted by the Chairs of the OAC’s policy work in several areas including rural challenges in education, mental health, justice involvement, and health, the OAC’s adopted Rural and Urban Analysis as a standard for their policy work.  Rural needs will be an expected element of OAC policy advocacy and testimony, applied policy research and related data granularity and state data collection standards, and community stakeholder engagement by the Advocacy Commissions and their partnerships.

The need for Rural and Urban Analysis as a standard equity best practice is grounded in health and socioeconomic inequities that exist for rural populations.  21% of the US population – roughly 60 million Americans - live in rural or frontier geographic areas,  and almost two‐thirds of medically underserved communities are rural.  Individuals who live in rural areas are more likely to live in poverty,  present greater health risk behaviors,   and are less likely to be insured  than individuals living in urban areas. This combination of socioeconomic and health risk contributes to pronounced health disparities, including higher rates of chronic diseases (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension),   lower cancer screening rates,  and poorer outcomes following cancer detection.

The Advocacy Commissions follow the work of established rural focused research in Oregon and nationally and apply it to their policy advising as well as partnering with rural groups and researchers advancing equitable policy work in the OACs' seven strategic areas.  Community health coalitions, school systems, marginalized community groups, and Oregon universities conducting applied policy research around health, education, jobs and economy, housing and stable families, justice involvement and policing, civic engagement, and environmental equity/justice, are important to the Oregon Advocacy Commissions and their members are often drawn from these groups.

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​Building leadership, policy development, and community expertise and voice into the equity-focused, applied policy research of the Advocacy Commissions

In 2018 – 2020, the Advocacy Commission Chairs approved a staffing pilot within the Oregon Advocacy Commissions, following discussion at the Annual Joint Meetings of the Advocacy Commissions in 2018.   As the OACs engaged in increasingly complex equity-focused applied policy research with data and policy partners, the Chairs identified Project Management as a key factor for organizing for organizing the various discussions between three necessary work groups to set the goals, conduct the research and analysis, and inform and guide the project with community input.   In 2018, the OAC Chairs and the Oregon Advocacy Commissions Office added the needed Project Management expertise into its staff with specialized training, and established three workgroups as it prepared to conduct the first Mental Health and Latinos Report with partners OHA and DHS.   The workgroups, described below, developed and approved the Mental Health and Latinos research project, assuring the outcomes and timeline, conducted and analyzed the qualitative and quantitative research and analysis, provided community voice and expertise, and together crafted the policy recommendations for the study.  At the 2019 Joint Meeting of the Advocacy Commissions, the Commissions hosted a detailed discussion of the Applied Policy Research workgroup and project management model that they had piloted for the Mental Health and Latinos policy research project, and approved the OAC structure that will be used in the future to conduct their policy research work:
1) Project Management within the Oregon Advocacy Commission Office and 
2) Advocacy Commission/Partner workgroups for applied policy research, consisting of:
Leadership Group
Policy Workgroup(s)
Community Advisory Council(s)

Leadership Group
Based on the OCHA Mental Health and Latinos research example: The Leadership Group consisted of the Advocacy Commission Chair, OCHA Chair Linda Castillo 2018 – 2020, and OCHA Chair Alberto Moreno 2016 - 2018, OCHA Commissioner Dr. Joseph Gallegos, OHA Director Patrick Allen, DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht, and then OHA Behavioral Health Director, Mike Morris. This group guided the alignment and coordination of the policy work, served as guiding sponsors of the work and outcomes, identified and coordinated staff support and opportunities for data and information sharing, and other partnership activities for the project.  The group also identified the touch points in the policy arc over several years of when and to which policymaking or community groups the research and its outcomes would be most useful.

Policy Workgroup 
Based on the OCHA MH and Latinos research example:  The Policy Workgroup consisted of OCHA Commissioners, OHA and DHS staff, state legislators and their staff, and Oregon Advocacy Commissions Office staff. The Policy Workgroup conducted an environmental scan of mental health services in Oregon over a series of meetings, by inviting subject matter experts to present on their special area. They provided excellent content and served to raise awareness about the many state agencies, nonprofit and community service providers already engaged in this important work.  Their charge included:
1) Identify elements of the larger Mental Health (MH) picture, which the MH and Latinos report may inform or incorporate in its integrated report.  

2) Learn more about the other elements of the MH picture, and best practices, by sharing reports and materials that may be integrated or become appendices in the final MH and Latinos report.

3) Identify the policy areas, Legislative Concepts, and partner’s bills that will be incorporated into the recommendations of the final report.

4) Draft the integrated report, incorporating big picture, specific research, implications, and policy recommendations.

5) Work with the Community Advisory Council to review and finalize the MH and Latinos report.

6) Work with the Community Advisory Council to release the report and plan associated bill support.

7) Prepare presentations materials for legislative committees and other groups.

Community Advisory Council 
Based on the OCHA MH and Latinos research example:  The Community Advisory Council (CAC) consisted of culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health providers who work with Hispanic communities, public health educators, community members, and legislators. Many people who attended the 2018 Latino Health Equity Conference, which focused on Strengthening Latino Emotional and Mental Health, were invited to be members of the CAC, because of their expertise, experience and interest in mental health. The CAC grew over several months, as interested people not yet affiliated with the CAC, who heard about it through their networks, asked to join the meetings and were welcomed.
The Community Advisory Council: shared professional and client experience within the Hispanic community with the Policy Workgroup; conducted a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis of mental health providers and services in the community; provided feedback; made policy recommendations and developed legislative concepts to move to the Advocacy Commissions’ Policy Arc; helped the Workgroup better understand how the mental health system works; and the internal and external changes that are occurring and in the diversity work force pipeline.