April 14, 2021

exploring Targeted Universalism

photo caption: the view from a plane above a layer of bumpy cloud cover. a sunrise peeks over the scene from the right. streaks of clouds texture the sky. up here, this is what targeted universalism must feel like.

Targeted Universalism has fascinated me since I first heard about it on a podcast. john a. powell was explaining a system that he calls “equity 2.0.” In simple terms he uses, the goals are universal but the strategies are targeted. As he says, we should not be trying to close the gap between 55% and 70%. We should be imagining how to get everyone to 100%.

This took some processing for me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to apply equity to my work. Equity is sometimes described as a way to close the gap, or end disparities between races. Targeted universalism acknowledges why racial equity is not popular in dominant culture. For white people who are suffering, they have not felt the righting of wrongs that we say they already have. Some people get indignant when we say that people of color suffer more than them. Targeted universalism says instead that we all have a lot to do. Rather than working to close gaps between racial groups, we should imagine the goal. What should we want everyone to achieve? Once we know the ideal, we can come up with strategies to address what each group needs to reach that goal.

Five Steps for Targeted Universalism

  1. Establish a universal goal based upon a broadly shared recognition of a societal problem and collective aspirations. 
  2. Assess general population performance relative to the universal goal. 
  3. Identify groups and places that are performing differently with respect to the goal. Groups should be disaggregated. 
  4. Assess and understand the structures that support or impede each group or community from achieving the universal goal. 
  5. Develop and implement targeted strategies for each group to reach the universal goal.
    – from Targeted Universalism: Policy and Practice

Groups interested in targeted universalism should engage a large group of stakeholders. You can’t create a universal standard without widespread invovlement and buy-in. With that caveat, I’m going to try imagining the process myself. What would designing this process look like? What might a universal goal look like in the world of food access? How do we transcend but honor racial inequities and historic disparities between groups?

I am going to use the Targeted Universalism primer from the Othering and Belonging Institute as my guide.


my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here. say hello: josh[at]bethefuture[dot]space

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