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The Art of Disparity Studies


Written by Gail Birks, President CMA Enterprise Incorporated

October 1, 2023



Disparity Studies examine the shortcomings, discrepancies, inequalities that prevail in the lives of individuals and business, service providers in targeted communities. Comparisons tend to also be noted of those in the same categories in more prosperous communities and/or regions. These studies also tend to seek solutions for transforming the QUALITY OF LIFE which is important to sought after outcomes.


Most frequently, when one hears that a disparity study is being conducted, it tends to focus on Procurement and the inequality of solicitation awards to responding businesses. But there are other categories of “despair” that exist with community stakeholders because not everyone is an entrepreneur.


Community Disparity Studies do not necessarily depend on the “stats” but more on the visual conditions and commentary of the communities being examined. The “stats” are considered drivers of how the approach is shaped and the questions designed for the conversations that occur. It is not so much a numbers game as it is a quality of information collection process. For example, 3-5 people in a conversation who are service providers that have hundreds of constituents can share trends as well as the state of their industry is very valuable to this type of Study. The individual commentary is important, but the broader view tends to be the focus in a Community study.

Studies that focus on stakeholder engagement in underserved communities collect data using a mixed methodology. It is not just about the numbers and it is a tiered approach. The mixed methodology allows investigators to balance their findings, verify and validate the “why.” This approach brings a more holistic approach to solution development and tells a bigger story when building your strategies for a more focused strategy for your stakeholders.

Here are some tips when interpreting a Disparity Study endeavor. It starts with ...

Understanding the history that brought the community/organization to its present day status.

o Talk to an “elder,” a “newcomer,” a next generation legacy, an "outsider". You will get very different perspectives.

o Walk and/or drive through the communities that are noted to be in despair

o Listen to the voices share their stories of “promise yet to be attained” through Town Hall Meetings that bring the community to you.

o Speak with Service Providers in the communities who have their own struggles as businesses and employers

o Understanding job skills sought compared to resources offered

o Explore the health and wellness of the community’s mental and physical state

o Seek out perceptions that have become realities on all fronts

o Conduct roundtables with the Youth and Young Adults

o Learn the “back stories” of housing conditions and restrictions and discrimination

o Understand the positions of elected officials (past and present) as well as Public Administrators

o Speak with influencers from business and industry as well as the community and understand their “willingness” to share or not.

o Learn the “boundaries and territories” that exist in the communities examined as they are defined

o GIS Mapping and physical Site Reviews are critical touch points in a Community Disparity Study

o Anonymous surveys distributed to stakeholders focused on the present state of condition, stakeholder impact and solutions sought are essential.

o The transparency of the Criminal Justice System in communities/businesses examined

o Understand that often times, SILENCE by those tasked with speaking for the community resonates louder than any written or spoken word

For investigators, it is imperative that the “readiness factor” is uncovered. That is how solutions and next steps are based. This entails understanding the “readiness” to offer goods, services and/or opportunities by the community at large. But it also should uncover the “readiness” of the targeted community stakeholders (individuals and businesses) to receive what is being presented.


In short, what can be considered the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD strategy that works for all to mutually benefit.




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