Examining economic inequity in King County, Washington

Guest blog by Allison Ashton

Growth challenge: My growth challenge is regional economic inequity. The reason it matters is because BIPOC communities, women, and workers with lower levels of educational attainment in King County are experiencing increasing barriers to opportunity that inhibit their success and potential to contribute to and benefit from our tremendous regional economic success.

Country/region/municipality: King County, WA, USA

King County, Washington, is currently experiencing simultaneous crises in public health, the economy, and social justice. The ripple effects of these crises are likely to last many years into the future and change our society forever. While challenging, these crises are giving us once-in-a-century opportunities to build back better and avoid the mistakes we’ve made coming out of previous recessions, which have exacerbated inequities.

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Food security in Burien, WA during COVID-19 pandemic

Guest blog by Kevin Schilling

COVID spread within three months of my first term on Burien City Council.  When I ran for the office a few months prior to that, my expectations for policies to implement focused primarily on improving coordination between our city’s robust social service providers and the city’s administrative capabilities.  However, these priorities quickly changed with the financial and logistical impacts of COVID on our city operations, business operations, and educational offerings.  I knew I needed to turn to an opportunity to expand my implementation skills to harness the power of municipal government to fill the gaps of service provided by non-profits and churches.  Municipal governance no longer only required a perpetuation and continuation of budget changes and code adjustments, we now needed to recognize and adapt our priorities to an ever-changing global environment reacting to a public health crisis intersecting a racial justice crisis as well as economic recessions.  Through the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program in implementing public policy, I expected the opportunity to learn and grow my skills in understanding how to do just that. 

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Tackling Access to Affordable and Quality Childcare in Burien, Washington

Guest blog written by Harman Bhullar, Sasinat Chindapol, Crystal Collier, Doreen King, Jingli Yan

On the problem …

In the dark, feeling for this shapeless beast,

Even when you think you know, do not be deceived,

Its ever-changing nature will make you question every move,

Build it up, break it down, and you shall find the truth.

When the ‘problem’ came to us, it was really a solution in the guise of a problem, for the original task was to make childcare in Burien a portable benefit that families could take with them. Even as we transformed it into a problem statement of families in Burien not having access to affordable and quality childcare, our problem construction work did not end there – we had painstakingly asked ourselves over and over again why this mattered and why it was a problem, not just a condition. Replicating this thought process with our authorizer Councilmember Kevin Schilling, we found that naming the distinction between the two created a pause and an opportunity for a deeper contemplation to give shape to the initially undefined problem.

Following the PDIA approach, we proceeded to problem deconstruction, which shed light on a number of insights, including underlying causes that did not seem to be obvious and inherent to the problem itself. Firstly, while stakeholders knew that affordable childcare was an issue, their understanding of its complexity was rather limited, contributing to insufficient motivation and urgency to take action. Secondly, the problem was not simply a lack of a solution, implying that no amount of expansion to Burien’s currently restricted budget will solve the childcare problem permanently. Our problem deconstruction pointed to much deeper societal issues that needed to be simultaneously or first addressed, including the need for a wider recognition that childcare is not an individual problem but in fact, one that weighs upon the community as a whole.

Fishbone Diagram

After we finally decided on three potential entry points to tackle first (awareness, lack of business support, and lack of city support), we began to fully appreciate the dynamicity of both the problem and the change space surrounding it. Through continually gathering information from a broad network of people and sources and updating our prior, we came face to face with the possibility that a change in one piece of information may trace back and require corrections to all of our past decisions. This realization, alongside the uncertainty that came with it, was difficult to embrace, and it also manifested in our AAA analysis. Kevin reminded us that authority, acceptance, and ability can change quickly, so does the feasibility of every solution that has been generated as a result of this analysis. It struck us that, perhaps we were too static in unpacking the problem and building the change space around the authorizer. Therefore, a dynamic mindset and an understanding of the problem as an evolving object, be it in the context of a six-week project or a five-year one, is an absolute necessity.

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