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Community Planning Through the Lens of Equitable Economic Development


At Fourth Economy, we lead with a holistic approach to community and economic development that considers multifaceted factors such as investment and wealth creation, talent and access to opportunity, sustainability and resilience, vibrancy and quality of place, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Using this same approach, this resource is intended to help communities advance equity while furthering their economic and community development goals.



Why is Equitable Community Planning Important?


Communities that deploy formal community planning processes that center equity are more likely to create alignment and accountability that lead to measurable results. 

Communities that are seeing great success in their equity work understand how their economic systems are connected. They improve inequities comprehensively by addressing and working within the interactions of these systems. For example, a community may recognize how housing proximity to transit supports workforce development, then deploy an approach that creates cross-cutting benefits, such as Transit-Oriented Development.


Additionally, understanding how systems operate at local vs. regional levels — and in what ways the two interact — is equally important.  


Community-system interactions are complex, but equitable development is achievable through strategic planning and implementation. The topics below highlight key areas communities should consider when framing their conversations around equitable development planning.

Key Considerations

Key Considerations

A Shared Language

The definition of equity can vary across communities, with each determining its appropriate framing and language based on unique local context.


These terms are most frequently used:

  • Diversity

  • Equity

  • Inclusion

  • Belonging

  • Economic Opportunity

  • Equitable Development

Target Populations

In many cases, equitable development efforts are highly localized and serve the following commonly marginalized groups:

  • Women

  • LGBTQIA+ communities

  • Immigrants

  • People with Disabilities

  • Communities of Color, often African Americans and Latinx

  • Indigenous populations

  • Veterans

  • Low-Income Individuals and Families

Areas of Focus

Equitable development strategies address  barriers to access and disparities in quality across different systems such as:

  • Housing

  • Placemaking

  • Small Business & Entrepreneurship

  • Environment

  • Transportation 

  • Healthcare

  • Infrastructure

  • Public Services

  • Education

  • Finance

Varying Approaches

To advance equitable development, communities are deploying a variety of local and regional initiatives across public and private sectors including:

  • Targeted programs

  • Mandates and incentives

  • Process improvements

  • Financial investments

  • Physical infrastructure

  • Partnerships




Equitable Community Planning Framework & Workbooks

This toolkit section provides our  Equitable Community Planning Framework,  which includes  four steps  to approaching systems change.  It also provides  activities organized into separate workbooks for each step of the framework for your community to take action.


The framework and activities will help you analyze and create change around:

  • The makeup of the current system, including its components and the ways they interact

  • Principles, policies, and programs that create inequalities vs. those that advance equity

  • Benefactors and beneficiaries of the system

  • Intended and unintended outcomes of the system


For each step, the toolkit provides resources to understand the process and templates to implement it.

Use the links below to access the Workbooks

Framework for Equitable Community Planning

Identify and Understand the Work




Identify and Engage Community Members



Identify, Evaluate, and Implement the Methods


Identify and Measure Outcomes



Establish a Baseline

To know where you are going, you need to start by understanding where you are.

Begin by answering the following questions:


  • What problem are you seeking to address?

  • What are the strengths of your community?

  • What are the goals, programs, policies, and other elements of the existing systems? Do they lead to or perpetuate these problems or support your community's strengths?

  • Is the work of the system missing or reaching a targeted community?

  • What data or metrics validate this?

Step 1:
Identify and Understand
the Work

Identify Your Strengths

Consider what’s working well and why.

Draft Your Goals

Prioritize which problem(s) you seek to address. Draft your goals related to these priorities.

Step 1 Activities

Brainstorm the problems of the community as you understand them using the data available to you.

Diagnose the Problem

Toolkit Workbook 1_ Identify and Understand the Work.jpg

Deploy Inclusive Planning and Engagement 

Community planning can improve or worsen social and economic inequities for individuals, particularly those who have been historically marginalized. To address inequities, planners must prioritize inclusive engagement.


  • Who are your system partners? How are these partners organized? Do the partners reflect the community? Are they working from a shared, common vision?

  • Who are the community members contributing to and being impacted by the system? How are they included and interacting with the system and its leaders?

Step 2:
Identify and Engage with Community Members

Toolkit Workbook 2_ Identify and Engage Community Members.jpg

Step 2 Activities

Identify Partners and Community Members You Need to Engage

Understand Partner Roles

Engage Partners and the Broader Community

Brainstorm the partners in your ecosystem and who in your community needs to be engaged to contribute to the goals you identified in Step 1.

Think about and document how these partners currently function in the ecosystem, and how they can work together.

Engage partners and community members to review baseline findings from Step 1, including reprioritization of problems and updating goals.

Develop Strategies to Advance Equitable Development 

Understanding the existing system leadership and how resources are currently invested is critical for understanding what is possible.


  • What is the function of leadership? Who are the collaborators? What are the resources being used for support?

  • Are these processes creating new pathways for intended end-users to participate? How are they being shaped by end-users?

Step 3:
Identify, Evaluate, and Implement the Methods

Step 3 Activities

Evaluate Promising Practices

Promising practices can provide examples for systems change across communities.

Build Consensus and Strategies

Move Towards Action

Toolkit Workbook 3_ Identify, Evaluate, and Implement the Methods.jpg

Your approach to equitable community planning will depend on community context, strengths, and goals.

Once you identify your key strategies, you need to create a plan to put them into action.

Included Activities

Brainstorm the problems of the community as you understand them using the  data available to you.

Diagnose the Problem

Measure Effectiveness of Interventions by Tracking Indicators 

Equitable development is often seeking to undo the results of past generational decisions. Incremental and system-scale impacts are important to track to keep attention.


  • To what end are these actors working and how are they measuring success?

  • Do these outcomes incorporate equity?

Step 4:
Identify and Measure Outcomes

Toolkit Workbook 4_ Identify and Measure Outcomes.jpg

Step 4 Activities

Identify Meaningful Metrics

Create A Process to Track Outcomes

Evaluate Outcomes Through Impact

Consider what you wanted to see changed and identify a good measurement for this.

Once you have identified a set of metrics, think about how to best track them to assess progress.

Capture data to evaluate how the community has been affected by outcomes.

Included Activities

LGBTQ Flags Center

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Share your ideas or questions regarding
our Equitable Community Planning Toolkit.

Included Activities

Advancing Equity: Resources by Topic

This section of the toolkit describes equitable planning by topic area, applying the systems change processes and providing additional information to support your community as it utilizes the toolkit workbooks.  Select a subject below to learn more. 

Fourth Economy’s toolkit is a dynamic planning resource. As such, we will be adding to the Equity in Action series continuously. Check back regularly for more resources and information.

Advancing Equity
City Crosswalk

We’re here to help and be a partner in your work!
Use this form to share your ideas or questions regarding our Equitable Community Planning Toolkit.

Need assistance? Have feedback or additional resources to share?

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