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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.

Why is Equitable Community Planning Important?

Improving Access to and Quality of Economic Systems

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 successful with equitable planning focus on both “access to” important economic systems (e.g., housing and/or job opportunities) and the “quality of” how these economic systems are experienced (e.g., housing conditions and/or low-wage versus high-wage jobs). This distinction between access and quality is crucial to creating appropriate community planning interventions and solutions.

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, these places not only recognize how housing proximity to transit supports workforce development, but then deploy an approach that creates cross-cutting benefits, such as Transit-Oriented Development.  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.
A Common Goal

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

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

  • Targeted programs

  • Mandates and incentives

  • Process improvements

  • Financial investments

  • Physical infrastructure

  • Partnerships

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

  • Women


  • Immigrants

  • People with Disabilities

  • Communities of Color, often African Americans and Latinx

  • Indigenous populations

  • Veterans

  • Low-Income Individuals and Families

Desired Outcomes

Equitable development strategies address  barriers to access and disparities in quality across different systems, like:

  • Housing

  • Placemaking

  • Small Business

  • Environment

  • Transportation 

  • Health

  • Infrastructure

  • Public Services

  • Education

  • Finance

  • Access

Target Populations
Varying Approaches

Equitable Community Planning Framework & Workbooks

For an equitable economic development system to work, communities must be able to pull the right levers and navigate the complexity and diversity of players, processes, and existing resources.


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

This toolkit section provides our  Equitable Community Planning Framework,  which includes  four steps  to approaching systems change. This includes analyzing the system and its components and developing interventions to create meaningful 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 system, including its components and the ways they interact

  • Principles, policies, and programs that create inequalities vs. those that enable the system to thrive

  • 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.

Do so by answering the following questions:


  • What problem are you seeking to address? What are the strengths of your community?

  • How do the goals, programs, policies, etc., of existing systems lead to or perpetuate these problems and 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

Included Activities

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

Diagnose the Problem

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 improve 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

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.

Understand Partner Roles

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

Engage Partners and the Broader Community

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

Included Activities

Develop Strategies to Advance Equitable Development 

Understanding the existing system leadership and how resources are invested are 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

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

Move Towards Action

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

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

Included Activities

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

Develop Meaningful Metrics

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

Create A Process to Track Outcomes

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

Evaluate Outcomes Through Impact

Capture qualitative 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.

Equity in Action: 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.


The New House

Civic Leadership

Leadership Presentation


Playground Hills

Small Business

Small Business Owner
Electrical Engineer


Waiting at Bus Stop


Blood Pressure




Construction Managers

Public Services

Firefighter Boarding Truck

Public Safety



Entering credit card details


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?