The San Antonio Equity Atlas

BY BETSY GARDNER • August 9, 2022

DM8. Disaggregated Data for Decision-Making

Your local government collects and analyzes data disaggregated by geographic and demographic subgroups to inform decision-making on key citywide priorities.

San Antonio is charting its way to an equitable and prosperous future for all, guided by the city’s Equity Atlas. In a city dedicated to moving the needle on racial equity and income disparities, local government leaders are taking a measurable approach by tracking and illustrating key indicators like education level, race, household income, and languages spoken. All city departments now utilize this disaggregated data atlas to ensure that their budgets and priorities are in line with tackling the systemic issues and inequities represented in the Atlas. By disaggregating data, cities can better understand who is — and isn’t — being served and how their needs and experiences might differ. Due to this commitment, the San Antonio Equity Atlas is a leading example of how cities are utilizing data disaggregated by geographic and demographic subgroups to inform decision-making, a new criteria in the  What Works Cities (WWC) Certification Standard (DM8) criteria. 

According to Liz Provencio, first assistant city attorney and current acting director of the city’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department, San Antonio first began exploring equity atlases in 2019, looking at examples in Portland and Austin. Kristine McLaughin, senior GIS analyst with the Information Technology Services Department, was part of this work from the very beginning, working with the city’s Chief Equity Officer on developing an atlas for the city. McLaughlin helped gather data on median household income and race/ethnicity, plus education levels and English language abilities, by census tract…no easy feat when the city boundaries and districts aren’t aligned to tracts. Once the data had been calculated to match the city lines based on things like population density and distribution, McLaughlin did a quintile classification to score each area based on the above metrics.

Each tract is scored 1-5, ranked by need with 5 as the highest and 1 as the lowest. Tracts are rated on the following categories: the lowest median incomes, the lowest percentage of high school graduates, the highest percentage of English language learners, and the highest percentage of people of color. For example, an area with a very high percentage of folks with low English skills will have a 5 while a tract with a much lower percentage might be ranked a 1 or 2.

Once everything was broken down into a clear visual with numerical classifications, all city departments could identify focus areas, primarily looking at areas with high scores (i.e. 5 for concentration of people of color and 5 for lowest median incomes = a 10 tract). McLaughin is frequently requested to add on additional layers for different departments, so city leaders can even more specifically see how their work is overlaid with these demographic indicators. So far she has created more than 70 additional data layers for various departments, adding in variables like veteran status or poverty.

The response to the Equity Atlas has been overwhelmingly positive. Brian Dillard, San Antonio’s chief innovation officer has used it to guide his work on the digital divide, identifying where structural barriers prevent internet connectivity or device usage. Matt Reat, the city’s performance excellence administrator has seen it used for environmental and climate change work like tree canopy mapping. Emily Royall, the smart city administrator for San Antonio used the Equity Atlas for pandemic response, ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 testing, clinics, and vaccination sites.

Even beyond these examples, every city department submits a Budget Equity Tool that may consider the Equity Atlas when submitting yearly budgeting. Provencio explained that all departments have to answer specific questions about budget equity and submit this documentation with their yearly budget. The budget equity component measures how each department is allocating resources based on considerations including the Equity Atlas. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department analyzes these budget proposals to ensure that yearly spending is allocated according to the city’s equity goals. As Reat said, “every year our department’s budgets have an equity component to them.”

About the Author

Betsy Gardner

Betsy Gardner is the editor of Data-Smart City Solutions and the producer of the Data-Smart City Pod. Prior to joining the Ash Center, Betsy worked in a variety of roles in higher education, focusing on deconstructing racial and gender inequality through research, writing, and facilitation. She also researched government spending and transparency at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Betsy holds a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern University, a bachelor’s degree in Art History from Boston University, and a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling from the Harvard Extension School.