ArcGIS Hub

Community Engagement for Racial Equity During COVID-19

Communities of color have historically been unserved and underserved with needed resources for thriving. This means they have suffered more during times of crisis. COVID-19 is no different. Underserving and not serving communities of color predictably puts them at a great disadvantage for risk and death during a pandemic. Therefore, proactive engagement is critical. This pandemic is disproportionately burdening people of color. Given this truth, our response to COVID-19 must be consciously equitable. Prioritize meaningful, participatory engagement with communities of color for an equitable COVID-19 response.

Engage Communities of Color

A smart community response to a crisis is inclusive of its members at every decision making point. To that end, people most affected by a disaster must have a seat at the table. Doing so ensures the right solutions are proposed. Often, policymakers propose the wrong solutions due to a lack of community engagement. For example, if you are interested in increasing testing, you might add more testing sites. However, if the problem is not the number of sites but transportation, safety, and hours at testing sites, this approach will not help. Listening and responding to community needs while focusing on investing upstream where the needs are greatest helps you to respond to the right problems. During COVID-19, organizations should engage communities of color in planning, implementation, and recovery phases of emergency response as well as evaluations on additional actions needed to thrive beyond the pandemic.

Key Stages of Engagement

An equity lens is built around equitable engagement. However, there are stages where targeted equity engagement is key throughout your crisis response effort. Here are a few of those critical moments to engage with communities of color and other disproportionately burdened stakeholders:

GIS Can Help

Esri has tools to help you engage your communities in an equitable framework around needs. In this blog post, we will review a few ArcGIS applications that support equitable community engagement:

Survey123 – Crowdsourcing Community Needs

Esri’s crowdsourcing software is a great tool for engaging constituents and learning community needs. Crowdsourcing is the process of collecting information from people voluntarily. This can provide critical insight into the needs of your community.

Allegheny County, PA created an excellent crowdsource application for their community in response to COVID-19. The map shows food and resource distribution sites for people in need. They also provide information on how to use benefits like SNAP. The application gives various ways for community members to get involved – by volunteering for short-term events, as well as by helping with the application. Allegheny Country created formal community partnerships with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and 412 Food Rescue as well as schools to create a holistic picture of the county’s resources and unmask unserved and underserved communities. This collaboration has benefited all involved. By crowdsourcing information through Survey123, Allegheny County keeps information up-to-date.

Resource Distribution Application
This application shows resources distribution sites across Allegheny County.

ArcGIS Hub – Partner with Existing Networks

Community engagement must include using existing networks. Sometimes these networks lack an equity lens. Communities of color have an ongoing and repeated history of persecution and suffer through impacts from modern day inequitable decisions. Therefore it is unlikely that you can expect meaningful engagement if this is a new outreach practice. However, there are many community networks that you can partner with to increase your equity and programmatic impact. Meet communities where they live, learn, worship, and play. This involves partnering with faith-based, educational, and community organizations. In responding to COVID-19, a true community partnership is holistic. This means not just giving out resources in the short-term but creating long-term partnerships around equity.

The crowdsourced resource distribution application currently showcases 700+ locations because of our partnerships and help from the community. We have seen updates or new distribution locations submitted every day since launching this map to the public.

Melinda Angeles GISP, Allegheny County

Use ArcGIS Hub to collaborate through participatory engagement with community organizations, volunteers, and members of your community. Community leaders and community organizations can provide vital insight into the needs of communities. Such insight is particularly valuable given racial disparities in access to broadband, smart technology, and personal computers. Esri is providing a COVID-19 Hub template complementary for organizations. Learn more about the COVID-19 template through the Esri Disaster Response Program.

Browse Existing ArcGIS Hub Sites

Many communities have already launched ArcGIS Hub sites to respond to COVID-19. You can browse existing ArcGIS Hub sites here. For example, Seneca Nation’s hub site and Navajo Nation Epidemiology Center hub site have extensive online resources for citizens of their respective nations. Collaborating with existing entities that have already been serving disproportionately burdened communities can often be more effective than starting a brand new initiative. Listen to the needs of these communities and respond accordingly.

Screenshot of Seneca Nation's Coronavirus Response Hub
Screenshot of Seneca Nation's Coronavirus Response Hub

Story Maps – Storytelling for Racial Equity

Interactive Story Maps can help communicate where and why racial and health inequities exist. A Story Map called Death in Black & White by DemLabs offers a powerful example. This Story Map embeds interactive maps, text, videos, historical photos, and other media to tell a powerful story about racial inequities in access to care. This combination provides an immersive, powerful experience.

Best Practice: When telling any story about racial inequities, ensure the people most impacted by inequities are engaged in crafting the narrative.

Screenshot of Death in Black and White Story Map by DemLabs
Screenshot of Death in Black and White Story Map by DemLabs

We Want to Hear From You

How is your organization responding equitably? Please share your success, tips, and challenges by commenting here. You can also share your experience and questions using the GIS for Equity and Social Justice GeoNet Forum.

Thank You to our Collaborative Partner

Nicole D. Franklin, Masters in Demography and BA in  Applied Math, Statistics & Sociology, is a leader in Equity and Technology. A technologist for public sector IT resources, she champions the non-binary realities of technology as a human right. Nicole is an advocate for integrating GIS Tools as a critical resource in race and social justice strategic planning as upstream investments, where the needs are greatest. Her work leverages and innovates technology to advance Equity and Social Justice. Nicole’s sustainable cross-sectional applications are respected on local, regional and national levels.

About the authors

Rebecca finds innovative ways to leverage technology in addressing social and environmental problems. She works with nonprofits and local goverments to create sustainable solutions. She has a masters degree in Environmental Management from the Yale school of Forestry & Environmental Studies.


Margot Bordne is an Account Manager on Esri's Global Business Development team and Racial Equity & Social Justice team. Margot supports organizations across industries who leverage GIS to improve their operations and decision making capabilities, with a focus on the use of GIS for advancing equity and social justice. Margot also founded Esri's Women's Enablement & Career Advancement Network (WeCan) and has a Master's Degree in Diversity & Inclusion Leadership at Tufts University.

Clinton leads Esri's Racial Equity & Social Justice team and he also founded and leads the NorthStar of GIS, a community organization that focuses on racial justice and works to advance equity and belonging for people Black / African diaspora in GIS. Clinton advocates for justice, representation, and belonging for Black people and other people from underrepresented groups in GIS and STEM more broadly. Clinton takes an empathic approach to technology, beginning with real-world challenges faced by diverse communities and finding creative ways to implement practical solutions.

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