November 2020
Our Focus on Equity: An Update from our CEO
Dear partners, clients, funders, and colleagues,

In June, I wrote to you to express my anger and sadness over the killing of George Floyd, and to share my commitment to accelerate Civic Consulting Alliance’s efforts to become a more diverse, inclusive, and equity-focused organization. I write to you today with an update on this important work and the actions we have taken over the past six months.

Civic Consulting Alliance’s mission is to make the Chicago region a great place for everyone to live in and work. We aim to achieve this by addressing issues at a systems-level and by undertaking important projects across three platforms: economic vitality, education, and public safety and criminal justice. In 2020, the urgency of our work in each of these platforms has grown, as Chicago grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, as well as with a spike in gun violence and widespread civil unrest around policing and systemic racism. Moreover, these events have sharpened our focus—as well as the focus of our clients and our partners—on the deep, persistent racial inequities that are reinforced by our institutions and systems.

To fulfill our commitment to equity we must first look inward—by building a more diverse staff, leadership team, and Board, and by nurturing a more inclusive internal culture. While we have had an organizational focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) prior to this year, we must redouble these efforts. Since June, we have made progress through three initiatives:
Current State Assessment
  • Our staff DEI Team has assessed our current organizational culture through one-on-one interviews, surveys, and best practice research to identify and understand: what an inclusive workplace should look, sound, and feel like; our current strengths and challenges in this regard; and areas for improvement. We recognize that organizational culture (like all culture) is in a perpetual state of change, and our efforts to ensure that we have an inclusive work environment will therefore be continuous.

Board DEI Committee
  • In June, our Board launched its inaugural DEI Committee to advise on strategies for advancing DEI at Civic Consulting Alliance. We dedicated additional internal staff to launch the Committee and accelerate its progress. The Committee has identified strategies, resources, and connections to leaders in this work to help Civic Consulting Alliance build a more inclusive staff culture, particularly by addressing mindsets and working norms. As we head towards 2021, the Committee has shifted its focus to ‘how we work’: understanding what it means to apply an ‘equity lens’ to our project selection process; our approach to project work; and our goals for impact.

Action Plan
  • In January 2020—building upon efforts that began with the creation of our staff DEI Team in 2017—we launched a roadmap to guide DEI strategies over the next few years. Since June, we have adjusted this plan based on what we have learned in recent months through the current state assessment and Board DEI Committee activities. In particular, we have: interviewed DEI experts to pressure-test our initial plan; determined areas of work that will require external expertise and resources; and identified the need to deepen our staff’s understanding of equity, so that we are all working towards and invested in this common goal. We will finalize our new Action Plan by end of 2020, to guide our priorities for 2021.
This inward-facing work will strengthen the foundation upon which we are pursuing our commitment to seek out and take on projects that address the root causes of inequity in our region. The two articles that follow—one about our work with Chicago State University to improve higher education outcomes for Black students in Illinois, and the other about our work with the City of Chicago to reduce and prevent violence—are two recent examples of such transformative projects.

Addressing inequity and systemic racism as an organization and as a city is no small task, and the steps we, our clients, our partners, and countless Chicagoans have taken this year and in years prior can only be the beginning. Through this critical work, we aspire to build an organization that is more reflective of the region we serve and to get big things done that will make Chicago a more just, equitable city.

I am tremendously grateful for the support and guidance I and my team have received on these issues since I began as Civic Consulting Alliance CEO in March, and I welcome your ideas, feedback, and partnership for the work ahead.
Rebekah Scheinfeld
CEO and President
Civic Consulting Alliance
Standing Up the Equity Working Group for Black Student Access and Success in Illinois Higher Education
Illinois is failing to ensure equitable postsecondary educational access and outcomes for Black students. Our ecosystem enrolls, graduates, and employs Black students at far lower rates than non-Black students. In fact, only nine out of 100 Black students starting high school in Illinois will go on to graduate from college.

In July, Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka Scott Esq. launched the Equity Working Group for Black Student Access and Success in Illinois Higher Education to identify actions needed to close equity gaps to enable Black students, families, and communities to thrive and survive in Illinois.

“For years, Illinois has experienced declining Black student enrollment in higher education. The decline is evident in the entire life cycle of the Black student’s experience and begins as our Black students graduate from an Illinois high school. Our data shows that our state's higher education system has failed its Black students. Illinois will achieve meaningful and equitable access to college degrees for Black families and communities only when it structures an education system that provides open and equal access to ALL Illinois students. The Equity Working Group is committed to recommending reforms that will improve Black student access to higher education.”

- Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka Scott Esq.

The Equity Working Group is made up of 45 leaders representing higher education institutions, government, philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, and corporations from across Illinois. Co-chaired by President Scott, State Senator Elgie Sims (Illinois 17th District), Karen Freeman-Wilson (Chicago Urban League President and CEO), and John Atkinson (Executive Vice President and Managing Director at Willis Towers Watson, and Board Chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education), the Equity Working Group will generate solutions to achieve systemic and institutional change across education systems, community organizations, philanthropy, the private sector, and the State. The group seeks to answer two guiding questions:

  1. How can we address systemic racism that shows up in our policies and change those policies to be equitable?
  2. How can we collaborate and work across sectors to knock down barriers that have prevented our system from serving students and families equitably?

Civic Consulting Alliance is supporting the Equity Working Group through two phases of work:

  • First, since July, we have provided project management support to create the Equity Working Group’s operating structure, analyze data to create a foundational fact basis, develop a meaningful, engaging virtual meeting format, and set a meeting cadence. Additionally, we helped define the framework for the group to assess solutions—seven key factors (affordability, institutional funding, institutional preparedness and support, enrollment and program choice, climate and culture, student well-being, and connection to career) that contribute to the disparity in higher education outcomes for Black students. This work led up to a successful kickoff meeting on September 10th.

  • Second, from September through February, the Equity Working Group is meeting monthly in order to apply the framework above to understand the major divergence points for Black students in Illinois and identify potential interventions. Civic Consulting Alliance will continue to structure and facilitate the Equity Working Group’s meetings. Once all six meetings have been held, we will help synthesize their findings into a multi-sector action plan, including public and private sector policy changes.

“Chicago State University is immensely grateful to the Civic Consulting Alliance for guiding this public-private collaboration and its urgent work to ensure a more equitable higher education system in Illinois."

- President Scott Esq.

We are at a pivotal moment for Black students in Illinois—a time of great opportunity (as public will to end racial inequity has grown) and great risk (as the COVID-19 crisis has heightened Black students’ barriers to attaining a college degree). At this critical juncture, the Equity Working Group’s action plan has potential to drive systemic and institutional change. The plan will inform a wide range of powerful stakeholders and initiatives, including the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s strategic plan, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' agenda, the Illinois P-20 Council’s equity targets, the philanthropic sector, employers, and the education sector at large. This collaborative work is essential to rectifying longstanding inequities and ensuring that Black students are set up to succeed.
Cross-Sector Collaboration Key to Chicago's First Comprehensive Violence Reduction Plan and the Work Ahead
On September 29, Mayor Lori Lightfoot released Our City, Our Safety, the City’s first comprehensive violence reduction plan, to guide public safety efforts through 2023. This plan is a critical tool in the City’s efforts to reduce community violence, and it is also the culmination of years of collaborative work by the City.

In 2016, Chicago experienced a dramatic spike in shootings and homicides. Since then, the City, other public agencies, nonprofits, and community members across Chicago have ramped up their efforts to sustainably reduce violence. While these efforts have contributed to important progress, violence in Chicago remains unacceptably high. Moreover, this year, gun violence has spiked precipitously, particularly in neighborhoods on the South and West Sides—compounding the disproportionate harm COVID-19 has wrought on our communities’ health and economic well-being.

In the spring of 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot committed to: increasing the staffing and capacity of the Mayor’s Office Public Safety Team; establishing the Office of Violence Reduction; and boosting coordination between the various people, organizations, and agencies working to reduce violence in Chicago.

To advance the City’s efforts, since June 2019, Civic Consulting Alliance has supported multiple violence reduction and prevention initiatives of the Mayor’s Office. In 2019, our work focused on developing and coordinating the City’s summer violence reduction strategy and establishing the collaborative governance structure for the Public Safety Team and Office of Violence Reduction, including the Public Safety Cabinet and Regional Coordination meetings. In 2020, we supported two projects that built upon the previous year’s foundational work:

Comprehensive Violence Reduction Strategy

From September 2019 through February 2020, Civic Consulting Alliance and our pro bono partners helped the Public Safety Team develop and launch a comprehensive violence reduction strategy. The strategy aims to measurably reduce gun violence over the next four years and guide the prioritization, coordination, and implementation of violence reduction efforts and resources. Specifically, we:
  • With pro bono partner BCG, operationalized the Office’s vision including: translating its strategy to a mix of high impact prevention and intervention programs targeting neighborhoods with the highest levels of violence, estimating the programmatic funding needed to reduce violence, and updating the Office’s 2020 budget allocation to align with the new strategy;
  • Project managed the development of RFPs for $7.5 million to expand community-based street outreach and integrate trauma-informed victim services for those who are at the highest risk of violence; and
  • Developed an updated approach to the City’s summer 2020 violence reduction efforts, leveraging the Public Safety Cabinet (including developing a revised meeting structure in which planning began in January 2020), and Regional Coordination community planning and coordination (including developing a community needs survey and toolkit).

Violence Reduction Planning

To engage community stakeholders in building out the violence reduction strategy into a comprehensive plan, the City applied for and received a grant from the State of Illinois. The grant-funded process sought to align City, County, and State resources and priorities around a comprehensive plan to reduce violence. From February through July 2020, we provided project management support to the Mayor’s Office to engage stakeholders and develop this plan, including onboarding staff project managers, coordinating weekly meetings, and supporting the development of the report. The planning process incorporated broad input from government officials, service providers, faith leaders, philanthropic and university partners, individuals with lived experience, and advocates. It focused on four topic areas: diversion, victim services, domestic violence, and gun violence. As a result of this collaborative work, together with other ongoing City efforts, Our City, Our Safety aligns stakeholders around a strategy that approaches violence as a public health crisis, one treatable by addressing the issues at its root—such as systemic racism, disinvestment, and poverty.

While the epidemic of violence does not have any quick fixes, we are hopeful that our work with the City has created the collaborative, flexible infrastructure needed to create long-term change and to respond more effectively to short-term challenges like those brought by 2020.

“Civic Consulting Alliance has been an invaluable resource to the Mayor’s Office Public Safety Team, particularly throughout the Violence Reduction Planning process. The Civic Consulting Alliance staff gave us the capacity, expertise on collaborative decision-making, and planning tools we needed to rapidly and thoughtfully amplify our violence reduction efforts and lay the foundation for this work over the years to come.”

- Susan Lee, Former Deputy Mayor Public Safety, City of Chicago
Thank you to our funders!
Civic Consulting Alliance is grateful for the critical support of all of our funders. Since our last newsletter, we were thrilled to receive philanthropic commitments from the following corporations and foundations:
Intended Impact
Support from AT&T’s Believe Chicago® initiative — an employee-driven initiative designed to improve lives and lift 19 Chicago neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides — for the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities
General operating support to advance Civic Consulting Alliance's mission
General operating support to advance Civic Consulting Alliance's mission
General operating support to advance Civic Consulting Alliance's mission
In Other News...

  • Civic Consulting Alliance is now accepting applications for our 2021 class of Analysts! If you are passionate about improving the Chicago region, Civic Consulting Alliance is the place to do it. Learn more here.
Questions? Comments? Contact Marie Akerman