Building the Table for a Targeted Universal Framework

THE QUESTION OF targeted universalism accounts for the way particular groups and people traditionally excluded from decision-making must be included in the process of designing, implementing, and leading targeted universalism. Participation should look different than focus groups and coffeetable conversations with “the most impacted communities.” If limited to this, “participation” can turn into an extractive relationship in which information is gathered and then used by the decision-making group. Meaningful and influential structural elements for meaningful and influential participation of directly impacted people should be instrumental in developing, implementing, and documenting the function of targeted universalism. This participation should hold great power and decision-making capacity. The structural changes that would enable meaningful community participation may be providing for local groups better resources for their participation and opportunities to identify the goal and determine the prioritization of strategies. 

The process should integrate full participation, from the beginning, of the following:

  • Those most affected by the problem, with a deliberate and coordinated attempt to include people traditionally excluded in such a way to respect those individuals’ decision-making power and agency.
  • Those benefiting from change strategies.
  • Those implementing the intervention/project.
  • Those documenting the implementation process.
  • Those with a strong or expert understanding of the problem or issue.

These individuals and institutions should be present for all steps of the process:

  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Assessment

An evaluation component that measures impact of the policy should also be integrated early on. It is not necessary, however, to build a complete table before developing a targeted universalism agenda. If a group—for example, a philanthropic organization, a school, or local government department— wants to design its internal practices to execute a targeted universal agenda, it will require dedicated attention to this end. The analysis may be shorter or longer depending on the scope and scale of the problem at hand—and implementing the strategies may be easier or harder depending on existing relationships and the power of groups involved. But, in any case, dedicated time and attention needs to be set aside for this purpose. Creating a comprehensive targeted universal agenda can involve a great investment of time and financial resources. It is a critical process to create transformational change, transactional change that furthers transformation, and valuable coalition building work that can sustain change and additional complementary changes that can unfold after the implementation of a priority effort.

Planning for this type of emergent understanding depends upon who is at the table during the process. The process must have respect for different types of knowledge and understand that these different types of knowledge are critical for a change agenda to be sustainable and useful. Consider a problem in the arena of public health—for example, high rates of asthma. Health practitioners, public health academics, and physicians have knowledge critical to understanding a problem in public health. Additionally, other groups have knowledge that is critical to bring to the table—for example, those with asthma-related emergency room visits. This may include the elderly, youth, Black communities, and the poor. These individuals, their advocate groups, and local organizers bring valuable information, knowledge, and analysis to the table. If only the former groups are included in the process to create a targeted universal agenda, the challenges and interventions may be limited to biomedical solutions. These strategies may include greater access and abundance for inhalers and other medically necessary equipment and greater access to health clinics and primary care and health insurance. It is obvious that these are valuable strategies. The other groups will supplement that knowledge with complementary insights. Perhaps knowledge and information from other people will ensure considerations of factors that influence asthma outside of the clinic—for example, community organizing efforts to influence corporate environmental impacts or the location of residential housing, affordable housing, and transportation. Knowledge from across a diverse array of parties holds the greatest potential for thorough analysis and meaningful development of the change we urgently need. 

The process of generating a targeted universal agenda depends upon thoughtful attention to how and in what atmosphere a targeted universal agenda will be derived. This means that a great deal of preparatory attention must be given to planning for the process itself. Key actors, specific individuals, thoughtful timing, and more must be charted from the inception of the effort.

This planning may evolve and change as the targeted universal design is underway, but it should be designed prior to beginning. This important preparation may delay the start of the process. It may require developing more trust with strategic partners or deepening relationships with the served communities and groups. However, it is critical to creating a robust and sustainable platform.

When we talk here about the value of maximizing the inclusion of many types of information, knowledge, and perspectives, we mean to suggest something deeper than many community participation strategies entail. There are many types of community participation and many strategies to make sure it is meaningful and influential. 

These insights can focus the long-term agendas and sustain coalitions beyond the timeline of transactional changes. It can shape the future and ambition of long-term relationships and the formation of networks necessary for long-term structural change. Even if there is a “win” for a selected priority area or strategy there can be a long-view agenda for change, and this long view can expand and shift power dynamics within those networks.