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Targeted Universalism: Policy & Practice

Publication date: 
Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley has released a primer on the “targeted universalism” framework, which allows for new, creative policy remedies to achieve goals of universal access and inclusion. Developed by Haas Institute Director john a. powell to spur innovative policy design to solve enduring social challenges, this approach can also inform philanthropic strategies and cross-sector efforts. It provides a roadmap to design programs that can serve groups otherwise excluded, while also promising to improve outcomes for people situated in relatively privileged positions. 

Why is this approach so valuable for today’s social change sector?

The authors point to “a growing feeling of unfairness and the perception that policy is a zero-sum game. If one group benefits, or benefits disproportionately, then other groups may feel left behind or overlooked. The insistence that government and other public institutions remain neutral is eroded by a sense that the government is taking sides or has taken the wrong side.” Therefore, to further equity in our communities and effectively advocate for equitable public policy, philanthropy and nonprofits need strategies that overcome this “zero-sum” perception.

What exactly is targeted universalism?

At its core, targeted universalism means setting universal goals pursued by targeted processes to achieve those goals. Universal goals are those established for the benefit of all groups concerned. However, the strategies to achieve those goals are targeted, based upon how different groups are situated within structures, culture, and across geographies. 

What does it look like in real life?

The report profiles several policies and community initiatives. For example, Seattle’s city-wide plan to create walkable communities with accessible sidewalks was developed with an understanding that some neighborhoods were in greater disrepair than others, and would therefore have different levels of investment. Beyond this, improvements were prioritized based on equity measures, including community data on income, car ownership, disability, and health. 

In today’s fraught political and social environment, the targeted universalism approach can “support the needs of particular groups, even the politically powerful or those in the majority, while reminding everyone that we are all part of the same social and civic fabric.”

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