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Equity report release: Balancing facts and stories

We probably all know that Metro Boston is an unequal place.  It’s clear from hearing the stories of friends and colleagues that racial and income divides linger. But how segregated are we really?  How great is the gap between rich and poor?

For many of us, there’s been no way of painting a factual picture of the region.  As Paulo Pinto, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, said, “Anecdotes are all I have!”

In that context, MAPC released our “The State of Equity in Metro Boston” report on Tuesday, in partnership with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

The report takes a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to presenting the admittedly bleak statistics on equity in the region.  This approach was balanced at the release event, where a series of respondents shared their personal and professional reactions to the report’s findings, and helped spark a lively discussion by the event’s 200 attendees.

Participants correctly argued that stories can add potency and emotional heft to dry statistics. However, stories on their own can be dismissed as lacking a factual basis. So, how can we strike the right balance between telling stories and sharing facts; between grabbing people’s hearts and engaging their heads? Now that this report is complete, we have a treasure trove of data to draw on when making the case for equity in the region.

The trick is to acknowledge that statistics never describe life as it’s actually lived. We policy wonks need to be sure to remember that stories are an equal partner to facts.  After all, it would be a shame if I had to respond to Paulo, “facts are all I have…”

Jessie Grogan, MAPC’s Policy Analyst and co-author of The State of Equity in Metro Boston