Targeted Universalism

Targeted policies and universal policies have been used to develop responses to resolve problems in our society. However, both of these approaches have limitations which restrict their ability to create lasting and large scale change. 

  • Universal policies, such as minimum wage or universal basic income, treat everyone the same, regardless of need or circumstance. Blanketed universal policies can actually deepen inequalities by failing to account for the reality that different groups are situated differently in society.
  • Targeted policies, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), single out and give certain benefits or protections to particular subgroups. Benefits or protections given through targeted policies depend on membership in a specified group or eligibility category, such as income level. Because targeted policies leave out members of other groups, this approach invites resentment and claims of unfairness, making this approach politically unstable and unable to create lasting change.

Targeted Universalism–introduced by Berkeley professor john a. powell of the Othering and Belonging Institute–sets universal goals for the general population that are accomplished through targeted approaches based on the needs of different groups. In this way, targeted universal policies deepen our sense of belonging by working towards a shared goal while also offering a deeper understanding of equity by calling attention to how people are situated differently. By developing strategies for everyone, rather than preference groups alone, suffering experienced across a population can be acknowledged and political resilience can be built. 

5 Steps for Targeted Universalism:

  1. Set a universal goal.

  2. Assess the general population performance relative to the universal goal.

  3. Assess and identify the performance of groups that are performing differently with respect to the universal goal.

  4. Assess and understand the structures and other factors that support or interfere each group from achieving the universal goal.

  5. Develop and implement targeted strategies for each group to reach the goal.