Powering Social Change with Data and Tech in Northeast Ohio

The Value of Civic Data

So many essential elements of civic life go unnoticed and without fanfare on the average day. Electricity moves through wires overhead powering lights, cooking, cooling and refrigeration. Water flows underground through pipes and into our homes. Last month, the water department began replacing the water main on my street. The replacement project has brought all the pipes that are usually underground to the surface, making visible the complex system that keeps the water flowing.

The Cleveland Civic Tech and Open Data Collaborative (the Collaborative) thinks that data and information are as critical to civic life as electricity and water. And just like electricity and water, the systems in place to help data flow aren’t always very visible. With the right information, cities can prioritize precious resources, for example, deciding where water mains most need replacing based on statistics on leaks. Many cities are seeing the benefits of wisely using information, kicking off “smart city” initiatives that often focus on improving or monitoring physical infrastructure and creating efficiencies, like reading water meters remotely.

Data as Civic Infrastructure

In the same way that we use data to examine characteristics, spot issues and guide work related to our physical infrastructure, we can use data and information to solve social problems. In some ways, we already do. In 2014, a collaboration between Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, the City of Cleveland’s Department of Public Health, and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, alongside other partners, made available census tract level data on health and social determinants of health, revealing astonishing disparities across neighborhoods. That same year, Cuyahoga County launched its Pay for Success initiative, using powerful integrated data linked across government departments to help reunite and house homeless families with children. Most recently the Cleveland and Cuyahoga County departments of health are working together with other community-based organizations, including some Collaborative members, under the BUILD Health Challenge. The goal of this project is to make information on housing characteristics that could affect health more readily accessible to doctors and families making decisions about where to live.

Thinking of data and information as infrastructure itself, powering the way we do things, is a recipe for success.

Thinking of data and information as infrastructure itself, powering the way we do things, is a recipe for success. In Northeast Ohio we have some great examples demonstrating the value of this approach, but we don’t consistently consider the infrastructure of data and how it is going to flow. The Collaborative aims to create a space in Northeast Ohio to support the approach of data as infrastructure for solving social problems. The Collaborative is made up of a diverse group of nonprofits, volunteer organizations, and local governments: the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development and the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland City Council’s Ward 14, Open Cleveland (Cleveland’s Code for America brigade), OpenNEO, the Cleveland City Planning Commission, Health Data Matters, the Cleveland Global Shapers, the Cleveland Co-Labs, and DigitalC. Together, the Collaborative aims to facilitate and encourage data sharing, illuminating the existing network of available data, data savvy analysts, and subject matter experts, and connecting and empowering civic-minded technologists.

Collaborating to Build a Culture of Data

But having the data and tech experts around the table is not enough. Community engagement is a crucial component in any effort to solve social problems. That means involving the community, from community-serving organizations to neighborhood residents, in defining the problem and outlining where systems are misaligned, as well as working alongside them to create solutions.

What does it look like to encourage the role of technology and data in solving social problems while maintaining the values of “with not for?” We don’t have all the answers, but know we need to work together, bringing in multiple voices and sets of values, to figure out what this looks like and collectively encourage institutions to adopt these approaches. As concerns about data breaches grow, it is especially important to engage the community in understanding the value of information sharing and how this can happen while protecting privacy.

What does it look like to encourage the role of technology and data in solving social problems while maintaining the values of “with not for”?

As one way of engaging the Cleveland community in these conversations, this past spring the Collaborative launched Data Days, with the tag line “ctrl + alt + CLE”. Hosted on the International Day of Open Data, this three day local conference provided hands-on technology and data training to community members, and created an opportunity to hear their perspectives on data and civic tech. We received reports from staff of high-level community leaders that the event sparked an understanding of the potential of data and tech in the civic sphere. Since then, we’ve been working on developing a collective vision for the Collaborative.

Key Takeaways

We think Northeast Ohio is ready to fully embrace the power of data and civic tech. From the experiences of the Collaborative over the past two years, we have the following key takeaways for other cities venturing into this space:

  • Building culture bottom-up. Coalitions of like-minded civic organizations can work together collaboratively to build a culture that values information and data sharing and data-driven decision making. If there is a lack of political will from the top down, diverse coalitions that work with local government can show the broad interest, value and potential in this work from the bottom-up.

  • Data is a crucial component of civic infrastructure. Whether it’s conducting a survey to understand the level of blight in a city, aligning data systems to organize and carry out demolition work, or monitoring infant mortality trends as a part of a cross-sector initiative, data is important to understanding need, aligning systems, and monitoring progress. Let’s treat it as such and approach community issues with an upfront consideration of the role of data.

  • Identify gaps in the ecosystem. Illuminating the existing data and civic tech ecosystem can enable you to build connections and fill in the gaps to meet community need. The Collaborative brings together a wealth of knowledge and experience from across its different partners, but firmly believes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And we’re still missing parts. We will continue to look at who’s at the table and who’s missing, reach out to engage missing partners, and find ways to fulfill unmet needs.

  • Community engagement is key. This is true even in the data and civic tech sphere, which may sometimes seem far removed from the grassroots community. We aim to ground our work in benefiting the most vulnerable in the community, and if we are to succeed in this, we need to carry out this work alongside the community.

Join Us!

Early this fall, we kicked off planning for our second iteration of Data Days coming in Spring 2018. In addition to hosting Data Days, in the next year we aim to advocate for open data policy, facilitate data sharing in the civic community, and learn and refine what it means to create community-engaged civic tech. Through the network formed by a collaboration of Living Cities, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, and Code for America, we can learn and grow alongside other cities working in the same vein.

If you’re working on building or supporting an open data/civic tech ecosystem in another city, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re in Northeast Ohio, join us in our mission to make data and information as important to the way we run the civic sphere as water, and just as transparent.


Cleveland is a participating city in the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative, which harnesses the power of technology and data to make local governments and civic organizations more effective in meeting the pressing challenges of the 21st century. Led by three national organizations – Code for America, Living Cities, and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership – the Collaborative is a two-year project that provides grants and technical assistance to seven urban communities around the country to improve civic tech and data ecosystems. Funding for this collaborative was made possible with support and partnership from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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#BensTake: 5 Elements for Creating Inclusive Economies

By many measures, the nation’s economy is not creating on-ramps of opportunity, or broadly shared prosperity, at the pace and on the scale we need. For example, as has been widely reported, incomes for middle-wage workers have remained stagnant and those of low-wage workers have actually declined over the past three decades. This has been felt most acutely by people of color; as income inequality has increased, the wage gap between Whites and people of color has also widened.

The election season and its outcomes offered many reminders of deep and widely felt frustration, economic anxiety and mistrust. It exposed inequality within many regions of the country but also a growing sense that inequality between regions has become extreme and entrenched. Some regions today — especially tech-savvy urban ones — have a competitive base of different types of industries that is relatively diversified and rich in innovation. This way, as some industries decline, others continue to expand and thrive maintaining a healthy balance. Other regions are clawing their way back to regain those traits. But a third, large group of regions continues to lag, producing little growth and too few good jobs.

Historically, growth-oriented efforts have not been strong on racial equity, while equity-oriented efforts have not grappled effectively with underlying drivers of…economic growth and employment.

Each type of region faces important challenges when it comes to equity or inclusion—and the challenge of linking inclusion to growth. Historically, growth-oriented efforts have not been strong on equity, especially racial equity, while equity-oriented efforts have, for the most part, not grappled effectively with underlying drivers of competitiveness, export strength, industry cycles, and other determinants of economic growth and employment on a regional scale.

A new, emerging generation of efforts aims to address this gap. But there are big unanswered questions about the role and approach that existing or new institutions could and should adopt. Answering those questions will require defining theories of change, and understanding the challenges posed by political and institutional barriers, institutional and structural racism, market barriers, replicability, scalability and more.

In December 2016, a group of 12 Living Cities’ member institutions agreed to come together collectively to explore this body of work. They set out to understand the state of the field and to identify the biggest barriers to inclusive economic growth. They mapped each institution’s current efforts to address these issues, reviewed existing research, and connected with other leaders who are grappling with these questions. Ultimately, the task force arrived at five fundamental elements that we’ll need to address head-on if we hope to close racial gaps in income and wealth and ensure that all people are economically secure:

  1. Racial equity — There was remarkable consensus around the need to articulate racial equity as a central component of any effort we undertake. It’s become all too clear that race-neutral efforts have not achieved the results we’re after. The task force felt strongly that we must intentionally combat racism and address structural barriers that restrict the ability of people of color to fully participate in and benefit from economic growth. Too often, growth-oriented efforts headed by private sector companies and economic development agencies have not taken a stance on equity. Equity-oriented efforts, on the other hand, have been seen as solely the responsibility of non-profits and foundations. We know that these conversations are intrinsically linked. Without adopting this clear and explicit focus, systemic racism will continue to undermine more broadly focused inclusion efforts.

  2. Market orientation – Companies are increasingly seeing inclusion not just as a strand of their work, but as a business imperative for their future competitiveness. This focus presents us with huge opportunity to build bridges with business champions who are already making equitable practices around hiring and procurement their “new normal.” Supporting these early adopters will help shift these practices from a small circle of leaders to the mainstream, and tap into market forces to more sustainably promote inclusion at scale.

  3. Narrative shift — Powerful and predominant mental models about the disconnect between business interests and equity present a major barrier to sustainable progress. There is clear need to disruptive these harmful narratives, and instead reinforce the realities of mutual interdependence—that equity and growth must go hand in hand.

  4. Regional focus — With the focus squarely on creating systems-level economic change, the region—rather than the neighborhood or even city—must be the nexus for action. The region is the “laborshed”—an area that spans beyond the boundaries of any one city where workers live and commute from. Focusing on regions allows us to identify actors and leverage points that aren’t visible when you’re constrained by political boundaries. A regional focus shouldn’t be viewed as regions versus other levels of geography—such as neighborhoods—nor does every actor involved need to be a regional actor. But efforts to achieve population-level results must reflect the dynamics of the market, which is regional. This isn’t a simple or easy proposition; regional efforts have been tried and failed many times before. It’s critical that we must build on hard-learned lessons and grapple with how to do this more effectively.

  5. Collective action — The recognition that led us to the creation of this task force must permeate any solutions we develop: meaningful change on this issue will require the combined resources and leverage of all of our institutions.

In the coming months, I’ll share more about each of these elements and ways that members of the task force are already embedding them in their work. I’m excited by the incredible amount of work the group has taken on in past months, and enthusiastic about the progress to come. At this critical moment and in the current political and economic climate, that often-quoted adage feels more relevant than ever: “If not now, when; if not us, who?”

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Living Cities and Governing Magazine Launch 2017 Equipt to Innovate Survey

The Equipt to Innovate framework is an integrated, collaborative, and evidence-based blueprint for public sector innovation. The seven key outcome elements that make up the framework provide vital guideposts around which cities and public officials can anchor their efforts to improve services and increase the quality of residents’ lives.

Last year, 61 of the largest cities in the U.S. responded to the Equipt to Innovate survey. The intent of our annual survey is to:

  • Get a national overview of cities’ innovation efforts,
  • Identify emerging practices and successful, and
  • Help cities learn from and benchmark against each other.

Our hope is that participation in this survey will help cities conduct a productive and beneficial self-evaluation.

Many of last year’s participants report that the survey questions helped them gather data for internal reporting and identify areas for planning. The national overview report, which participants will receive, also allows cities to network with best-practice peers and highlight their efforts on a national platform.

In addition, many cities are using the information to monitor and track their progress in the seven Equipt outcome elements. Our goal is to increase that number this year and build further knowledge about the practices being used across the country in service of government innovation.

The Equipt to Innovate 2017 survey is now live, and with only a few weeks left to complete the survey, we urge your city to be part of this year’s data set and see how you compare to the nation’s highest-performing cities.
High performers will be recognized at a national conference, and will receive local and national media coverage around the best practices they embody. Governing will be publishing only the profiles of top performing cities in one or more subject areas with background information and context on their achievements. Results will be reported in the aggregate only, other than calling out those who exemplify best practices. The intent of this survey is to help underscore your efforts in good governance in the most positive way possible.

You can take the survey here.

Submissions will be accepted until November 16, 2017. All responses will be treated as confidential, and all participating cities will be given a personalized feedback report on their progress with ideas on how they can accelerate change in their own communities.

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#BensTake: What’s Next for Municipal Innovation?

Over the past decade, I observed the birth of a movement toward innovative, high-performing local governance, and watched it catch fire. Today, thanks to bold leadership, risk-taking and thoughtful investment from across sectors, we have no shortage of proof points that high-performing government can play an outsized role in the economic, social and all-around well-being of residents at scale.

As I wrote recently, the municipal innovation field has matured well beyond spreading seeds broadly and seeing what grows. We’re entering a new phase of movement-building, which calls for renewed energy and effort to sustain the progress we’ve made. Three key lessons from recent years help chart a path forward for anyone wanting to support the next phase of this movement:

  1. We must maintain our intentional support of municipal innovation as a catalyst for change. Too many philanthropic institutions still view the nonprofit as the only catalyst for positive social change. The body of evidence today demonstrates that, in fact, local government can play an outsized role in driving the social and economic outcomes captured in our mission statements. And with philanthropy holding important resources, including human and financial capital, we can’t remain on the sidelines.
  1. There are inroads to this work for everyone. Regardless of your specific passion, it would likely be better served if local governments were equipped to accelerate positive results. If your organization is committed to racial equity, programs like Racial Equity Here, among others, are working to help government dismantle deep-rooted disparities. If you’re passionate about community engagement, there’s immense need for proven practices that help governments meaningfully connect with residents.

  2. Communities of practice are invaluable. What was missing in the early days of municipal innovation is still an important lesson today: innovation is more valuable when it’s being shared across leaders and cities. Communities of practice, which allow cities to work together on the same issues, connect leaders with partners in the field whom they can rely on for help, and allow them to leapfrog toward results by avoiding past mistakes and replicating successes. We must intentionally grow and support this model of learning.

Today, a decade of public sector risk-taking backed by philanthropic investment, has shown us what is possible, in cities large and small. The promise of a better America may in fact rest not with cutting-edge social innovators in the nonprofit realm, but in local government with its stable funding streams and long-term outlook. It’s a conclusion we hardly could have imagined just a decade ago. Let’s work to make it true.

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What We’re Learning About Entrepreneurship as a Job Creation Strategy

Living Cities is committed to improving the economic well-being of low-income people. Given all of the momentum around leveraging the potential of new and small firms as job creators, we set out to learn more intentionally about the barriers and opportunities to accelerating new firm creation by taking stock of all of the initiatives in our portfolio and the portfolios of our members that aim to support entrepreneurship and small business growth.

To gain a more strategic understanding of what activities already exist and where there are gaps, we took inventory of strategies that we and/or our members are currently investing in and categorized them by the barriers they sought to address. There are common themes that emerge among the barriers that multiple organizations are trying to solve for, and we want to be sure that there is alignment and shared learning around which barriers they are targeting and which solutions are effective in achieving results.

We created this map to reflect to the field where there is already investment, and enable conversation around how we as changemakers can adopt a more cohesive and thus more powerful approach to addressing common barriers. Using that lens, we could clearly see a set of strategic solutions aimed at each barrier, so we categorized each activity according to the following:

  • The barrier to start-up/growth that the initiative tries to solve for.
  • The solution being employed to address the above barrier.
  • The activity being done as part of a solution.

The themes that emerged gave us a clearer picture of what organizations in the field are currently attempting to do, but it doesn’t yet tell us which of those solutions are working. We believe that in order to get better results for low-income people and communities of color faster, we need to continue to codify what works, what doesn’t, and why.

[[big-button “Explore the Entrepreneurship Strategy Map” “https://www.livingcities.org/resources/preview/831886ac-9c7a-4483-88e0-c7c7d6d1b67c”]]


Addressing Barriers to Firm Start-Up and Growth

These eight themes emerged as the major investments organizations are making to support entrepreneurs of color attempting to start up or scale up businesses:

1. Capital & Financing

Starting or growing a business almost always requires some up-front financial investment. The accessibility of different types of financing varies from place to place, and along lines of race and gender. The solutions in this category represent many different approaches to increasing the capital that is available and ensuring it more effectively gets to the entrepreneurs and small business owners who need it.

2. Professional Networks

The individuals who make up an entrepreneur’s personal and professional networks can provide support and advice, and serve as a “safety net” to protect against the risk of business failure. Entrepreneurs with friends and family who are wealthier or have a history of business ownership thus have an advantage. This category includes activities that seek to more equitably connect entrepreneurs to networks that can benefit their businesses.

3. Public Policies & Processes

Regulations around starting and sustaining businesses can often be seen as too slow, complicated, or confusing. In addition, inefficient processes, high costs, and fear of government can add to the disincentives that aspiring entrepreneurs face when thinking of starting businesses.

4. Talent Pipeline

The number of people who could start businesses (including what the market could support) is much smaller than the number of people who end up starting businesses. This is true because certain populations face a convergence of barriers, including the ones we lay out in this post. Creating an inclusive pipeline means equipping people to create jobs by being business owners, rather than preparing people to fill jobs. The theory is that creating more entrepreneurs creates more firms, which creates more jobs.

5. A “Culture” of Entrepreneurship

There currently exists in society a set of mindsets and perceptions about the “type of person” who is an entrepreneur. A culture of entrepreneurship means exposing people to the idea of even being a business owner, and shifting these preconceived mindsets. This includes creating a general environment that is supportive to entrepreneurs, for example, so that communities are enthusiastic about local business and prioritize it over non-local corporations.

6. Targeted Business Supports

A lack of access to targeted business supports can exist for a number of reasons. At times, business support services exist but there is an access issue, either due to geographic location or the extensive effort and time needed to find resources from a variety of sources. At other times, general business services exist but are not specific enough to meet the immediate needs of a business owner. And often, business support services do not exist in a place.

Most solutions we found to this barrier involve aggregating and curating resources to make them more accessible and easier to find.

7. Economic Development & Community Development Alignment

While people who work in economic development and community development often have the same objectives for a place, the former focus on regional work while the latter focus at the neighborhood level. Making these two systems more cohesive, taking place-based needs into account, has the potential to foster a more supportive environment for potential business owners.

8. Corporate Policies & Processes

Corporate procurement can have a huge impact on small firm growth: it sometimes unnecessarily displaces small businesses or competes with them. Business-to-business sales require production at a certain scale that some small firms need support getting to, and helping small businesses navigate process and policy barriers has the potential to help them achieve scale.


The creation of the inventory was led by Brittany DeBarros, now of Brittany DeBarros Consulting, and supported by Living Cities team members Demetric Duckett, Ratna Gill, and Hafizah Omar.

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My Equation for Systems Change Results

In my last post, I argued that creating conditions for economic security requires more than job creation and wage growth. In fact, it requires transforming systems across public and private sectors so that economic well-being for all people living and working in a city is possible. Through my ten years doing results-based work, including on The Integration Initiative, I have watched an array of initiatives across the country work to harness the principles of collective impact to drive results for people and the communities where they live, work, and play.

Even with such efforts and despite the fact that this work spans different sectors and issue areas and takes on many forms, we continue to see incremental and/or segmented change rather than large-scale, transformative systems change and results for whole populations. Disparities remain, inequities prevail, and gaps widen in education, housing, health, business, jobs, income, wealth, and more. So the question remains: What will it take to achieve results at scale?

I’ve observed relationships and resources as the common denominators in successful initiatives led by highly impactful leaders. This phenomenon is consistent with leaders and communities increasingly embracing a results-based approach for their programs and strategies.

For practitioners, leaders, funders, and community members, the inception of Results-Based Accountability framework reinforced the belief that “relationships plus resources equals results.” Relationships are a means to engaging likely and unlikely partners to align around a common result, creating and building trust to accelerate the partners’ progress toward results, and facilitating greater accountability among partners for a shared result. Resources, intangible and tangible, enable stakeholders to design and implement a set of strategies that have a reasonable chance of making a measurable contribution to the shared result.

But while we’ve seen relationships and resources harnessed to positively impact communities, it is not enough. We actually need to undo the social, political, and economic structures that were created to maintain the status quo, which historically and disproportionately keeps people of color out of the social, political, and economic marketplace in ways that will enable them to thrive. Examples include the burning down of Black Wall Street, predatory lending to poor communities, and charging higher interest rates to families of color with the same credit risk ratings as white families.

Living Cities faces this now as we work to close racial income and wealth gaps for all people in US cities so that they are economically secure and building wealth. We know that we cannot do this alone, so we are leveraging our relationships and resources to come together around an audacious goal, disrupt prohibitive structures, and build transformative ecosystems where all can thrive. In order to achieve more than incremental and segmented change, I offer a third element: risk.

Introducing a Third “R”

As I have participated in, facilitated, and led collective impact efforts, my mental model for results has evolved to include the necessity of risk, which is to challenge the status quo; put personal, professional and institutional capital on the line; and acknowledge failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. I’ve seen results at scale in places where cross-sector leaders are willing to take risks and be disciplined and unrelenting in their quest for change.

We exist in systems where risk is associated with loss, scarcity, and failure, and we therefore avoid taking risks that can actually move us closer to results. Philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are largely designed to combat the ills that plague our society and facilitate well-being for people, communities, and the planet. Unfortunately, we allow the strength of our relationships and the power of our resources to be overcome by our risk aversion. And, I’d argue this behavior is in part due to the legacy of the social constructs (race and class) designed to advantage some (the “one percent”), entangle others in the perceived personal and financial risk that would be undertaken to fight systems of oppression (the so-called middle class), and simply exclude the rest (low-income people and racialized groups).

We exist in systems where risk is associated with loss, scarcity, and failure.

For example, there are plenty of people in power who would wince at the vision of “all people economically secure and building wealth.” Their immediate reaction is to think that it’s a zero-sum game, and that they must have less in order for others to have more. On the other hand, people who have largely been without resources and power may doubt that they could benefit from a thriving economy given the longstanding structures that have excluded them. Finally, there are those of us, like myself, who see the aspiration in the statement, but not without some skepticism and fear of failure.

The underlying assumption of each perspective is that we are operating in a system of scarcity rather than abundance. This mental model is part of the dark magic of European Imperialism, which led people to fiercely protect their resources, jobs, land, relationships and even white/light skin color from being taken away, conquered, and exploited. The fear of loss is so profound that we’ve created communities, systems, and structures that reinforce the belief that there isn’t enough for us all, even though we’ve learned over time that America’s resources are bountiful and that the diversity of its people–socially, economically, politically, and morally–is an advantage.

If you are still not convinced, note Angela Glover-Blackwell’s work that shows that “an equity-driven growth model would grow new jobs and bolster long-term competitiveness while at the same time ensuring that all—especially low-income people and people of color—have the opportunity to benefit from and co-create that growth.” In other words, we have no reason to go running scared. Equity and inclusion are just as much an economic imperative as they are a moral imperative.

For cross-sector leaders who set out to achieve results at scale, the risk is to leverage the power of complex relationships and the heft of collective resources to actively and unapologetically dismantle exclusionary structures that have become the bedrock of our society, shift our mental model to equity and abundance, and harness democratic capitalism in a way that allows all people to thrive economically.

Completing the Formula for Results At Scale

My equation is completed by the discipline in how we approach relationships, resources, and risk.

Discipline & Relationships

People make up systems and the processes, practices, and policies that govern them. Too often, however, we discuss the system as completely separate from the people (leaders, managers, staffers, customers) who ensure systems function. By separating people from systems, it is easy to avoid being accountable for the impact systems have on people within and without.

As leaders, managers, staffers, and customers, we must ask ourselves: “What is my relationship to the result of this program/strategy/institution/system, and what must I reconcile with my personal self and in my role in order to ensure that I am making the best call in service of results for people?”

“As a leader, What is my relationship to the result?”

Discipline & Resources

Thinking of money as the only resource needed to improve outcomes for all people is a limited view. We have a tendency to assume that all we need is money. I challenge you to think of a system that is not working well for people—this could be education, healthcare, or the criminal justice system. Would unlimited capital make the problem go away? No. The structural inequalities that exist in the system would perpetuate the asymmetries that already exist. Rather, we have to be good stewards of our financial resources and focus on how and when we deploy all types of resources, including, but not limited to human capital, social capital, time technology, knowledge, and information.

Discipline & Risk

There are a number of different kinds of risks that we in philanthropy, from a position of privilege and power, should challenge ourselves to take on. Specifically, we need to embrace the risk associated with long-termism that achieves population-level results over time, even though it is easier to show our boards quick wins and successful projects than to invest in the grueling work of systems change that can sometimes take years to yield tangible population-level results.

It is easier to show our boards quick wins and successful projects than to invest in the slow and grueling work of systems change.

The tension here is that the problems we need to solve are urgent and the pressure to show impact dominates. Because we believe we have to choose between quick wins and patient progress, we default to the former. We actually don’t have to choose. In fact, we can set a population result (e.g. economic security and wealth-building for all people in cities) that may take 10 or more years to accomplish, and shore it up by designing bold, systems-level strategies that are oriented to our result. The key to success is being disciplined in our approach to establish performance measures that allow us to track progress and make adjustments, but stay the course to see systems change and realize the result.

In service of our relationship to the result, we must also push ourselves to take the risk of naming the structural inequities that caused the outcomes we see today. As leaders, it may be a risk to name racism, white supremacy, and anti-blackness, but these are risks we must be willing to take on in service of bettering outcomes for all people.

Given the growing disparities across multiple social determinants of economic security or health, we need to push harder, take more risks, and be disciplined in our approach to results.

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Urban Planning in 3D: How Creating a Digital Twin Leads to Smarter Cities

“The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one above the other, and high streets whose railed parapets look out over the water. Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat, because the city was so constructed that its every point would be reflected in its mirror”
– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

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Opportunity with Dignity: Lessons from Multiculturalism in Toronto

Enthusiastic praise for Toronto’s successful transformation from “America’s Belfast” to one of the world’s most successful multicultural cities is rightly celebrated. However, praise should not obscure some of the very real limits to multicultural comity that have emerged with the passage of time. Two structural challenges – those of race and inequality – deserve attention.

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