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What Counts is the product of an exciting collaboration between the Urban Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. It represents our shared interest in the health and strength of America’s communities and the importance of evidence-driven policymaking.

What Counts is a follow-up to the 2012 volume Investing in What Works for America’s Communities, a joint effort by the San Francisco Fed and the Low Income Investment Fund. That book’s emphasis on the need for integrated, collaborative solutions to the problems plaguing our nation’s communities resonated widely. At the same time, its call for practitioners and policymakers to understand and direct resources to “what works” generated an avalanche of questions about how, exactly, to recognize and evaluate what does indeed work. This book responds to those questions.

The past two decades have seen a profound increase in data that can help us better respond to communities’ needs and interests; a burst of technology that has made it possible to more effectively use that data; and a movement to make that data more freely available, so that more people—from the most marginalized neighborhoods to City Hall to Washington DC—can use it to inform their decisions.

There has never been an absence of appetite for transformative change in the world of community development. There has, however, been a dearth of data. What Counts brings together authors from a variety of backgrounds to consider new ways of analyzing and collecting information: How to transform disparate sets of data into useful evidence; how to share data across organizations and sectors; and how to arm practitioners and policymakers of all stripes with the skills they need to use data more effectively. It offers advice on overcoming policy pitfalls and guidance on developing, evaluating, and improving programs. And finally, it offers counsel on the best ways to listen to communities, understand their dynamics, and account for their specific needs, constituencies, and characters.

We have made tremendous strides in community development over the past several decades, but there is still a way to go. The best way to get there is to combine the passion of the community development world with the power of data. It is our sincere hope that this book will act as a roadmap for practitioners and policymakers throughout the sector.

That roadmap would not be possible without the contribution of key partners. We would like to offer our sincere thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its generous support. And we could not introduce What Counts without recognizing the five people—Naomi Cytron and David Erickson of the San Francisco Fed and Kathy Pettit, Tom Kingsley and Ellen Seidman of the Urban Institute—who conceived of and created this volume. Their dedication and insight make us proud to call them our own. Their work is a model of what we hope this book will accomplish: a cross-organizational collaboration of talented, committed professionals solving problems by bringing the best data to light.