Federal place-based initiatives represent a great opportunity to motivate, encourage, incentivize or even require new ways of using data, measuring progress, and creating dialogue about findings and results at local and regional levels. If their planning and implementation includes a strong system for building the capacity of the grantee organizations and their partners, then truly significant change will be within reach. Several of the Obama administration’s place-based programs have aspired to increase local capacity for collecting and interpreting data, though in very different circumstances and with different objectives. In this essay, we explore the experiences of two of these initiatives—Promise Neighborhoods and the Fair Housing Equity Assessment—and draw some early lessons about effective practices.

The two programs operate at vastly different scales. Promise Neighborhoods is focused on, and acts on behalf of, children and youth within locally defined urban, tribal, and rural communities. The Fair Housing Equity Assessment deals with long-range, multi-issue planning for metropolitan regions. The core idea of Promise Neighborhoods is to embed a “results framework” into the guidance, operations, and self-assessment of each grantee consortium. A results framework requires not only good data on processes and outcomes, but also a practical and insightful system to collect, analyze, display, and interpret the results. With this information and infrastructure, grantees can learn a great deal about whether, and how, children from the targeted low-income communities are progressing “from cradle to career,” with the support of neighborhood factors as well as schools.

The Fair Housing Equity Assessment, a component of the Sustainable Communities Initiative, prompts grantees to use new spatial data and intensive public deliberations about that data to reorient local and regional policy toward creating “communities of opportunity.” The process poses the question to regional leaders: What can we learn about the barriers to everyone in the region having not just equal legal and civil rights to housing, but also equitable access to the schools, services, jobs, and local environments that provide economic opportunity?

PolicyLink has had the privilege of working with the Promise Neighborhoods and Sustainable Communities programs on issues of data, mapping, and assessment, as well as advising the federal agencies that administer the programs and providing technical support to the grantees. We’re now roughly two years into the first round of Promise projects and three into Sustainable Communities, and we can now take stock of our progress toward this ambitious goal of creating a society in which all are participating, prospering, and reaching their full potential.

The Promise Neighborhoods Opportunity

Inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the purpose of the federal Promise Neighborhoods Program is to significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in the nation’s most distressed neighborhoods. HCZ is a comprehensive set of wrap-around services for youth to help them succeed in school. HCZ principles are to:

  • Serve an entire neighborhood comprehensively and at scale;
  • Create a comprehensive pipeline of programs for children from birth through college graduation, and wrapping families in those programs;
  • Build community among residents, institutions, and stakeholders who help to create the environment necessary for a child’s healthy development;
  • Evaluate program outcomes and create a data feedback loop to help management improve and refine program offerings; and
  • Cultivate a culture of success rooted in passion, accountability, leadership, and teamwork.

Promise Neighborhoods is a manifestation of the Obama administration and U.S. Department of Education (DOE) efforts to listen to the voice, wisdom, and experience of local leaders. For years, these leaders have recommended that the federal government co-invest in place-based efforts with large, multiyear grants and flexible spending parameters. Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees receive up to $30 million over five years to begin the projected 20-plus year journey of establishing cradle-to-career supports and improving outcomes for children and families.

The program is transforming neighborhoods by:

  • Identifying and increasing the capacity of groups (nonprofits, institutions of higher education, or Indian tribes) that are focused on achieving results for children and youth throughout an entire neighborhood;
  • Building a complete continuum of cradle-to-career solutions in both educational programs and family and community supports, with great schools at the center;
  • Integrating programs and breaking down agency “silos” so that solutions are implemented effectively and efficiently across agencies;
  • Developing the local infrastructure of systems and resources needed to sustain and scale up proven, effective solutions across the broader region beyond the initial neighborhood; and
  • Learning about the overall effects of the Promise Neighborhoods program and about the relationship between particular strategies in Promise Neighborhoods and student outcomes, including through a rigorous evaluation of the program.[1]

Promise Neighborhoods also represents an opportunity to demonstrate that HCZ operating principles can be successfully implemented in urban, rural, and tribal communities across America, and that the successes can be translated into smarter federal policies and programs.

As DOE’s partner, the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink (PNI) provides local leaders with a system of support to help ensure their Promise Neighborhood is a success. This support entails technical assistance to: (1) accelerate local leaders’ ability to achieve results, including results-based accountability training, supporting a community of practice,[2] and providing data infrastructure and leadership development; (2) build evidence of the effectiveness of cradle-to-career strategies through research, data analysis, evaluation, and communication outreach; (3) advocate for policies that support the expansion and sustainability of Promise Neighborhoods. PNI is a partnership of PolicyLink, HCZ, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy. It is funded solely by philanthropy, including support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, California Endowment, Citi Foundation, Ford Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Walmart Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Data and Technology Infrastructure

Promise Neighborhoods has a strong results framework. The Department of Education requires Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees to report on 10 results and 15 indicators, known as the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) indicators (see Figure 1 for two examples).[3]

Figure 1. Selected Promise Neighborhood Initiative Indicators

Figure 1. Selected Promise Neighborhood Initiative Indicators

Establishing common measures like these increases the likelihood that local leaders will align their strategies to collectively make consistent progress turning the 15 indicator trend lines in the right direction. But common measures are not enough. Local leaders require guidance in developing the leadership, organizational, and programmatic capacity to effectively implement their cradle-to-career solutions so they can achieve population-level results.[4] They also require assistance designing and implementing accountability systems that empower them to use data for learning, continuous improvement, and shared accountability.

Planning grantees also need tools—tools that can help guide partners through a disciplined planning process, and, once they have moved on to implementation, tools that collect, store, and analyze data regarding progress. Community-based organizations, though, rarely have the in-house experience to evaluate the pros and cons of various tools. To speed up data collection and preserve valuable time that could be spent designing interventions, PNI partnered with members in its community of practice to develop data infrastructure that grantees could use to support the implementation of their Promise Neighborhoods program.

Figure 2. Data Platform Integration. The three data platforms are seamlessly integrated and designed to provide data in real time. The data can also be imported and exported across the platforms. When lead agencies and their partners enter program participant data into ETO, the results and indicators are transferred to the Promise Scorecard. Partners can then measure progress at both the individual and aggregate levels.

Figure 2. Data Platform Integration. The three data platforms are seamlessly integrated and designed to provide data in real time. The data can also be imported and exported across the platforms. When lead agencies and their partners enter program participant data into ETO, the results and indicators are transferred to the Promise Scorecard. Partners can then measure progress at both the individual and aggregate levels.

The data infrastructure includes both data platforms as well as guidance in using those platforms. PNI paid for the three data platforms—(1) results-based accountability tools, (2) a case management/longitudinal data system, (3) a data dashboard—to be integrated and makes the software licenses available at no cost. This allows leaders to seamlessly measure progress on the 10 results and 15 indicators. This national technology infrastructure can accelerate local leaders’ ability to move from talk to action in a disciplined, results-based, and data-driven manner. PNI recognized that providing local leaders with national data infrastructure would help them focus on the hard work of organizing partners to implement their cradle-to-career continuum of solutions. Because PNI purchased the data licenses in bulk, staff calculate that providing a national data infrastructure is saving the community of practice members nearly $3 million annually compared to what it would have cost them to work with a vendor individually. This has also reduced the time that it takes to build and begin using a data system from approximately three years to six months, particularly for those program sites with previously limited data capacities.

Results based accountability (RBA): In 2011, PNI—in partnership with local leaders participating in its community of practice—chose Results-Based Accountability (RBA) as the preferred management tool for achieving the 10 specified results. RBA is a disciplined process in which local leaders articulate goals, craft strategies to achieve the goals, assess their progress, and regularly make necessary refinements to their strategies. RBA helps leaders answer seven questions that answer how much are we doing, how well are we doing it, and is anyone better off? [5]

Longitudinal case management: PNI’s case management/longitudinal data system is provided by Social Solutions’ Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) software.[6] By using the ETO software, the organizations implementing Promise Neighborhoods can enroll individuals in the system and collect data about them in a central location over time, whether initial descriptive information from case management interviews, program participation from service providers, or outcomes such as high school graduation. The system is tailored to allow partner organizations access to confidential or sensitive data based on their role. Program leaders can use the data in ETO to both measure the incremental progress of each program participant and produce aggregate outcome measures for the whole program. Staff can also use the resulting data to identify which efforts, staff, services, or programs are most effective in achieving desired results. More than one-half of the Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees are using ETO software.

Data Dashboard: The Promise Scorecard, a data dashboard based on the Results Leadership Group’s Results Scorecard, provides a way to visualize progress on the 15 indicators.[7] Local leaders use it to create a local culture of accountability, gain a shared understanding of the baseline conditions, and make data-driven decisions about what is working and where improvements must be made. In 2013, DOE purchased the Promise Scorecard licenses for the 12 grantees. PNI continues to make licenses available to planning grantees and high-scoring applicants in its community of practice.

Data Guidance: With the RBA management tool and the data platforms in place, DOE recognized that local leaders would need formal guidance to ensure that Promise Neighborhoods grantees were using common data definitions, collection, and reporting protocols. The Urban Institute created “Measuring Performance: A Guidance Document for Promise Neighborhoods on Collecting Data and Reporting Results” to support grantees as they collected high-quality data. The document also supports the government’s desire to collect as consistent data as possible across sites for program monitoring and future research. It is not only useful for the federal Promise Neighborhoods program but is applicable to any practitioner implementing a place-based effort. In addition, the document recommends data collection strategies, sources, and methods for leaders working to implement a Promise Neighborhood strategy, including the collection and tracking of demographic, family, and service delivery characteristics. These recommendations, while not formal requirements, are intended to guide local leaders on the best ways to collect information that they can use to improve the quality of their programs and services, evaluate the success of their initiatives, and most important, achieve better results. Together, the data guidance document, the use of RBA, and the integrated data platforms facilitate the development and implementation of common data standards and practices, thereby improving the ability to measure progress across Promise Neighborhoods.

PNI, DOE, and the Urban Institute are working to ensure that the data infrastructure is integrated and that all supports are well aligned. Senior staff at PNI and DOE meet monthly, and senior leaders from PNI, DOE, and the Urban Institute meet quarterly to hold each other accountable to the goals of the program.

This national data infrastructure enables high scoring applicants, planning and implementation grantees in its community of practice to learn and improve. To evaluate the effectiveness of PNI in the future, PNI, DOE, and the Urban Institute are combining individual- and program-level data files into a master file, and preparing a restricted-use data file that meets the congressionally mandated DOE National Center for Education Statistics’ quality standards. In addition, PNI is partnering with Mathematica Policy Research to produce five case studies and to propose an evaluation framework for testing the efficacy of Promise Neighborhoods. The restricted-use data file, coupled with the proposed evaluation framework, will ensure that any evaluation is done with a credible and rigorous methodology and a context that acknowledges the family, program, community, policy, and systems complexity in a Promise Neighborhood.

Key Steps Underway in 2014

In 2014, the first cohort of sites were in their second year of implementation. The initial work of the PNI community of practice has shifted participants’ mindset from that of applying for and receiving a federal grant to that of leading a multi-sector network of partners (e.g., school, health, housing, food, and public safety systems) committed to achieving collective impact, or in the RBA language, population-level results, through a cradle-to-career strategy. [8] In short, they are not simply running a program that expires in five years. To this end, the PNI community of practice has spent the past two years creating local cultures of accountability and building the infrastructure necessary for achieving population-level results.

Implementation sites have begun building out the programs in their cradle-to-career continuum by forming the appropriate partnerships and testing their solutions on a small scale. Expanding their efforts to a larger scale will take time. Partners will need to build organizational and leadership capacity, for example, as well as systems of accountability. The PNI community of practice is committed to achieving results at a scale and complexity rarely achieved by most place-based efforts. Every implementation grantee is using the RBA framework, and the Promise Scorecard data dashboard; and fifty-percent of the implementation grantees are using the case management system offered by PNI. They have also agreed to partner with the national technical assistance network to bring a disciplined approach to building an integrated strategy that will unfold over the next 20 years.

Three elements will be necessary to build these new systems:

  1. Baseline data on the target community, including information on its schools and residents: Baseline data document the conditions at the outset and are necessary to measure progress. Baseline data also help local leaders determine areas of greatest need and opportunities to take action.
  2. Target or penetration rates: Measures of the extent to which the programs are reaching the intended populations within the Promise Neighborhood.
  3. Performance measures: Measures of progress that also reflect the chosen strategy for effecting change. Local leaders should develop these performance measures in conjunction with partners to ensure that the partners can be held accountable for delivering programs or services and/or policies and system reforms. The leaders should also use data to manage program and project performance and report progress and outcomes to DOE, key partners, and community stakeholders.

Challenges Faced in Implementation

Leaders implementing a Promise Neighborhood cradle-to-career strategy have faced multiple challenges with using data for continuous improvement and shared accountability. In particular, they have struggled with: (1) conducting needs assessments and segmentation analyses, (2) designing longitudinal data systems, and (3) using the data collected to get results.

Conducting Needs Assessments and Segmentation Analyses: The Department of Education required grantees to conduct a needs assessment and segmentation analyses so they would have the information needed to tailor their interventions to the needs of neighborhood children. However, most nonprofits do not have the staff to conduct these types of analyses. In addition, leaders may not have yet developed the relationships or institutional capacity necessary to access administrative data from institutions such as a school district or health department. Consequently, when applying for funding that requires a needs assessment, the initial data collected is often insufficient for establishing baselines, targets, and performance measures. More important, the lack of access to administrative data makes it virtually impossible to fully understand the needs of children in the neighborhood and to appropriately customize interventions.

Designing a Case Management/Longitudinal Data System: The Department of Education believes that a case management/longitudinal data system is a piece of essential infrastructure to effectively target, track, and measure the results of interventions. It is also necessary to house data for future evaluations. Unfortunately, organizations rarely have systems that integrate multiple data sources with unique identifiers or connect with external data systems. It is also difficult, as noted, to access administrative data. Most local leaders have not yet developed a data agenda for how key pieces of missing data will be obtained. For example, school systems and service providers have a significant challenge tracking highly mobile students and families, who may move in and out of the target area or transfer between schools. Collectively agreeing on a multi-sector solution will save time and money and get local partners closer to crafting solutions that decrease mobility rates.

Developing the Capacity to Connect a Disciplined Approach to Achieving Results with the Use of Data: To get results, data must be connected to a disciplined approach to moving from talk to action and making progress on the 10 results and 15 indicators. Yet too often, the use of data is something done by one person and then simply reported out. In addition, the use of data is rarely linked to an evidenced-based approach to achieving population-level results. The challenge is to ensure that using data is not seen as another “add-on” to responsibilities. Rather, leaders must foster an organizational culture that views data as essential to getting results in every functional area of an organization, and by every person within the organization. Most important, partners must use data to guide decisions and manage the performance of those providing services. This is why the task of establishing baselines, targets, stakeholder solutions/strategies and performance measures is important.

The PNI system of supports is designed to focus leaders’ attention to the following questions:

  • What is the right mix of family, programmatic, policy and systems solutions that must be implemented to get results at a scale that will get a particular indicator moving in the right direction?
  • What early results should be achieved by leading multi-sector stakeholders through the RBA process and obtaining their commitment to contributing to solutions?
  • What does the process map for our cradle-to-career system look like?
  • Who are the key partners at each developmental stage of our cradle-to-career continuum of solutions?
  • What are each partner’s results, indicators, targets, and performance measures?
  • How does the use of data ensure that our cradle-to-career continuum of solutions has the appropriate mix of people, programs, policies and systems?
  • How is the capital of multi-sector stakeholders being aligned to sustain our cradle-to-career solutions?

Without this disciplined execution and data work, it is difficult to create a culture of accountability and to achieve population-level results.

Early Examples of Impact

A culture of accountability and a disciplined approach to execution are clearly taking hold. Leaders from 61 communities have accelerated their work to establish baselines, targets, and stakeholder strategies linked to performance measures. In addition, local leaders are now developing data agendas and shared data agreements that are enabling them to break down data silos. Hayward, California, and Nashville, Tennessee, are leaders in this area.

Hayward Promise Neighborhood is establishing a successful data partnership with the local school district.[9] Its data agreement to acquire individual-level data from the Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) makes it one of the first Promise Neighborhoods in the nation to take action on this crucial step. Their shared data partnership demonstrates a deep commitment to getting results for children and families. Now that a community of partners has agreed that managing services and supports for children, families, and community members requires a powerful data management system, Hayward will be able to take a thorough approach to building a seamless cradle to career pipeline. In addition, this type of collaboration requires a level of trust among the partners to work through the difficult tasks needed to move the work forward. One of the next hurdles Hayward faces is how to collect the individual parental consent required before the district can share the data. Even with the remaining challenges, Hayward’s commitment to the need for data-driven decision making and leadership by the school district position the Hayward Promise Neighborhood for transformative work with children and families in the community.

Nashville Promise Neighborhood (NPN) is about to take their work to a new level.[10] The Promise Neighborhood team has announced the approval of its data-sharing partnership with Metro Nashville Schools to support common results around student achievement and family supports. Metro Nashville is one of the first school districts in the nation to establish a powerful data-sharing partnership with a Promise Neighborhood. As the Tennessean reported, the Metro Nashville Public Schools district “keeps a real-time, state-of-the-art data warehouse in order to track student progress and spot issues that could be interfering with performance.”[11] Using the Efforts to Outcomes system to track the data, Nashville Promise Neighborhood is helping the city to comprehensively integrate school and community provider data into a single system. “We support collective impact models of transformation, and a key component of this is the sharing of information,” Laura Hansen, Metro Schools Director of Information Management and Decision Support and co-chair of the Nashville Promise Neighborhood Data and Research Committee, told the Tennessean. Robin Veenstra-VanderWeele, director of the Nashville Promise Neighborhood, added, “The data partnership with the school district empowers the NPN to effectively link local schools and NPN Partner Organizations to change outcomes for students from kindergarten to college.”

The Fair Housing and Equity Assessment: Creating a Regional Baseline for Improving Access to Opportunity

The second case of a new federal program that is changing the way data are used represents a new approach to a perennial issue: the documentation of, and response to, barriers to fair and opportunity-rich housing. In 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded grants to 87 regions across the country to create and implement regional plans that would advance sustainability, equity, and economic resilience through the Sustainable Communities Initiative. These grants, which were a pilot program that emerged from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, have brought together cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), community organizations, equity advocates, foundations, universities and colleges, and economic development organizations. These new partnerships are using regional plans as a way to craft cohesive visions for future investment. This chance to support several agencies and organizations across a variety of issues and interests in creating “sustainable communities of opportunity” emerged at the same time that HUD was shifting its approach to fair housing enforcement and education. The new approach addresses not only literal discrimination but also structural issues of investment and disinvestment that have led to ongoing racial segregation and inequitable access to opportunity. The leadership of HUD asked the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grantees to pilot this new regional and investment-focused approach to fair housing.

The grant program requires that recipients conduct a Fair Housing and Equity Assessment (FHEA) to quantitatively assess local and regional conditions relative to opportunity, broadly defined, and to propose policy solutions to diminish disparities. HUD provided the grantees with a set of indicators at the census-tract level on segregation, areas of concentrated poverty by race and ethnicity, and access to six aspects of neighborhood opportunity: housing affordability, transit, exposure to environmental hazards, exposure to poverty, economic opportunities, and school quality. Although grantees were familiar with some of the demographic and housing data, other indicators—such as access to opportunity and location of public investments relative to segregation trends – were new to most partners. Although HUD’s assembly of consistent, nationally available data from a variety of sources in a single location was valuable in itself, the FHEA was not just an exercise in data analysis. Rather, grantees were encouraged to think of data collection and display as only a first phase. Deliberation about the data, and the ways that the data could inform regional and local decisions, were also key parts of the assessment process.

These assessments are currently underway or completed in 87 regions across the country, from the largest metropolitan areas to some of the smallest rural regions. PolicyLink and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University have been working with the consortia to strengthen their FHEA analyses, deliberations, and decision making and have published nine briefs to guide practitioners through all stages of the process.[12] This account is drawn from the briefs and the experiences of advising the consortia and reviewing their processes and reports.

Fair housing itself is a highly charged and sensitive subject, and addressing it adequately requires significant skill and capacity. But the breadth of the issues being addressed by the new FHEA presented unique challenges to regional grantees. The need to build new analytical capacities was only the starting point. More challenging were the needs to bring a wide range of partners to the table in considering the new issues and policy questions that the FHEA process brings to the fore, and to determine how to help those partners realign their activities toward regional equity.

The FHEA experience has required the regional partners to think about and organize their response to fair housing issues in more comprehensive ways. All partners, for example, needed to understand fair housing in HUD’s new, broader framework of documenting and responding to disparities in access to opportunity. In particular, the regional teams needed to build staff and leadership capacity at MPOs to work within a new paradigm that: 1) examined the interactions between sectors that are generally dealt with in silos; 2) built on civil rights and fair housing law that was unfamiliar to many; and 3) expected that planning, policy and investment decisions would be reshaped to remedy problems identified in the assessment.

The regional organizations also needed to act in new ways. Specifically, they needed to recruit and orient agencies and organizations that did not typically think about fair housing to see their work as critical to the effort. This could include local public health departments, whose perspectives and data on regional access to opportunity were critical, but who had not previously been involved in this area of planning. Or it could include many of the MPO’s board representatives from suburban jurisdictions, usually elected officials for whom traditional fair housing issues or broader analyses of access to opportunity had not been significant. The consortia were also asked to engage equity-focused and community organizations in a substantive way that would inform both the analysis and the policy recommendations that followed. For many of these leaders, it was their first time working on a regional housing plan.

The assessments had different emphases depending on the local context, but the overarching policy challenge inherent in the new paradigm pushed beyond the typical responses to fair housing and the allocation of affordable housing resources. The efforts required partners to have conversations about how to balance calls to invest all future affordable housing resources in “high-opportunity suburbs” with the need to reinvest in low-income communities of color, even if those communities, mostly in the central city, had less access to opportunities, poorer quality schools, or were de facto racially segregated. This contrast between the goals of de-concentrating poverty and revitalizing urban neighborhoods was one of the central regional equity questions that these Sustainable Communities needed to address, so the FHEA helped to bring additional evidence and attention to bear on it.

Despite these capacity challenges, new players, and broader expectations for the process, some of the grantees are making significant progress:

  • In the Seattle-Tacoma region, the Puget Sound Regional Council has used its FHEA analysis to inform how it allocates funding in their transportation improvement program. The complementary commitments and systemic policies to advance equity and social justice from planners and elected officials in the City of Seattle, King County and now the Puget Sound Regional Council enhance the prospects for the fair distribution of affordable housing within the major expansion of transit that is underway.
  • The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has created a set of fair housing recommendations for local governments. The MPO has funded technical assistance to help local jurisdictions advance fair housing through new zoning, and general, comprehensive, and area plans. It has also helped to reframe a fair housing discussion in this heavily segregated region to focus on the benefits of economic inclusion across the spectrum from individual households, to municipalities, to competitive regions.
  • In the Boston region, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council is creating a fair housing toolkit for local jurisdictions that helps cities and towns with higher-quality schools and service jobs but little affordable housing to set and meet new goals of zoning for and building of affordable homes.
  • In Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the Metropolitan Council is linking FHEA data to their Regional Transportation Plan and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to ensure that their regional housing, transportation, and economic development plans are all informed from the same baseline.
  • The Lane County, Oregon, FHEA took the opportunity to amend and augment its national data with local survey data of all individuals who benefit from Section 8 rental vouchers or other affordable housing in Eugene, Springfield, and the surrounding county. Concerns identified in the survey included traffic safety related to sidewalks, speed, and crossing signals; and bus frequency, cost, and lack of night and weekend service. The recommendations for addressing safety and service have moved forward as action items for the Lane County Transit Authority.
  • On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, data from their Equity and Opportunity Assessment identified the mismatch between jobs and residents on the reservation, and the need for more housing for working families. Local leaders are using the findings to leverage additional federal and philanthropic funding to develop more infrastructure and quality, energy-efficient affordable housing.

Although the policy changes as a result of FHEA are still in their early stages, the potential is significant for a long-term shift in the content and style of decision making. As more team members see their role in advancing fair housing, and see fair housing as critical to economic prosperity, we will hopefully see greater traction in reducing segregation and advancing opportunity for all. If more extensive and thoughtful use of data and mapping is embedded in the process of assessing regional opportunity structures and allocating public resources, then the pilot program will have been a success.

In June 2013, HUD released its draft “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule.” Many of the Sustainable Communities grantees that had conducted FHEAs weighed in with comments to the agency, supporting the rule and offering improvements based on their experience. Fair housing advocates, entitlement jurisdictions—and now regional planning consortia—all await the release of the final rule (expected late 2014/early 2015). The rule should help drive HUD investments and allied federal resources to the priorities flowing from data-driven assessments.


These two cases operate at different scales and in support of very different kinds of planning and implementation processes. One focuses all the resources of a community and outside sources toward a fixed but very ambitious set of goals for improving the life circumstances and educational outcomes of the community’s children. The other case is casting a wider net across a region, bringing more issues, partners, and participants as well as a greater variety of data to bear. But whether they creating neighborhood or regional systems, Promise Neighborhoods and the Fair Housing Equity Assessment share the broad recognition that place matters—that the deficits in opportunity cannot be overcome without understanding the central role of neighborhoods, towns, cities, and regions in shaping people’s lives. Place matters at the community level, where a child needs the supports provided by a Promise Neighborhood, and at the metropolitan level, where a family’s access to good jobs, a clean environment, and excellent schools should not be a function of income or race.

Success in these place-based endeavors requires a strong system for data collection, analysis, and use. The system must also inspire multiple partners to improve the strategies they are using to reach these goals. HUD and DOE have not only recognized this, but they have encouraged and supported the growth of systems to help their local and regional consortia build their data management, research, planning, and implementation capacities. The federal departments have provided new information, set high standards, supported the proliferation of good management tools, and worked closely with a range of innovative intermediaries to assist the grantees and elevate the overall impact of the initiative. The early returns show that, when given this guidance and support, local leaders will make the most of it and seek to build strong, inclusive, results-driven partnerships. The federal agencies and all parties concerned with the success of place-based initiatives should continue to learn a great deal from their experiences.

Acknowledgement: The authors would like to thank Danielle Bergstrom and Kalima Rose for research and reflections on their experiences with the Fair Housing Equity Assessment.

[1]   U.S. Department of Education, “Promise Neighborhoods: Purpose” (Washington, DC: DOE, 2014), available at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/promiseneighborhoods/index.html.
[2]   As of 2014, the PNI community of practice included 61 communities—those that had won the federal planning or implementation grants, as well as those that submitted high-scoring applications.
[3]   For a full listing of the indicators and results, see J. Comey et al., Measuring Performance: A Guidance Document for Promise Neighborhoods on Collecting Data and Reporting Results http://www.urban.org/publications/412767.html (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2013).[4]   PNI defines population-level results as improving the quality of life in a place by implementing the appropriate mix of solutions that involve families, programs, policies, and systems. These solutions should improve the outcomes for at least 50% of children and families targeted.

[5]   Through RBA, local leaders move from talk to action by working through seven guiding questions:
1. Who are our customers, clients, people we serve? (e.g., children in a child care program); 2. How can we measure if our customers/clients are better off? 3. How can we measure if we are delivering service well? (e.g., client-staff ratio, unit cost, turnover rate); 4. How are we doing on the most important of these measures? Where have we been; where are we headed? (baseline data and the story behind the baselines); 5. Who are the partners who have a potential role to play in doing better? 6. What works, what could work to do better than baseline? (best practices, best hunches, including partners’ contributions); and 7. What do we propose to do? (multi-year action plan and budget, including no-cost and low-cost items).

[6]   Social Solutions is the leading provider of performance management software for human services, connecting efforts to outcomes, people to social services, and service providers and communities to funders.

[7]   The scorecard is a product of the Results Leadership Group (RLG), which PNI rebranded as the Promise Scorecard. RLG consultants, educators, coaches, and facilitators develop the capacity of government and nonprofit organizations to produce measurable results for clients and communities.

[8]   FSG defines collective impact as the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, using a structured form of collaboration.

[9]   For more information see http://www.haywardpromise.org/.

[10]  For more information see http://www.nashvillepromise.org/.

[11]  H. Hall. “Promise Neighborhood shares student data with nonprofits to improve help for kids.” The Tennessean. (April 12, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.tennessean.com/.

[12]  Representative of this collection are “FHEA Resource: Emerging Practice in FHEA Development” and “The Fair Housing and Equity Assessment (FHEA) Deliberation Guide: Part 5–Using Data in Deliberation and Decision-Making,” both published in 2013 by PolicyLink under a capacity-building contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.