Too often, public policies that seem great in theory lose some of their appeal when applied to the real world. At the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, we have sought to bridge that crucial gap from abstract to concrete with our annual Policy Summit. It brings together academics and researchers with community development practitioners, elected officials, bankers, funders, and policymakers to explore economic policy and community development issues. Our 10th annual conference, held this past June, aimed at identifying effective strategies and programs to strengthen and rebuild communities, with a special emphasis on taking a holistic approach to community development.
In this issue of Forefront, we highlight some of the marquee sessions from the 2012 Policy Summit. Leading researchers and practitioners discussed new approaches in economic development and education reform. For a useful reality check, public officials from some of the Midwest’s largest metro areas explained how they balance extremely tight budgets with the need for long-term community investments. I also encourage you to read the interview with journalist Alex Kotlowitz and watch video excerpts from his moving description of anti-gang violence efforts in Chicago, which put a human face on the stories only hinted at in the data.
A recurring theme in each of these sessions was that public policies are most effective in combination with one another— for example, school reform efforts that acknowledge students will have a better chance of succeeding if they live in stable households, and economic development that takes into account the affordability of local housing or the quality of workforce development programs.
I applaud the Policy Summit’s stress on designing programs in ways that will produce credible data for further research and learning. However, we cannot let the quest for perfection keep us from getting off the starting blocks—so we must develop programs in a manner that allows us to test, learn, and make adjustments as we go. We stand a much better chance of doing that if we share information and listen to the many voices involved in community development.
Moreover, the Policy Summit reflects the approach taken by the Federal Reserve in all of our work, which is based on objective research, factual analysis, and broad public input. Every year, I am encouraged to see that there is so much growing interest in exploring new approaches to important issues in community development and public policy. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.