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Ask the Expert

Why do we need to hold Policy Summit now more than ever, and what does the conference’s being virtual mean for how attendees can experience it?

As appeared in the Cleveland Fed Digest's Ask the Expert

It feels like we’re in a different moment—we’re in a pandemic and it is exposing the inequities communities are facing. The pandemic has impacted people’s jobs. Housing insecurity has risen. My observation is that it’s affecting most of the communities the Fed is charged with serving, so it feels like the right time to talk about resilience and what we are doing to include in our work the perspectives of and lessons from communities of color, lower-income communities, and people who have been historically excluded.

There seems to be more energy around racial equity and economic inclusion in our country right now. It feels like more people are open to these conversations. There have also been a lot of questions about how involved the Fed is, what the Fed’s role is with these issues, how involved we should be in racial equity. The Policy Summit is an additional opportunity for us to demonstrate that these are issues we consider priorities, that these are conversations that need to be happening.

Every discussion we have on these topics is important. The focus shows the communities we serve that we are invested in these issues and we recognize that our economy is leaving people behind. I saw a recent report that said the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is supposed to be “back to normal” in four months, and there were calls for celebration. But a lot of people are not even close to being back to normal. People are still struggling, and the Fed is not afraid to lean into those issues and look below the surface to scrutinize how we define economic recovery and success. The Policy Summit is one example.

Importantly, the Policy Summit is a space wherein we discuss policies outside of the context of Washington DC. Given the current state of our country, most policy conversations are focused on the national level. Our event reframes those discussions, prioritizing the impact that policies have on local communities.

Change to this year’s biennial conference—which is virtual and free for the first time—came out of necessity. We are trying to record every session and have every session be accessible so that our speakers and partners can share resources with attendees. We are trying to reach as many people as possible and connect in a way that is even more intentional than past years.

The pandemic has caused us to think about well-intentioned actions that didn’t produce the results we wanted. While we have livestreamed our keynotes in the past, those sessions were only a few of the conference’s 20+ sessions. So, necessity drove the innovation, and the conversation has changed: If we’re truly focused on equity and inclusion, we need to do more than just make one speech available online. Especially now, not everybody can afford to pay for an event. How do we make everything available? How do we reach more people than before?

Still, there are challenges with virtual events, and the biggest is the digital divide. There are potential audiences who may have technology challenges or no access to technology at all. We’ll be hosting sessions that tackle this issue and we’re trying to advance that work. And for at least one year after Policy Summit—through June 2022—anyone can watch the videos and access resources. I realize this doesn’t address the digital divide, but we’ll have a much broader window of time for people to access the content and, I hope, a broader range of people will engage with the content.

You’re here today.

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