Where is "Policy" in the New CIAC?

By Paul Evensen, PhD, Director of UMSL's Community Innovation and Action Center

One of the first questions I get about the merger of Social Innovation STL with the Public Policy Research Center (PPRC) to form the new Community Innovation and Action Center (CIAC) is: “What happened to the P?” This is shorthand for: “What happened to the Center’s longstanding emphasis on public policy?”

The word policy was removed from our name to make room for the reason policy matters – community. But the new Center’s support for policymakers and policy analysis will actually expand.

Here's how we're emphasizing "policy" in the new CIAC:

  1. The CIAC will focus on changing the conditions under which policy is made. Paul Sorenson has been facilitating the creation of the Regional Data Alliance and the Regional Data Exchange. The 45+ members of the Alliance are actively working to craft a Regional Data Strategy. A key purpose of the Alliance and the regional data strategy is to aggregate available data about St Louis, make this data accessible to all, and support real-time analysis as policy decisions are made in the region.

    The Center is helping the region shift from constantly paying for basic data aggregation to spending these resources on analysis and policy decision support. In even the early version of the Regional Data Exchange, we will be able to provide evaluators and researchers in St. Louis with thousands of available datasets that the Federal and State government publish about the 16 county St. Louis region -- cleaned, aligned, and mapped in one place. This saves enormous time and changes the conditions under which policy decisions are made.

  2. The CIAC supports the public/private partnerships that implement policy. Multi-sector partnerships are becoming prominent vehicles for implementing policy through networks of providers, regulators, and funders. Take, for example, the new Youth Employment Coalition in St. Louis. Governments, nonprofits, philanthropy, and the private sector are working together to implement a series of policy changes, social programs, and enhanced coordination with the private sector to increase youth employment. Our strategy, led by Lisa Clancy, is to significantly enhance the capacity of these important community partnerships.

  3. The CIAC will shift from analyzing single policies to evaluating packages of policies with a systems view. Largely gone are the days of single policy analysis. Community issues are too complex and they require multi-strategy, multi-sectoral responses. Take again the example of the Youth Employment Coalition. Which one of the many policies they are working to enact should we evaluate? The answer is, of course, to examine the collective impact of the variety of programs, policies, and practices they have implemented together. This approach challenges traditional measurement and methodologies. But emerging science and practice is stepping up to the challenge and the Community Innovation and Action Center intends to be an important part of this research agenda as it unfolds across the St. Louis region.

Taken together, these strategies are an important shift but represent an enduring commitment to understanding and facilitating effective public policy. Yes, we will continue to provide traditional policy research and evaluation, but it will be a smaller part of the Center’s work. St. Louis is asking us to make it easier to make data-based policy decisions, to support the public/private partnerships that implement policy, and to respond to a new generation of policy questions that ask if complex solutions are having their desired effect on complex social and economic concerns.

The ‘P’ may no longer be in our name -- but it remains a central part of our mission and work.