Six Key Takeaways on Effective Place-Based Policies from Our 2022 Affiliate Convening 

Convening card

by Kathleen Bolter & Kyle Huisman 

On June 6, 2022, the W.E. Upjohn Institute’s “Promise: Investing in Community” research initiative held its third in-person convening. Our research affiliates and policy advisors, spanning expertise from a variety of fields and specializations, discussed several innovative place-based strategies designed to improve equitable job opportunities around the country.    

Here are some of the most interesting takeaways from our convening: 

1. Local credibility matters for program success.  

There needs to be buy-in and knowledge of the local community to convince people that place-based programs are worthwhile. It is also important to know whom to bring to the table (and then do it), as well as how to encourage collaboration among different institutions. Those leading projects need to develop political clout within the community, and the people involved with programs need to be integrated into the community’s various systems.  

2. Scale and replication are critical. 

Because resources are often a barrier for projects, it is important to design programs that move the needle on the overall situation rather than help just a few people. This means understanding the broader lessons learned and the techniques that were successful. Scale should be thought of as depth, breadth, and sustainability. Not all projects will work the same way, and replication needs to be adaptive to figure out the core mechanisms at work.  

3. Partnerships with communities should be for the long haul. 

There is value in having someone be the convener and bring resources to the entire community. As part of this, programs need to be immune to local politics. This means there needs to be some foresight about which projects are going to be contentious and how to mediate this contention. Different groups have different incentives, so it is important to be honest about what the process is and communicate why projects are being implemented the way they are. Programs should be designed to solve not just the problems of the moment but also the problems of the future. Communities need to become agents of their long-term sustainability and resiliency.     

4. Build on existing systems when possible.  

Trying to build programs entirely from the ground up is a recipe for disaster, and “reinventing the wheel” is a waste of resources. Power-sharing and recognizing that folks on the receiving end of the project need to be part of the conversation are both important for building successful programs. Participation should be broad, and diverse people need to feel valued and heard.    

One interesting debate that came out of small group discussion was over the level of power-sharing that is desirable in the development of new projects. Should community groups that stand to gain from a new initiative be given direct control over designing and perhaps even administering programs that will affect them? Or is it better for programs to be developed through a give-and-take process, with local government officials and policy experts seeking community input to help guide them in crafting policies that are consistent with budget constraints and legal limitations? 

5. Programs need to prove their impact.  

Practitioners often seek to understand which specific programs work and why. Data are an important way to track and confirm whether projects are successful but gathering data can be difficult. Processes for collecting data for program evaluation should thus be incorporated into the program at its inception. Research and program evaluation should be based on a mutually beneficial relationship and close communication between researchers and practitioners. Evaluations are not just about outcomes but about the process or procedure; the context is important. It is essential for researchers to draw out what is most useful for practitioners to know. 

6. The research that policymakers want to use is not always the type that academics produce.  

 A panel of practitioners who participated in the convening made several interesting points about how they use research. Policymakers prefer programs that have already been tried in other cities and rigorously studied. They want researchers to give them concrete recommendations on next steps in implementing a specific program, not just summaries of the long-term impacts of similar programs. Panelists also discussed the need to establish a criterion for evaluating program success at its outset, instead of doing so ad hoc.  

Overall, the convening produced many interesting insights related to place-based policy research and implementation. Strong local leadership is essential for program success. Leaders must anticipate areas where programs might cause contention among certain interest groups and communicate openly with them at the outset. Programs should have a long-term vision and must be adapted and scaled to the needs of specific communities to replicate success. Researchers need to keep their audience in mind when communicating findings.  

Thanks to everyone who attended and participated! 

To read more, please check out the rest of our latest report:


Kathleen Bolter headshot

Kathleen Bolter

Project Manager, Policies for Place Initiative