Design + data = accessible urban policy

I’m a big fan of GOOD magazine (or at least their website) for its ability to make policy topics engaging and relevant and its cross-disciplinary approach to tackling challenges in cities, education, the environment, etc. etc. They devote quite a bit of content to design, and my news feed highlighted a recent bit they did on a new initiative undertaken by AIGA (the design world’s professional association). Called Design for Good, this engages graphic designers in efforts to use their talents to improve outcomes in their communities.

At the end of the day, what good is policy research if it’s not easily understood by stakeholders? The visual display of information can help overcome the accessibility gap. Moreover, it’s easy to see how the marriage of policy and design will become almost essential to effective communication: for one, we’re increasingly used to getting our information in snapshots (see: this blog), so it would follow that the best way to compete with ever-shortening attention spans is to make data look cool. Finally, the proliferation of infographics makes Excel-generated charts and graphs look tired and antiquated. (Infographics:Wii as Excel charts:Atari.)

Aligned with AIGA’s efforts is GOOD’s recent challenge to designers to redesign the report card. Think about how effectively this could show parents not just where their kids stand, but how their kids compare to their peers in the classroom, district, and maybe even students statewide. It would be interesting to see if making student-level data more accessible and digestible will result in a higher level of parental empowerment and engagement.

Early childhood education and…Occupy Wall Street?

In today’s New York Times, Nick Kristof writes that if protesters really want to address inequality, they should forget Wall Streeters and push for broader access to early childhood education. As a presenter for the opening day of Leadership SouthCoast yesterday, I spent some time discussing the role of pre-k programming in addressing things like vocabulary acquisition, third grade literacy, and eventually, the dropout rate. Kristof cites a few interesting studies here and makes a great connection to a most timely subject matter.

Two new job opportunities

Good news for job seekers looking for public service jobs in the SouthCoast: just this week, both the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and The Trustees of Reservations have posted some exciting opportunities to address youth and environmental issues, respectively.

The WIB is searching for a new Youth Council Manager, the position held by now-South Coast Rail project manager Jean Fox. This is a full-time position that addresses youth workforce development in the region; applicants should hold at least a Bachelor’s degree and have experience working in youth services and writing grant proposals. It looks like their website isn’t updated with more information, but their Facebook page has more.

Another newly posted job is with the Southeast Region of The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR). They’re seeking a full-time community engagement manager who will be charged with broadening public awareness of and involvement in TTOR’s efforts across the South Coast, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod. Learn more by clicking here.

Fall River, New Bedford to partner with BCC to address dropout

Starting next calendar year, Fall River and New Bedford school districts will begin a program in partnership with Bristol Community College to address high school dropout through dual enrollment. The premise for both programs is that recent and likely dropouts will enroll and begin earning both high school and college credits, increasing the likelihood of earning both a high school diploma and a college degree. Such programs are already prevalent in urban school districts throughout the country and closer to home (for example, Springfield’s dropouts participate in a program at Holyoke Community College, while Massasoit Community College engages students from Brockton and Boston).

But does this approach work? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation thinks so, a 2008 study shows that 89 percent of early college graduates pursued higher education the following fall (compared to 66 percent of their peers across the country), and North Carolina’s programs are achieving unprecedented success.

Based on those findings, a well-implemented, sustainable early college program could give a boost to the graduation rates of these districts (an improving 66.2 percent in Fall River and a declining 53.5 percent in New Bedford). Here’s hoping for a rigorous, ongoing program evaluation that will ensure this program’s ability to have an impact that is so greatly needed.

Community revitalization efforts inspired by Peanuts!

How would a statue of Mr. Peanut, of the snack nut brand Planters (you know, the nut with a top hat and monocle), look in the SouthCoast?  New York and New Orleans both agree it’s a fair trade off for the Planters sponsored green space that was unveiled in their communities.  Learn more here!

Job Opportunity in Fall River

ILEAP (Immigration Law, Education & Advocacy Project) at Catholic Social Services of Fall River, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, has an immediate opening for a full-time naturalization caseworker.

To learn more check out the full posting on

Education reform superstars face off

Part of NBC’s second annual Education Nation summit featured a debate between two darlings of the education reform movement. Geoffrey Canada and Diane Ravitch stand in opposite corners where charter schools are concerned. The former adopted them as a central element in his movement to improve cradle-to-college outcomes for Harlem youth, while the latter labeled the film Waiting for Superman (which heaps praise on Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone) “propagandistic” for going too far in its praise for the impact of charter schools.

Watch the full debate here.

Food stamps for fast food?

Not long after the federal government rejected Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to ban the use of food stamps to buy soda (see full article). The NY Times is revisiting the debate from the other extreme.  What do you think?  Should the federal government expand the use of food stamps and loosen the restrictions on fast food restaurants?  See what others are saying here.

10/21: “Reimagining the City-University Connection” in Cambridge, MA

The Urban Initiative will spend Friday, October 21 in Cambridge, MA to learn about how universities are helping cities address violence, improve governance, and rethink urban education. Join us at this day-long event hosted by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, and the City of Boston.  Register or learn more by clicking here.

A creative approach to real estate: Charities temporarily occupy vacant commercial property

UK-based charity that helps other charities and social organizations find temporary office space in store fronts that would otherwise be abandoned.  An innovative idea that builds capacity for organizations in need of work space and reinvigorates areas left abandoned by struggling businesses.

Check out the full article here!