How Systems Change Can Advance Upward Mobility Goals
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Just over a year ago, the Urban Institute convened its first meeting of mobility stakeholders, a group of people from 12 peer organizations, to explore common themes and discuss shared challenges emerging from their work to boost upward mobility. Out of conversations on power shifting, community-informed data, and the principles of implementation, one topic held sway: systems change.

Increasingly, practitioners are centering this concept in their work, which our Boosting Upward Mobility project defines as a “fundamental shift in practices, underlying values, or norms by local actors that reshapes policies, processes, relationships, and power structures.” A new brief from our experts offers methods communities can use to identify and track the systems changes needed to dismantle structural barriers to upward mobility and racial equity.

Many of these barriers result from and are perpetuated by racist beliefs, norms, policies, and practices (PDF) that have produced deep, persistent inequities in communities. They also have long curtailed the best efforts of people with low incomes and people of color to rise out of poverty.

However, by engaging directly with structural barriers, practitioners can address the sources of deeply entrenched inequities and accelerate systems change. More and more local leaders are understanding this as an essential practice for boosting upward mobility from poverty.

Systems change demands intentional, comprehensive commitment to cross-sector reforms. The data collection, analysis, and interpretation required to effectively track this work may pose a significant challenge to local leaders. However, Urban is exploring ways to codify methods of systems change and make them more accessible to the public. Many of the national organizations represented in our mobility stakeholders group have also launched initiatives—such as the William Julius Wilson Institute, StriveTogether, and CF Leads—to advance upward mobility through systems change efforts.

Their work can serve as resources for practitioners and local leaders interested in systems change, as can Urban’s new brief, in which readers will find the following:

  • information to articulate the importance of systems
  • examples of how programmatic approaches to boosting mobility from poverty have proved insufficient
  • recommendations for the types of measures local policymakers can use to track progress on comprehensive systems changes

Read “Boosting Mobility and Advancing Equity through Systems Change.”