While developing the three-part definition of mobility from poverty, the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty found that when people have power and autonomy over their lives, they are better positioned to create the kind of change they envision for themselves and their community. Urban Institute’s Boosting Upward Mobility cohort counties can support local residents in fostering such authority over their life trajectory by involving them in county efforts to expand pathways to upward mobility.
One key method for this type of engagement is a community advisory board (CAB), which can be an empowering tool for residents to contribute to decisions and for you to gain a more holistic view of the barriers and opportunities people face in your community. Through convening a CAB, you are building stronger community partnerships that can ultimately help sustain your efforts to advance mobility from poverty.
What are community advisory boards?
A community advisory board is made up by people from across a community—residents, community leaders, advocates, and business leaders—who serve as coleaders and advisors on a project team. CABs provide a forum for community members to share their lived experience, cultural beliefs, values, and other perspectives that can inform intervention design. Through a CAB, project leaders can share power with residents—including people who have been historically underrepresented in decisionmaking processes—so they can own and gain autonomy over conversations identifying strategies to address poverty in their community. By keeping a CAB involved, emerging solutions are grounded in the needs and concerns of those who will be affected by them.
When selecting CAB members, aim to make the CAB as diverse as possible. Consult active local leaders and intentionally reach out to communities of color, residents affected by poverty, and others who may not be currently well represented on decisionmaking bodies. Counties may invite community members to join a CAB through information sessions, direct outreach to people recommended by community-based organizations, and collaboration with faith communities and other partners.
CABs provide a flexible form of public participation, enabling counties to leverage members in roles that range from advising to collaborating with decisionmakers to set priorities and develop solutions. Projects must set expectations for how members will engage and how their contributions will be incorporated into decisionmaking. This involves clearly communicating goals, timelines, meeting frequency, and other program elements for the duration of the CAB. Projects should also support CAB members with resources—such as compensation for their time, child care, and transportation to and from meetings—to fulfill their commitments and encourage engagement. Setting clear expectations is important for everyone, but particularly so for CAB members who have felt devalued or voiceless in their communities because of structural barriers like racism. A poorly designed CAB process can further the trauma they have experienced.
CABs and mobility action planning
If you think of your mobility action plan as a puzzle, then involving CABs in planning can provide access to missing puzzle pieces. The following four key touchpoints show when and how projects can leverage the support of CABs:
- Understanding community needs. CABs can elevate voices that have been historically marginalized and suppressed, creating opportunity for integrating different residents’ histories, experiences, cultures, and values. Their feedback will allow you to develop a comprehensive view of community needs, potential intervention points, and innovative solutions not only at the program and policy levels but systemwide, too.
- Creating the vision for your county. CAB members are valuable partners in creating and advancing opportunities for residents to move up and out of poverty in your county. Creating a shared vision around a goal that reflects community needs helps establish the support to ensure your mobility action plan comes to life and is sustainable.
- Priority setting and strategic actions. As you identify priorities and strategic actions to implement, CAB members can validate their alignment with community needs or course correct if needed. They can provide critical feedback on potential challenges, additional stakeholders to engage, current programs or policies to build on, possible champions to support your work, and anticipated community response.
- Data analysis. Although data are critical to understanding disparities between different groups of people, residents’ access to opportunities, and other factors that influence upward mobility, CABs can provide insight on any blind spots. Including CABs in data conversations can contextualize the factors driving identified disparities. By sharing data, CAB members also gain insight into community trends, which can empower their future decisions or advice.
Leveraging your CAB thoughtfully to build relationships with key community members throughout your mobility action planning and implementation will provide key insights, actionable feedback, and new opportunities to develop a sustainable path out of poverty for your community.