In the first decade of the 21st century, the problems of America’s distressed low-income communities were as daunting as they had ever been. The Obama administration designed new programs to address those problems more effectively. Those programs sought to be locally tailored and better coordinated than their predecessors. Such changes implied that hard data would be essential to these programs’ effectiveness by helping grantees set priorities, choose among alternative courses of action, and monitor performance.

Data applicable to such programs are still not readily available in many communities, but over the past 20 years, some cities have fortunately seen the development of rich neighborhood- level information systems that can meet the needs of place-based initiatives. The institutions that manage many of these systems belong to the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a network of local organizations coordinated by the Urban Institute to advance data-driven decisionmaking in local communities, with a focus on empowering low- income neighborhoods. NNIP partners’ expertise in building local stakeholders’ capacity to use data has been critical to the design and management of many federal place-based initiatives. All place-based programs, whether federally or locally initiated, can learn from NNIP partners’ experiences, but many urban centers do not yet have institutions that have taken on these capacities. Developing this multipurpose information infrastructure in many more US cities is vital to the nation’s ability to effectively guide community change.
 

This brief provides an overview of NNIP and selected federal place-based initiatives. It then describes roles NNIP partners have played in these efforts and implications for future work in this field. Case studies are available that describe NNIP partners’ involvement in specific place-based initiatives in Kansas City; St. Louis; San Antonio; and Washington, DC.

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