Brief Developing a Policy and Systems Change Compass for Local Government
Reflections and Lessons from a Three-City Pilot
Corianne Payton Scally, Joseph Schilling, Martha Fedorowicz, Annie Heinrichs, Lourdes Aceves, Sarah Weller Pegna
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Local government leaders have the power to bring about transformative progress toward health equity in their communities. Every day, cities across the country confront complex, interconnected issues—from housing to workforce development to health to climate change—often without sufficient resources and staff. When considering potential policy proposals, they rarely have the opportunity to explore the root causes of these issues and the multiple systems they touch or to gather evidence that could support the systems changes needed to advance equity in their communities.

Through its ongoing Cities of Opportunities (CoO) peer-learning cohorts, launched in 2018, the National League of Cities (NLC) aims to support local governments in advancing comprehensive and equitable policy and systems change around multiple issue areas to advance health and equity for all residents. While local governments are uniquely positioned to address the complex issues that affect health and well-being, CoO observed that cities have had success with changes to practices and other systems-level changes but been less successful in making changes to actual policies. CoO identified a number of reasons for this, including and especially a lack of city capacity to adopt and implement effective and sustained policy changes that address community problems. In other words, city governments have neither a cohesive process to follow nor access to evidence-based model policies they could adapt. Cities need a solid understanding of the policy levers for systems change and the drivers of inequity.

To respond to these challenges, NLC partnered with the Urban Institute to develop a new Policy and Systems Change Compass process (“Compass”) to help cities pursue strategic policy solutions to complex problems. This brief describes the Compass development and technical assistance process, introduces the resulting Compass phases and steps, highlights key principles for implementing the Compass process in the future, and suggests how cities might use the Policy and Systems Change Compass to tackle complex issues to meet their equity goals.

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Race and equity Economic mobility and inequality
Tags Evidence-based policy capacity Economic well-being Racial and ethnic disparities
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center Research to Action Lab
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