"Impact in Place": A New Federal Policy Direction?

Last Updated: June 26, 2012

This article appeared in the June 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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The idea that place matters is hardly new to most rural residents, but it’s an idea that’s finding new favor with policymakers. Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education released a report, “Impact in Place: A Progress Report on the Department of Education’s Place-Based Strategy.” The report focuses primarily on how federal agencies can work together to achieve greater results by concentrating on the whole set of issues facing distressed neighborhoods.

The focus on “groups of people connected by geography — instead of … on programs or separate individuals” is an interesting one that offers the possibility of addressing the connected qualities that link inadequate housing, poor health care, lack of living-wage jobs, and in- and out-of-school educational challenges. The report offers examples from places like San Francisco, Cincinnati, and New Orleans to describe how such approaches can work.

The report is shy on rural examples. And, it says little about rural realities like a lack of existing services, distance, and transportation issues. Those realities would challenge the feasibility of many of the strategies presented. The report also tends to define communities and people (including students) by what they lack. While it’s clearly true that severely distressed communities face many challenges, it’s important to recognize and value what is good and working in those communities and to honor the skills and perspectives and aspirations of the people who live in them.

Despite these drawbacks, “Impact in Place” represents a significant shift in orientation away from isolatd programs to the place where the programs are supposed to make a difference. That signals the possibility of a good directional change for rural communities. Further, the report advocates tracing information about programs and their implementation to the neighborhood level. That could mean data is finally available about what federal resources actually get invested in specific rural communities. The report also offers many links to other sources of information.

Perhaps the most important aspect of “Impact in Place” is its recognition that issues are interconnected and that the coordination of strategies and investments can compound positive outcomes.


Read more from the June 2012 Rural Policy Matters.