Addressing a complex challenge like substantially increasing mobility from poverty in the US requires dreaming, designing, and then doing. We’re now past the halfway mark in our work at the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. We’ve moved beyond dreaming and into designing.
Once you’ve dreamed up the big ideas, how do you go about designing in a way that continues to encourage creativity and fresh thinking? In my experience, one strategy that works incredibly well is to bring people together from diverse sectors and different points of view, who aren’t often in the same room together, people who might otherwise not have a chance to meet, and present them with a common design challenge. For example, in the case of ideas to increase mobility from poverty, how might we:
- Respond to the changes that the future labor market portends by rethinking roles for individuals, employers, and public policies?
- Develop strategies that combine positive youth development and better birth control to support more intentional family formation?
- Transform the child support system into a family-building institution?
- Create a participatory justice model that increases neighborhood safety and reduces the footprint of the criminal justice system?
- Structure subsidized jobs and job guarantees to achieve an inclusive economy?
- Change the narrative on poverty and people in poverty in the US?
At the Partnership, we decided to do just that: bring together some unlikely collaborators and ask them to infuse their perspectives into our design process. Over the past couple of months, we hosted a series of "design labs" focused on translating our big ideas into concrete proposals—by addressing each of the bold questions above with a lens on answers and solutions that could dramatically increase mobility from poverty. And by mobility we mean our collective aspiration that all people achieve a reasonable standard of living with the dignity that comes from having power over their lives and being engaged in and valued by their community. So we were seeking ideas that embody the three principles included in that aspiration: economic success, power and autonomy, and being valued in community.
True to the DNA of the Partnership, we invited people (more than 150 of them) from wide-ranging perspectives and areas of expertise—people with lived experience in poverty and with incarceration, former federal officials, program innovators, journalists, poets, organizers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, advocates, philanthropists, people from the television and music industries, state government leaders, public health experts, and more.
While each design lab was a little different, all had some common elements:
- A focus on surfacing the barriers to change or innovation in the particular area.
- A few examples of relevant innovations from a particular field or from a related field, to spark creative thinking.
- An iterative brainstorming process to identify new ideas and refine existing ideas.
- A synthesis of recommendations to inform the Partnership’s work.
The result of our collective efforts is a set of potentially compelling strategies that the Partnership is working to refine. A sampling of those strategies includes:
- A subsidized jobs experiment that includes wage subsidies, job guarantees, skill development, and opportunities to move up the income ladder.
- A participatory justice model that supports communities in building voice and agency around safety with the goal of creating public protection that is more effective, more mobility-enhancing, and less burdensome for communities.
- A reformed child support system that no longer serves as a cost-recovery program for government, applies reasonable standards to child support orders, and recognizes the role of both parents in child well-being and development.
- A new approach to worker classification that extends basic work protections to all workers.
- Pilots of portable benefits, including state-level experiments that create models for universal access; and
- A demonstration project to test “universal care insurance” models to help families pay for child care and community-based care for family members with disabilities and who need support as they age.