Earlier this month, the Aspen Institute convened twenty-some national grantees, including Urban Strategies Council, to its biannual “Opportunity Youth Form” (OYF) in Aspen, CO. The OYF gathering was centered around deepening the capacities of communities for multilateral collaboration, building effective success pathways, data driven impact assessment, and the role of healing and narrative in driving effective community systems change.  Thanks to Aspen’s generosity, we were able to send one of our OY aged Research Fellows to the convening and experience the session through his enthusiastic eyes.

Over the summer, the Council applied to and was selected to be among an elite group of five organizations to participate in an Equity Counts Data Collection Pilot group. While the national OY movement has been successful at changing national and local narratives around OY by re-positioning these young adults as assets to a community, rather than a ‘problem’ to be solved, a better understanding of the ultimate impacts our work remains to be seen. By using data to help formerly disconnected young adults lead lives of personal agency, data and measurement approaches need to focus on the success of individual OY in the context of the services and programs they are engaged in.  This pilot will use population-level data points to developing methods for improving educational and employment outcomes for OY. Urban Strategies will identify “common indicators” that participating OYF communities can use to monitor progress of, inform, and catalyze desired community change.

At the convening, the Urban Strategies team participated in a session which drew attention to the concept of identifying and understanding polarities within our communities. Polarities arise when too much focus is given to one (pathway towards/ component of) change that we fail to capture the benefits that others might pose while aiming to achieve a broader objective. The session served as a visual reminder that every emphasis in method or strategy carries opportunity cost. The goal of our work is to minimize these opportunity costs while finding effective ways to maximize gains realized in our most impacted communities. 

Apart from convening in one of the most photographed regions of the U.S., the forum progressively combined the power of art through dance, storytelling, and other artistic mediums with brilliant work and ideas from leaders and backbone organizations working towards the shared goal of prosperity for our country’s most vulnerable youth.

Among highlighting the work of local and national youth leaders were appearances by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, poet Bianca Mikahn, and Jeff Chang, director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University and author of the award winning book We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Segregation.  

Staff took away the problem of paternalism, which describes situations whereby policy decisions for the community are made by a few who presume to know what is in their best interest, even if the few themselves are misinformed about what the community really needs. Paternalism can suppress the power of community voices and restrict effective systems change.

Urban Strategies Council is proud and humbled to contribute to the national narrative on OY through our regional Bay Area lens, and is grateful for the generosity of the Aspen Institute for creating space for a data informed community of practice.