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The Importance of Building Understanding and Trust to Advance Inclusive Innovation

How can we measure our collective impact and use data to help inform smart decision-making at the neighborhood, city and state-wide levels? How can we develop a better understanding of the assets and needs that exist in low income and minority communities while building trust among local leaders? These are all important questions that we are trying to answer through Forward Cities' two year learning collaborative process. Getting a better understanding of the current landscape is critical to this work. And, as many researchers across the U.S. know, there is a lack of good, readily available data regarding the entrepreneurial/social innovation activity that is taking place in our urban areas today. It’s even harder to track how connected emerging enterprises are to the broader innovation ecosystem. In addition, many of these communities feel that they are being "over-studied" and "under-invested in", and trust is in short supply.
Fortunately, Forward Cities is working closely with a diverse group of local leaders in each of our four cities, through our Forward Cities Local Innovation Councils, in addition to our local research partners (i.e. Data-Driven Detroit, Cleveland State University, Richard Campanella at Tulane University and the City of Durham’s Neighborhood Compass Project). All of them are very attuned to local challenges and sensitivities. Furthermore, our national data partner, the Urban Institute, has many years of experience  working with urban communities to build value-added information that is critical to smart urban development. As you will see from some of the articles included in this month's newsletter, our participating cities are working to describe the current landscape of their local entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystems and, to the extent possible, are trying to show the systems and conditions that exist in a specific set of corridors or neighborhoods where they plan to focus their interventions. All of this local mapping and data gathering work will hopefully inform local leaders and donors so that they can make strategic resource allocation decisions that will accelerate local business ownership and connectivity in these target neighborhoods. And, all of this work is being done in close partnership with the community.
We recognize that the process that we are going through together in this Forward Cities National Learning Collaborative, is just as important as the end product. Building trust and fostering partnerships with communities is paramount.  Without this, we risk being another failed economic development experiment. Therefore, as we collect data and meet with (and listen to) community partners and local entrepreneurs and small business owners, we do so while building connections and mutual understanding so that we can develop smart and sustainable solutions that will leverage existing assets and address local challenges.
This is a learning journey for all of us. Our hope is that as we move forward with open minds and hearts (all informed by rigorous data), we can build a strong foundation of understanding and trust that supports a set of sustainable, mutually agreed upon, actions that can make a real difference. 

Christopher Gergen, co-founder of Forward Cities

Denise Byrne, co-founder of Forward Cities
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