Public health and planning professionals assume that holistic development benefits communities. But where’s the supporting evidence?
Organizations often struggle to quantify the benefits of future and existing projects. For example, staff at the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), creator of the Social Impact Calculator, shared that when a recent federal grant application asked them to estimate how much future investment their intervention would spark, they struggled to answer. How can we quantify our return on investment?, they wondered.
An innovative new research project aspires to answer this question.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), the University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) have recently received a grant from the Build Healthy Places Network. The team is tasked with creating a framework to measure—in practical and quantifiable ways—the benefits of community development. In short, we want to make the business case for cross-sector community development.
Much of the current research on this topic deals with specific, targeted intervention—such as early childhood education or a single affordable housing development. LIIF’s Social Impact Calculator, an innovative tool, is most useful for evaluating a single project or portfolio. MPC, CSDS, and CDPH are working to develop a broader framework that developers, businesses, investors and funders can use to understand what the returns are (and to whom they accrue) of broad, multisector, collaborative community development approaches.
Returns on investment can be economic (e.g. increased income), social (e.g. educational attainment, reduction in violence), health-based (e.g. improved life expectancy, decreased rates of cardiovascular disease), and more. The goal is to create a quantifiable, practical framework to show the value of holistic community development.
Such a framework will help potential investors, nonprofits and funders evaluate, articulate, and scale-up their efforts. For example, if we know how and why a project such as the Columbia Parc at the Bayou District in New Orleans, LA is so effective and what its long-term benefits will be, we can apply the best practices elsewhere, and make the case for similar investments in other communities.
Building a framework is the first phase in developing a functional tool that can serve as a blueprint for action—and MPC, CSDS, and CDPH are excited to take on the challenge!