The Missing Middle
- Essential Common Future
To rebuild an economic policy field that prioritizes connectivity and collaboration, we need multiple avenues to call in community voice
This piece is part of Common Future’s Policy Incubator Series, where we share insights from our 12-month Policy Incubator Pilot.
Insight #3: Community-informed thinkers and actors are largely disconnected from important economic policy conversations. To close this gap, institutional actors have the opportunity to develop a nascent, community-informed economic policy field that connects the grassroots and grasstops. Supporting new policy entrepreneurs to do this bridging work represents one approach to field-building.
Through our policy incubator, we’re testing strategies and tactics to empower community-minded leaders in their efforts to make transformative economic policy changes. So much of this work looks like bridging conversations between the grassroots and the grasstops—bringing community perspectives into places and spaces that define community-level economic outcomes.
For this month’s insight, we’re turning our attention outward. Over the past several months, we’ve connected with dozens of partners in philanthropy, state government, and the nonprofit world. Through these conversations, we’ve seen common threads in the ways organizations understand and redress the gap between community and institutional power holders.
Consistently, leaders have described a missing middle in the economic policy space—a chasmic relational and knowledge gap between grassroots actors and traditional economic institutions that requires increased levels of coordination, resources, and bold leadership to fill.
Which leads us to Insight #3: Community-informed thinkers and actors are largely disconnected from important economic policy conversations. To close this gap, institutional actors have the opportunity to develop a nascent, community-informed economic policy field that connects the grassroots and grasstops. Supporting new policy entrepreneurs to do this bridging work represents one approach to field-building.
Beyond policy entrepreneurship, there is a critical opportunity in front of us to co-build a refreshed economic policy development and advocacy field that works. One that empowers actors who represent community interests to systematically engage in economic policy work, invests in field connectivity and bidirectional linkages between the grassroots and the grasstops, and supports community organizing.
That’s why in 2023 we’ll be launching a field scan and large, national survey to better understand the opportunity to build a more coordinated, community-centered policy playing field that’s focused on economic systems change. Through this research, we’ll be (1) studying analogs to policy entrepreneurship in the space—organizations and leaders doing the important work of bridging between existing institutions and communities and (2) developing a roadmap to understand how we might begin to unify existing efforts to better understand a path forward.
As Roque Barros often reminds us in our incubator cohort, effective community-centered change work means: “starting with what you know and building on what you have.” By building on lessons from our incubator, we hope to bring a fresh and grounded perspective to the conversation around pathways to support community engagement in economic policy at scale.
On the heels of a surprising midterm election cycle, we’re feeling the momentum for change all around us. By building the connective tissue across disjointed networks in economic policy, we can co-create the social and political infrastructure necessary to engage key audiences and build toward a more resilient economy.
At this moment of increasing economic inequality and market instability, the American people are looking for leadership to acknowledge their lived realities. Now more than ever, and as the Right is realizing, we need to be building systems that lift up the lived experience of workers and families and show people that we see them where they are.
Know an organization who is supporting community-led policy? Have a perspective around capacity gaps in economic policy change space? We’d love to hear your thoughts as we research compelling solution-types, beyond policy entrepreneurship, more deeply. Please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our research project and start the conversation.