Facts matter more than ever in this time of polarization and potentially dramatic policy change.
A MESSAGE FROM SARAH ROSEN WARTELL
That was the challenge put forth by Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, in a recent conversation with the Urban Institute board of trustees. His incisive question goes to the heart of Urban’s purpose, which is to elevate debate with facts and evidence.
Many Americans today reject facts that don’t comport with their worldview or personal experience. They hold starkly different beliefs about what ails our society and about the right path forward. People feel left out and left behind. They feel contempt from and for others. This environment of distrust and disillusionment is eroding civil society. And it’s in this time of polarization and potentially dramatic policy change that facts matter more than ever.
Facts help us understand the country’s most complex economic and social problems.
In many communities, parents feel that the prospects for their children’s future have collapsed and their American dream will never be realized. While some cities have enjoyed a robust recovery, residents in small towns and rural areas have fallen further behind, facing less stable incomes, declining home values, and a devastating opioid epidemic. Some cities are paying the price for the bitter legacy of segregation. Affordable housing is more rhetoric than reality, and families are feeling pushed out of the communities they have known for generations. Knowing the facts allows us to diagnose root causes and understand the variability of experiences.
Facts help us craft relevant solutions to these seemingly intractable challenges.
Americans who are struggling—or who feel like they just can’t get ahead—want to transform their situations, strengthen their communities and improve the lives of the people they love. They want permanent ladders of opportunity. They want good jobs. They want to stitch families back together after incarceration. Delivering such change requires deep knowledge about what work and what doesn’t for today’s communities and families.
Facts help us predict how potential changes will affect people’s lives.
Policymakers are considering a new agenda and a change in course in many areas. From health care and retirement to taxes and public schools, Americans want to understand how proposed changes might affect their lives, incomes, and futures.
Facts help us hold institutions accountable when solutions fall short.
It’s critical to be honest about how some interventions fail Americans. Rigorous evaluations lead to much-needed improvements in efforts that, for instance, lift families out of poverty and into more stable housing. Objective analysis of the Affordable Care Act shows how we could improve it. Accurate measurement of the work of nonprofits determines if they’re fulfilling their mission or missing the mark. Facts create the opportunity to overcome challenges and learn from mistakes.
But we need more than facts to build trust and understanding.
A 21st-century research institution like Urban answers key questions and conveys insights in relatable ways. We ground our research in the reality of life around the country and in the challenges faced by state and local leaders and their communities. We explain what facts and evidence mean through interactive, easy-to-digest graphics. And through compelling storytelling, Urban illustrates how policy choices affect families in the United States. We believe that sharing people’s personal stories, in their own words, has the power to connect others to the truth and, perhaps, change minds.
Rigorous quantitative and qualitative analyses remain our foundation.
Urban goes where the evidence takes us, even when the direction is unexpected. The empirical evidence we have generated for nearly 50 years powers our expertise in new, modern ways, on cutting-edge platforms, and with innovative partners.
In this polarizing time, facts matter more than ever. Urban knows the power that facts hold to deepen understanding amid division, to inspire solutions, and to shape important decisions. They are the best hope we have of rebuilding the trust of a skeptical public so we can overcome shared challenges.