Connecting Coloradans to Policy Decision Making

While research and data are integral to understanding Colorado’s challenges, lived experiences often aren’t accounted for in policymaking. This can lead to fragmented policies that fail to address on-the-ground challenges and further disconnect Coloradans from the decision-making process. Bringing community voices into the conversation helps pinpoint limitations in available data and gives researchers guidance on data collection to better inform policy. Because of this, the Bell is exploring some of our state’s barriers more closely by hearing from Coloradans who have experienced them firsthand.

Related: Two-Generation Approaches Are Critical to Colorado’s Success

With support from the Kresge Foundation, the Bell has created a platform to invite community members to guide our research on equity in Colorado’s future of work and learning systems. The Future of Work and Learning Advisory Council consists of a diverse group of community members who have experienced equity barriers and are passionate about examining equity in work and learning. This includes first-generation students, student parents, veterans, recent graduates, and adults transitioning into new careers or moving up in their careers. Community members from local and state government agencies, service delivery providers, and family resource centers also interested in eliminating equity gaps in workforce and postsecondary systems been invited to share expertise, attempts to eliminate gaps, and lessons learned. To do this, we must hear from impacted Coloradans. 

By combining data with lived experiences, advisory members gain a holistic understanding of how inequity impacts some communities more than others. For example, transportation is a barrier for many Coloradans, but for an individual exploring apprenticeship or on-the job training opportunities, transportation is a key component to success. Acknowledging the benefits of apprenticeships and training, advisory members working with employer partners have begun conversations to explore ideas to expand access to individuals lacking transportation. Additionally, advisory members have expanded knowledge of best practices, such as postsecondary institutions shifting funding to better meet the needs of non-traditional students or students who don’t enroll in postsecondary training immediately after high school.

Related: Colorado’s Emerging Postsecondary & Workforce Ecosystem

Our research process also deeply examines where gaps exist and the lessons learned from past attempts to address inequity. This has helped advisory members learn about the challenges of one barrier influencing another, which can prevent access to critical supports. For example, advisory members didn’t realize navigation supports (such as student advising and/or career advising at postsecondary institutions) are critical for students to learn about available resources like child care or transportation subsidies provided through a program on campus. Through our process, the Advisory Council has identified equity gaps in Colorado’s talent pipeline and will explore possible solutions that can be turned into actionable policies.

Recently, the Advisory Council completed phase one research on identification of equity barriers in Colorado’s ecosystem. Key findings will be available in the Bell’s upcoming report, Equity Barriers in the Future of Work and Learning, in early 2020. The next phase will take deep dives into promising practices to address the challenges highlighted in phase one.

When we rely on statistical data alone, it can lead to missing the impacts of one issue on another or overlooking an important aspect of the issue altogether. By promoting community voices and lived experiences, the Bell brings a new research approach to better understand and meet the needs of Colorado communities. We are thrilled to be leading this unique research approach connecting communities to decision makers, and are excited to share developments toward equitable workforce and postsecondary systems.