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Q&A Series with Victor Rubin of PolicyLink

Victor Rubin is the Vice President for Research at PolicyLink and is also a member of STAR’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The mission of the TAG is to maintain and advance the technical aspects of the rating system. As such, TAG members played a leading role in the development of Version 2.0 of the STAR Community Rating System over the past 12+ months.

rubin_downloadHow did you first become involved with STAR Communities?

Several years ago, when STAR Communities was getting underway, PolicyLink was asked to serve on the TAG, and my colleague Kalima Rose took on that role, though we consulted about it frequently. PolicyLink was, at the time a partner in capacity-building for the HUD/DOT/EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative among many other efforts to advance local and regional equity. We were pleased that STAR was beginning to draw direct attention to the equity considerations of the components in the rating system. We often say that equity is about ‘who pays, who benefits and who decides,’ and elements of the STAR rating system involve measuring progress on all three of these questions.

How does STAR’s mission align with the mission of PolicyLink?

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works. We connect the work of people on the ground to the creation of sustainable communities of opportunity that allow everyone to participate and prosper. Such communities offer access to quality jobs, affordable housing, good schools, transportation, and the benefits of healthy food and physical activity.

Given this mission, the goals, commitments and actions of local governments across the U.S. are of central importance to our practice. We work with cities and counties directly in a variety of ways, and in many other ways through our partnerships with local advocates for policy change. The mission of STAR to create a common set of measures that can track progress toward sustainability and motivate local governments to do better, and equity is consistent with our belief in local leaders and localities as the locus of meaningful innovation and change.

As a member of the TAG, you helped to lead the evolution of the rating system. Why was this evolution important?

STAR 2.0 reflects important lessons learned from the first years of STAR certifications, and a substantial widening of the horizons of the overall project. The lessons are about implementation of a rating system: what can be measured and how that can be done, but also about fundamental values: what should be measured and why. The TAG discussions have allowed STAR to become both more technically proficient and to incorporate a wider range of measures, and also to examine the core process and outcomes questions of equity and social justice in most of its areas.

Could you describe the STAR 2.0 development process and how you were involved?

I joined as many discussions of issue areas as I could, probably initially volunteering for more than I could realistically attend, and chaired several of these discussions among TAG members and STAR staff. I chose topics where I had some direct experience and those which were most explicitly about equity, but I was also looking across all the topics for the relevant themes and methods about measuring efforts and outcomes towards diversity, inclusion and access to opportunity. I learned a great deal from the other participants, who were both local practitioners and subject matter experts.

How did you bring your expertise at PolicyLink, especially on issues of equity, to the STAR 2.0 development?

We have had a lot of experience working with cities and counties on their plans and strategies for achieving equitable development or creating the conditions for health equity, and I drew upon those experiences to assess the extent to which the proposed measures were going to track progress. I was asking questions such as, “Do the measures of community engagement reach deeply into low-income communities beyond the usual active volunteers? Are the governments documenting not only their efforts at planning and budgeting, but also tracking important outcomes in employment, education, health environmental conditions and other areas?”

What do you see as the biggest benefits of Version 2.0 for communities?

The breadth of STAR 2.0 reminds a community that there is something that they can strive for in every domain of public life, and that sustainability has to be that comprehensive. It is not only comprised of the more immediate or familiar environmental or energy conservation topics, but is an overall vision for a just and prosperous community. The precision, background research, and attention to detail should give community leaders confidence that progress can and will be accurately assessed, and that the participating governments are willing to put their commitments up for public scrutiny.

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