Areas of Focus

Most of Cornwall’s work can be thought of as falling into three categories:

A. Research; Cornwall works closely with communities, philanthropic organizations, and the public sector to increase the body of knowledge about what works in urban and regional policy development.

B.  Demonstration projects that show how good research can be translated into impactful social interventions; our role is to incubate promising projects, eventually turning them over to other civic groups or institutions.

C. Public informing, making sure that stakeholders and decision-makers are armed with the best possible information. 

Research on interventions into urban problems has traditionally been organized around the question “What works?”  If we are going to make research more useful, our questions need to evolve.  In environments that may be low on social capital and resources and high on political conflict, many good ideas will fail because of the hazards of implementation in toxic environments. The question which organizes our thinking has to become something like “How does one navigate the social and political context in such a way that what can work does work?” Research which tries to understand both the outcomes of social interventions and the process of implementing them at a high level goes by different names in different disciplines, but one rapidly-growing approach is called improvement science (Bryk et al   ). The central tenet is that research should involve a continuous process of learning how to get better.  One tries something, gathers data, makes adjustments based on the data and tries again, continually learning from mistakes. Instead of only researchers involved in the design and execution of research, improvement science argues that researchers should work closely at all stages with stakeholders, practitioners and those affected by the problem under study. The latter groups often have a more nuanced understanding of the context than researchers.  By utilizing an improvement science framework for many of its projects, Cornwall hopes to accelerate the process of making research count.

Demonstration projects give us another way to ensure that research gets translated into real practice.  Cornwall helps shape projects, staffs them, helps develop the resource base, and, with its community partners, does the capacity-building to ensure their long-term viability. Capacity-building can happen at the level of individuals, organizations, perhaps even neighborhoods. In this work, we are very mindful of the need to build on the human resources that exist even in our most disenfranchised neighborhoods.  Current demonstration projects include the Newark City of Learning Collaborative and the Newark Fairmount Promise Neighborhood, both described under “Demonstration Projects.”

Sometimes public informing means presenting new, relevant research, but sometimes it means bringing new attention to previously existing research, or improving the accessibility of data, especially for groups normally excluded from those discussions.  The Cornwall Center serves as a convening hub for area stakeholders and institutions, supporting workshops, lectures, and facilitating talks, symposia.  We strive to be neutral ground, where people of disparate views and interests can come together around questions of mutual interests.  At the same time we try to see that stakeholders have access to the right information to support their work, we also hope to help build relationships and networks that contribute to good work.