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Data-focused Greater Louisville Project won’t produce more reports

Louisville downtown, view from the Big Four Bridge
Ryan Van Velzer

The Greater Louisville Project is shutting down after two decades of providing data on education, health equity and job growth to local policymakers and nonprofits.

The organization began in 2003 as a way to inform how officials might approach Louisville’s anticipated growth after the city and county governments merged. Since then, it’s compiled numerous “Competitive City Reports,” which draw comparisons with peer cities in the region.

GLP’s final report put a spotlight on the Louisville’s high rate of “youth disconnection,” which refers to young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not employed or in school. It also detailed how youth are disproportionately the suspected drivers and victims of gun violence. And the report warned elected officials of a looming fiscal cliff — when one-time federal funding for youth violence intervention runs out.

Project Director Lopa Mehrotra said the group decided to “sunset” in order to free up money and resources for organizations that can provide solutions to the city’s most pressing problems, not just data.

“The natural next question after GLP presents incredible, contextualized data is: What do we do about it?” she said. “GLP was never designed to answer that question.”

Mehrotra said GLP and the philanthropic organizations that support it believe “meeting the moment” requires an organization that can better drive action and change. For GLP to do that, she said, would have taken a fundamental rework.

“We offered as much of an arrow as we could with the data,” she said. “But somebody might be able to go even a step further and offer specific policy changes that could be advocated for, specific ways that investment should be directed from the private and nonprofit sectors.”

GLP’s first action 20 years ago was to commission a report from the Brookings Institution, a centrist public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., titled “Beyond Merger: A Competitive Vision for the Regional City of Louisville.” Since then, GLP’s research has focused on evaluating the city’s challenges in four areas identified as “deep drivers” of change: education, health, quality of place and jobs.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Stephen Reily said GLP has functioned as “a loosely organized entity” overseen by a policy board made up of representatives of the philanthropic organizations that fund its work. They include the Community Foundation of Louisville, James Graham Brown Foundation and the Humana Foundation.

Reily, who chairs the policy board, said the decision to close GLP’s doors was the result of “soul searching” and conversations about the organization’s effectiveness.

“I believe we’ve accelerated the community’s embrace of objective data, and we’ve accelerated the community’s use of data to advance change and progress,” he said.

But, from Reily’s perspective, GLP has been less effective in driving significant progress in its core areas of focus.

“The idea of merger was to achieve bigger results, more efficiency, to accelerate progress,” he said. “And it hasn’t happened in a material way. We aren’t in a materially different place on education or 21st century jobs or the other metrics.”

Reily said GLP’s policy board and funders haven’t fully sketched out what a successor organization might look like. But he said they stand ready to support community groups trying to cause change.

“None of us are going anywhere,” he said.

All of GLP's past reports and data will remain available on the Community Foundation of Louisville's website.

The Community Foundation of Louisville, Stephen Reily and Lopa Mehrotra are financial supporters of LPM.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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