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The Imperative for Religious Literacy Evaluation: Context, Key Insights, and Recommendations

June 27, 2023

Religious literacy education is a nascent field. Its proponents make substantial claims about its ability to lead to social change, both in countering negative forces that threaten social cohesion and in producing positive, pro-social changes in attitudes and behaviors. Yet at present, religious literacy educators have little empirical evidence to demonstrate the proposed relationships between religious literacy education and positive social changes in civil society. This report seeks to ameliorate this issue by providing an overview of current research and practices related to the evaluation of religious literacy. There is no one-size-fits all version or approach to religious literacy education—it is a context specific endeavor. Accordingly, there is also no one way to approach its evaluation. In response, this report highlights the challenges and advantages of evaluation, as well as current barriers to the practice. The recommendations, along with the companion guidebook, encourage scholars and practitioners across the field of religious literacy education to begin incorporating more research and evaluation across programs and initiatives.

A Guidebook for Religious Literacy Evaluation: Resources for Planning and Design

June 27, 2023

At present, many scholars and programs make large claims about the impacts of religious literacy education, but do not have empirical evidence or clear models to demonstrate those impacts to funders, school administrators, educators, students, or other practitioners in this field. This guidebook is intended to support religious literacy educational initiatives. It is not a complete primer on evaluation and does not dictate a particular methodology or approach to evaluation. Rather, with guiding questions at each step, it provides an introductory evaluation framework to help educators and researchers engaged in religious literacy educational initiatives.The companion report, The Imperative for Religious Literacy Evaluation: Context, Key Insights, and Recommendations, provides more detail and background about the need for evaluation in religious literacy education and a review of current practices and literature.

Funding Climate Action: Pathways for Philanthropy

May 4, 2023

Increased greenhouse gas pollution is warming the planet quickly, threatening people, cultures, ecosystems, and global stability. We need a worldwide transition to clean, safe, accessible energy. This transition is complex and requires steady, staged progress. Too often, strategies for addressing the twin challenges of protecting the planet and promoting clean energy access have been slowed by divisions between and among nations, governments at all levels, the private sector, nonprofits, and advocates. At risk are the people and communities that need solutions.This report is a call to action. The solutions necessary to combat climate change are systemic and require collaboration across the public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors. Fortunately, there are also hopeful signs of progress, both globally and in the U.S. In the last few years, we have seen an acceleration of government funding, significant Net Zero commitments from corporations, and an important increase in philanthropy focused on climate adaptation and mitigation. 

Water and Disasters: Risk, Resilience, and Adaptation

April 13, 2023

Disasters, both natural and anthropogenic, have shaped water management and policy in the United States over the last 100 years. Federal, state, and local water-related policies, practices and infrastructure have often been designed and implemented in the wake of disasters. The response and recovery to disasters has consumed substantial spending at all levels of government, the private sector and individuals. In some areas, frequent flooding is outpacing the ability for communities to respond, while in other areas the wildfire season has expanded to create a "fire year" instead of a "fire season". As more individuals are exposed to hazards, how we respond to and recover from disasters has a significant impact on the well-being of the community.The 2022 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum explored what must be done to ensure the water sector becomes more resilient to water-related disasters and how communities can navigate and prepare for the impacts of increasingly common water-related disasters. How do we reconcile different values as individuals, businesses and government negotiate who receives resources to mitigate, adapt, and recover?The annual Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum convenes thought leaders to address ongoing challenges to water sustainability in the United States. Participants come from the private sector, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations—representing expertise in industry, finance, philanthropy, government, academia, agriculture, food and organizations technology companies, investors and entrepreneurs. Topics discussed include big data, innovative financing, water quality, and water affordability. The common thread linking each forum is the fundamental question of what does good water governance look like for the United States?

Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing: A Youth-led Participatory Action Research Project to Define & Measure Wellbeing

April 3, 2023

The Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing Measure Project Report provides insight and data from the youth and young adult researchers and displays each cultural design team's research process to identify key areas of well-being within their culture and traditions. It also identifies common themes of well-being across the three cultural contexts. This report highlights the origin and milestones of the first stage of this project, and more importantly, it promotes and encourages the field of youth-centered programming to center young leaders as experts in their lived experience.

Roadmap for Wildfire Resilience: Solutions for a Paradigm Shift

March 8, 2023

Though fire is a natural ecological process in many forest ecosystems, extreme wildfires now pose a growing threat to the nation's natural resources and communities. These trends will continue to worsen absent bold and transformative policy action to change the trajectory of how we manage and prepare for wildfire impacts.The Nature Conservancy and the Aspen Institute have spent the last year responding to this opportunity by hosting a series of workshops that sought input from all levels of government, Tribal Nations, the private sector, fire-prone communities, philanthropists, academics and other stakeholders, culminating in a Roadmap for Wildfire Resilience. The Roadmap concentrates on the two pillars of the 2014 National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy—resilient landscapes and fire-adapted communities—that require an investment commensurate with the third pillar—safe and effective wildfire response—to alter the current wildfire trajectory. This Roadmap weaves together lessons from decades of policy and practice with forward-thinking approaches that incorporate new technology and knowledge.Decision makers, advocates and other interested readers are invited to use this Roadmap to advance a more strategic and coordinated approach to wildfire resilience in ways that contribute to addressing climate change, promoting ecosystem health, advancing economic recovery and supporting historically underserved and excluded communities.

Economic Policy in a More Uncertain World

January 9, 2023

The Aspen Economic Strategy Group's Annual Policy Volume Economic Policy in a More Uncertain World marks the group's 5th anniversary and is released against a backdrop historic economic and strategic uncertainty. The book's seven chapters, each written by leading experts and edited by AESG Director Melissa S. Kearney and Deputy Director Amy Ganz, provide a deep-dive on long-term economic headwinds confronting the country, including demographic changes—declining fertility and population aging—and what a smaller worker to population ratio means in terms of slower economic growth, reduced revenue, and lower productivity growth. Additional chapters on the US immigration system and US innovation policy highlight potential solutions for countering these trends.  Another chapter explores potential adverse impacts on local labor markets from the green energy transition and highlights policies to avoid repeating painful mistakes of the past, including the response to the decline of the coal industry and rise of globalization and automation. A final chapter highlights lessons learned from the unprecedented federal aid to state and local governments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connected: A People-Centered Approach to Digital Infrastructure

October 6, 2022

When it comes to digital infrastructure, communities lack more than just broadband access. Rather, the delivery of effective digital services at the local level has been hamstrung by three primary obstacles: an absence of data, poor community-government relationships, and insufficient digital literacy among key populations. At their core, these failures all have one thing in common: they designed for the community but not with the community.These three "inputs" of digital infrastructure are often neglected, leading to lower-quality digital services. Even if local jurisdictions managed to digitize services during the pandemic, for instance, they may not have had the requisite data to understand where those services were most needed, the connections necessary to promote an effective service rollout, or a population with the literacy needed to effectively navigate such services.This report details the importance of each of these three nodes and suggests actions to correct the resulting inequities moving forward. By reviewing pandemic successes and shortcomings through this lens of multidimensional infrastructure, we hope to chart a course for a more equitable recovery, and in doing so, truly build back better.

Quality Jobs Are a Choice: Why We Need to Think About Job Design

September 7, 2022

Recent estimates show that about one-third of jobs pay less than $15 an hour. Many of these jobs are associated with other job quality issues such as unpredictable schedules and a lack of opportunities for advancement. Low-quality jobs such as these are not inevitable, and neither are high-quality jobs that provide good compensation, the opportunity to advance and grow, and a workplace that promotes dignity and equity. Low-quality and high-quality jobs are the result of a variety of choices that are made in designing jobs.This issue brief reviews the history and current state of job design, highlights the benefits workers and businesses receive when jobs are designed with worker well-being in mind, and notes emerging issues and practices in job design related to technology, work-based learning, and employee ownership. We hope this brief sparks new thinking and conversations about how we can all encourage and contribute to designing work and workplaces that promote quality jobs.

Stories from the Frontier: Breakthroughs, Challenges, and Recommendations from the First Five Years of Open 990 Data

April 6, 2022

Open data projects have been in existence for decades, especially as the amount of data stored on computers throughout the world has skyrocketed. Accessibility to that data is at the heart of these efforts, as public and private entities work to make data freely available and useful to the public. Also critical is the role that freely available data in general -- and public or government data in particular — play in accountability and transparency in government, as well as increasing both public participation and public awareness. As one interviewee noted, "Data makes it clear that the earth rotates around the sun — not the sun around the earth. Data can lay plain the places where our worldview needs to change."The Open 990 Project of the Aspen Institute and its partners represents a giant leap forward, providing nonprofits a connected, data-informed future. After only five years, there are compelling examples available from individuals, nonprofits, and collaboratives alike of how the Open 990 Project is seeding and empowering change throughout the nonprofit sector. A large number of websites, projects, researchers, governments, and companies are now using IRS Forms 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF data (hereafter, "990 data") to redesign how they work and how they engage with stakeholders.

NeuroArts Blueprint: Advancing the Science of Arts, Health, and Wellbeing

March 30, 2022

Scientific studies increasingly confirm what human beings across cultures and throughout time have long recognized: we are wired for art. The arts in all of their modalities can improve our physical and mental health, amplify our ability to prevent, manage, or recover from disease challenges, enhance brain development in children, build more equitable communities, and foster wellbeing through multiple biological systems.Most of us do not need rigorous research to recognize that arts and aesthetic experiences allow us to feel better; our own life experiences tell us that engaging with art, either as maker or user, can help us thrive. Why, then, have we developed the NeuroArts Blueprint: Advancing the Science of Arts, Health, and Wellbeing, a broad-reaching initiative designed to showcase the scientific evidence that explains these phenomena?The answer is that we have not developed the systems and strategies to use the extraordinary asset that is at our disposal to its fullest potential. We need a Blueprint to guide us through the vast body of knowledge that is accumulating across multiple disciplines, to identify collaborative opportunities to collect many kinds of evidence, and to employ these learnings in systematic and sustainable ways so that we can ease some of the most intractable problems that humanity faces. 

Disparities in Debt: Why Debt is a Driver in the Racial Wealth Gap

February 7, 2022

Racial wealth inequality has been pervasive in the United States from the earliest days of colonization 400 years ago. Despite Constitutional guarantees of equality and numerous anti-discrimination laws, racial wealth gaps not only remain but some are growing. Scholars, policymakers, and others have deeply investigated the historical roots and current drivers of racial wealth inequality in the United States. Most analyses focus on total asset holdings, intergenerational transfers, or disparities in specific assets (such as home equity). Media coverage and social narratives about racial wealth gaps similarly tend to concentrate on assets.Less attention has been paid to the other side of the household balance sheet: debt. Although there has been analysis of racial disparities in mortgages, and recent research has illuminated the role of student loans in widening the wealth gap between Black and white households, debt remains under-appreciated as a driver of racial wealth gaps.This brief explores the links between racial disparities in debt and those in wealth. It is informed by traditional research and by Aspen FSP's years of engagement with consumers and families about their financial challenges. It reflects findings from a literature review, interviews with experts from the academic and private sectors, analysis of federal survey data, and focus groups and consumer surveys. We believe that fully understanding the impact of debt on people's lives requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes systematically seeking input from and listening to people who struggle financially.  The growth in racial wealth inequality makes it imperative that policymakers, business leaders, and nonprofit and philanthropic institutions invest in strategies that increase wealth accumulation among those with the least and reduce racial disparities across every dimension of personal net worth. This brief provides a resource for leaders across sectors to understand more deeply the interactions between racial disparities in debt and racial gaps in wealth and the ways in which redressing the racial wealth gap requires addressing racial debt disparities.