Linking Anchor Institutions to Outcomes for Families, Children, and Communities

Anchor institutions are enterprises such as universities and hospitals that are rooted in their local communities by mission, invested capital, or relationships to customers, employees, and vendors. As place-based entities that control vast economic, human, intellectual, and institutional resources, anchor institutions have the potential to bring crucial, and measurable, benefits to local children, families, and communities. All told, U.S. hospitals and universities combined spend over $1 trillion a year, have endowments in excess of $500 billion, and employ 8 percent of the labor force.

Many anchor institutions regularly report on community programming and activities. Some go even further and seek to pursue an anchor mission—making a commitment to consciously apply their long-term, place-based economic power, in combination with their human and intellectual resources, to better the long-term welfare of the communities in which they are anchored. Yet, to date, few tools exist to help institutions reflect and assess broadly the long-term impact of their anchor-mission activities, and particularly their impact on low-income communities.

This Democracy Collaborative paper and report proposes a set of indicators to begin to fill this gap. Developed through extensive research and in-depth interviews conducted with more than 75 leaders of anchor institutions, national nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and community organizations, The Anchor Dashboard identifies twelve critical areas where anchor institutions can play an effective role. Additionally, it develops illustrative indicators that: 1) provide a baseline to assess conditions in the community; and 2) evaluate institutional effort—e.g., dollars spent, procurement shifted, people hired, policies and accountability procedures in place.

Our hope is that The Anchor Dashboard will be a valuable mechanism to help the field more clearly focus on what it means for a hospital or university to pursue an anchor institution mission. By outlining best practices in economic development, community building, education, health, safety, and the environment, along with potential mechanisms to track progress using already available data, we intend that this publication move the conversation from “programs” to “institutional impact”—and, especially, on how anchor institutions can conduct themselves to deliver crucial, and measurable, benefits for low-income children, families, and communities.

News and updates

11/18: Presentation of the Anchor Dashboard at the Department of Housing and Urban Development

Co-authors Ted Howard and Sarah McKinley were joined by Sherone Ivey, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of University Partnerships, and Charles Rutheiser, Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation for a discussion of The Anchor Dashboard. Watch the video now

Report Proposes Ways to Measure Colleges' Impact on Communities

Andy Thomason covers the release of our Anchor Dashboard report, and talks to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher on why measuring university economic impact is so important, for The Chronicle of Higher Education

A Guide for Your Local Eds and Meds to Become Better Neighbors

"Hospitals and universities hold a lot of sway in communities. They spend more than $1 trillion a year and employ 8 percent of the country's labor force. But sometimes the success of so-called "eds and meds" can have an undesired effect: Gentrification and subsequent displacement. The Anchor Dashboard [...] is trying to change that." -Bill Bradley, for Next City

Measuring the Impact of Anchor Institutions in Building More Sustainable Communities

"The Dashboard is an effort to develop standards by which institutions can conduct their economic development activities in ways that truly benefit the community, in particular low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. " -Ted Howard for the San Francisco Federal Reserve's "What Works for America's Communities"

Assessing Impact at Anchor Institutions

"The goal of presenting a set of common measures is to inspire discussions about selecting and improving indicators, demonstrate that assessing anchor impact is indeed possible, and encourage more anchor institutions to adopt an anchor mission." -Steve Dubb for Shelterforce

Can Anchor Institutions Do More for their Neighborhoods?

Ted Howard talks to WYPR about The Anchor Dashboard and how hospitals and universities can help lift up low-income communities. Listen now

Imagining an Anchor Dashboard implementation

The Democracy Collaborative offers a speculative take on what the public facing component of an Anchor Dashboard implementation might look like. View the graphic

Redefining "Rust Belt"

In a four-city videoconference organized by the regional Federal Reserve Banks of Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia, Ted Howard explained how the Anchor Dashboard can play a key role as older industrial cities look for equitable and effective strategies for community revitalization.

Based on an edited version of his presentation, this video provides a succinct introduction to the basic principles behind the Anchor Dashboard. View it now

Ted Howard at the Municipal Arts Society Summit

Framing the conversation around the themes of the Anchor Dashboard, Democracy Collaborative Executive Director Ted Howard was invited to moderate this discussion on the role of anchor insitutions at the Municipal Art Society's annual gathering.

The panelists included Donald Hyslop, Head of Regeneration and Community Partnerships, at the Tate Modern, Dr. Anthony W. Marx, President and CEO, The New York Public Library, and Jennifer Raab, President, Hunter College, City University of New York. Watch the discussion

Roosevelt Institute Campus Network: Rethinking Communities

On January 13, 2014, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network announced an intiative where student leaders on 21 campuses across the country will use The Anchor Dashboard to evaluate and rank their educational institution's commitment to positive community impact. Learn more

How Communities Can Make the Most of Their Anchor Institutions

In his guest column for Governing, Ted Howard makes the case for anchor engagement in low-income communities, targeted at measurable outcomes and results. Read the article

Connecting Communities

Building on the "Redefining Rustbelt" event, Ted Howard presented the Anchor Dashboard to a national audioconference organized by the Federal Reserve System. Listen to the presentation


Forefront: New Ideas on Economic Policy from the Cleveland Fed

The policy magazine of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland highlights the The Anchor Dashboard as a promising strategy to guide anchor-driven community development in "Rustbelt" cities. Read the article

The Indicators: Measuring Community Impact

Since publication a group of universities came together to form the anchor dashboard learning cohort. Over the following year working with the Democracy Collaborative, they developed this modified framework. The anchor dashboard remains a living document. The institutions are currently collecting data and expect to further refine the instrument based on what is being learned through this data collection process.

The dashboard below is distilled from the extensive research and in-depth interviews in our report. It explains, for each sector, how an anchor institution's progress toward strategic community development goals can be measured through key indicators.




Take Action: Policy Briefs

This series of two-page policy briefs outlines best practices for how anchor institutions can meet their goals in lifting up their communities: