The Building Blocks

Building Blocks icon

In this section:

Building Blocks

What policy tools will help me achieve my goals?

Local elected leaders and government staff use four main building blocks to change systems: legislation, regulations, programs, and funding. Legislation creates the rules that guide how a city or county governs itself. Regulations, programs, and funding are used to implement legislation. Much as the game of chess has 64 pieces with different powers, a clear set of rules, and infinite ways to win, so government officials have a limited set of tools and infinite ways to wield them.

The chess metaphor also can help us understand the powers and limitations of the four building blocks.

Legislation is like the queen: it is the most powerful building block, can fundamentally change the dynamics of a given issue, and covers a lot of ground. Unlike the other building blocks, which are usually fairly limited in scope, legislation can address many types of issues in many ways. You can use legislation to develop a new funding stream, set up a program, or change the way a specific issue is regulated. However, because legislation is so powerful, it can take a lot of resources and political capital to pass, so you need to be strategic about when to focus on a legislative campaign.

The regulatory, programmatic, and funding building blocks are like the knights, rooks, and bishops of our metaphorical chess board. They are powerful and almost always essential for a win, but they have a much more limited range of applications, which we go into detail in the strategies for action section.

Just as you need multiple pieces and moves to win a chess game, you will rarely find a community development problem so straightforward that you can resolve it using a single building block. As you identify the best course of action, you should consider all four building blocks and how you might combine them.