Photograph by WMCAT Teen Artist Malia Elzinga

If our current approaches to addressing community safety aren’t working for everyone, how might we go about designing something new? We must look more holistically at what contributes to public safety and quality of life, while also elevating the expertise of residents most impacted by chronic inequity. 

This is the work of the Grand Rapids Justice and Governance Partnership (GR-JGP) — a space for residents, community organizations, and city leaders to work together to create holistic visions for public safety that are equity-centered and data-driven. Grand Rapids is the first of 10 mid-sized cities to collaborate with Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, part of a national effort to promote local systemic approaches to safety and justice. 

Public Agency, WMCAT’s human-centered design consultancy, was selected to host the planning phase of GR-JGP, bringing an equity lens to a complex project. This, combined with WMCAT’s history of engaging diverse community networks for collaboration, equipped the consultancy to lead this groundbreaking work. 

Workgroup members gather at WMCAT to share ideas during the planning phase of the Grand Rapids Justice and Governance Partnership.

From March 2022 to February 2023, Public Agency convened multiple workgroups and designed a justice audit framework to collect and visualize data from multiple sectors with a focus on neighborhood outcomes. They aim to support residents who need it most and better address community goals by a nalyzing broad access to housing, healthcare, education, and economic opportunities. 

“The JGP gives us a real opportunity to coordinate and develop solutions that are more community-informed, data-driven, and ultimately better for everyone,” said GR-JGP Co-Chair and ACLU of Michigan Board Member Joe Marogil.

Next, the coalition will identify a local justice intermediary — an organization that will lead future GR-JGP activities, including implementation of the first and future justice audits. But data isn’t the end goal. Justice audit findings will ultimately inform collaborative policymaking and resource-sharing plans across sectors. And a new approach to public safety that invites more people to join the conversation provides greater accountability for realizing holistic solutions. 

Learn more at