“Who should be on the team?” is one of the most common questions we hear from organizations interested in cross-sector work at the intersection of kids and place. We learned through our own experience developing the Raising Places Call for Proposals (CFP) that this isn’t a simple question to answer.  So we want to share our thinking  behind putting together Raising Places design teams in case it helps others in their quest to create cross-sector teams of their own.

How did we decide who should be on the team?

Since everyone has a role to play in creating child-centered communities, we quickly realized that there was no list of design team member “types” that would be universally relevant. We had similar realizations about other aspects of our application, like the size of the geographic area. As a result, we developed a non-traditional application approach that could be summed up as: give guidance, not prescriptive requirements, and leave it up to applicants to decide on any question that would best be answered with “it depends on the community." When it came to giving instructions for design teams, we set clear expectations, outlined desired characteristics for design team members and mix, and then left it up to applicants to identify the right team for their community.

How did we set expectations?

Raising Places would be an intensive endeavor, so it was critical that we work with design team members who knew this upfront and were excited to be a part of it.  We laid out in great detail what the Raising Places labs-based process and timeline would look like,  the specific roles of design team members and level of  commitment that would be required from them. It covered everything from an explanation of human-centered design (HCD) to the number of hours per week design team members could expect to work. We took great care to be thorough and clear, because as much as were going to assess if they were a good fit for us, we wanted them to be able to assess if this was a good fit for them.  

What did we look for in design team members?

The ideal design team member had a combination of the capacity to work collaboratively on hands-on projects as well as a willingness to lend their personal and professional assets to the larger vision. Demonstrating whether or not someone had what we were looking for was more of an art than a science, so as part of the application, we gave each potential design team member 150 words or less to tell us how they were: 1) invested, open, and willing to do the work, and 2) committed to sharing power and resources.

Invested, open, and willing to do the work

Design team members were expected to come the table as their whole selves, not simply representatives of their employers. That’s why it was so vital that their motivation to join the team was rooted in a meaningful relationship with the community and passion for creating positive change.  

Because the Raising Places process required working in new ways, a commitment to cross-sector collaboration and a willingness to embrace the human-centered design process were also non-negotiable. That didn’t mean that design team members were expected to have much experience with either - almost a quarter of design team members from the six selected communities had never even heard of HCD - but they had to be willing to give it a shot.

Design team members in Wilmington synthesize data points gathered during their community research process.

Committed to sharing power and resources

The call for proposals emphasized selecting well-positioned design team members who would generously share their expertise, resources, and networks, as well as who had (or had close access to) decision-making power, within their industry or in the community. We weren’t looking to fill the team with CEOs or community leaders already running multiple local initiatives, although if those folks were willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work, they were more than welcome. But we felt that teams would at least need a few people who could easily get power players on the phone.

What did we look for in the team mix?

As much as individual team member characteristics mattered, so did the mix of people on the team. For a design team to maximize its potential and be more than the sum of its parts, each person needed to offer something unique.

Representation from diverse fields and perspectives

Raising Places was all about bringing together "better childhoods" and "better communities" perspectives. Here's how we defined these perspectives in the CFP:

Definitions and examples of better communities and better childhoods that were shared in the Raising Places Call for Proposals.

We provided these examples to help applicants think broadly about potential partners. Similarly, we encouraged having a range of perspectives across better childhoods and better communities perspectives, but didn’t dictate a specific number of people from each.

As a result, the overall breadth of experience represented across the six Raising Places design teams was staggering. There were city planners, pastors, artists, early childhood educators, local government officials, community organizers, union leaders, journalists, and the list goes on.

 

Many of these fields we expected to see represented, while others weren’t on our radar. Take for example the team in Valley of the Chiefs. One of their members was a heavy equipment operator, which wasn’t a profession we had considered. Yet, this skill set turned out to be enormously valuable to the team as they made way for new housing and park developments by clearing vacant lots and demolishing abandoned structures.

Access to different systems of power and influence

In any community, there are many systems of power and influence, and a strong team needed to have members who could tap into these different spheres. We strongly believed that it was important to have both members that could bring financial assets to bear and move projects on a systems-level, as well as members with deep community ties, particularly to parents and their children, in order to build community credibility.

Originally, we looked at the value of being able to access different systems of power primarily through the lens of building external legitimacy, increasing community engagement, and advancing projects. While these things proved to be true, it quickly became clear that bringing together individuals with both grassroots and grasstops perspectives was also a huge benefit to the team’s internal functioning and quality of work.  

This dynamic was so powerful that we designed the Raising Places National Convening to maximize these very types of collaborative working experiences - there were CEOs alongside high school students, community organizers alongside policy wonks. Our unconventional approach to this professional conference caught the attention of attendees. One attendee said, “I appreciated the opportunity to interact simultaneously with both industry professionals and those doing the important work on the ground. That made for a very fulfilling experience.”

What should communities consider when creating teams of their own?

In our CFP, we didn’t provide any specific guidance on how applicants could be really thoughtful and inclusive in selecting their team, just that they should be. With some project hindsight, we now have a few key suggestions.

  • Clearly define your geography.  The area you choose to focus on has implications for who best represents the local perspective. We found that with a smaller area of focus, it gave people  who typically weren’t included in formal community collaborations a chance to be at the decision-making table.
  • Create a team that reflects local demographics. When there are people in the room that represent the different segments of the community across races, abilities, genders and so on, it ensures that the interests of these groups are part of the discussion. If you are considering having youth on your team, empower them by giving them a meaningful role and equipping them with the skills to carry it out.  
  • Plan for the problem you want to solve.  Even if your focus is putting together a team with diverse perspectives, make sure it still includes a few usual suspects (i.e., people with expertise in and influence on the specific community issues you want to address).

Prioritize the person over their position. A fancy title does little if the person who holds it isn’t willing or equipped to do the work. You want the people on your team to invest their time and whatever assets they have (e.g., knowledge, relationships, passion) into the initiative.

‍There is no magic formula for putting together the perfect cross-sector team to work at the intersection of kids and place. But we found that when you create space for communities to assemble teams that reflect their own unique needs and context, they can create their own magic.

CHECK OUT THE LATEST

Sign up for our mailing list!