Last week, our team had the opportunity to present a poster on Raising Places at the Federal Reserve System biennial conference, Strong Foundations: The Economic Futures of Kids and Communities. It was an incredible event, full of smart and passionate people. For two days, we learned about the challenges facing young people in our country.

In true human-centered design fashion, we wrote on the wall as ideas emerged during the poster session. You can view the poster here.

During the poster session, we talked with people from all over the U.S. where they are working toward economic stability in communities large and small, urban and rural. Through these conversations, we heard a lot from practitioners about the challenges they continue to face, as well as their relentless commitment to helping all kids and families thrive. Two insights really stood out to us:

On the one hand, people are suffering from meeting fatigue. There are a plethora of committees, coalitions and change initiatives intended to unite local leaders around shared goals. Oftentimes, these efforts consist of meeting after meeting after meeting that together generate more talk than action.On the other hand, change initiatives brought in from outside can feel top-down, leading to a lack of local commitment and ownership. This can create short-term success that unfortunately is rarely sustainable.

When Greater Good Studio works in community, we know that to be effective, we must balance leadership with ownership. Groups of people who are working together for the first time need leadership — clear direction and structure — if they and their new partners are to be expected to make a dent in systemic challenges. And they need ownership — a sense of personal commitment and contribution — if they are to be expected to continue this work long enough to see results.

In designing Raising Places, we struck a balance between centralized leadership and distributed ownership. How? We’re simultaneously strict on process and completely open on content. In other words, you care about where you go and we care about how you get there.

We’ve seen firsthand how many change initiatives follow the opposite approach — prescribe specific goals and remain completely open about how to achieve them — with the good intention of honoring practitioners’ expertise. We believe that most jobs and workplaces are not set up to support innovation. We cannot ask for radically different outcomes without providing a radically different approach for achieving them.

What does this mean in practice?

For Raising Places, it means that we’ll bring an intentional process to our labs including limited timeframes, a structured curriculum, and the tools to produce real work both during and between the workshops. We’ll have moments for theory and moments for hands-on practice, times for visioning as well as reflection. Alongside conveners, our team will provide leadership and facilitation that intentionally supports collaboration, creativity and clarity.

It also means that we’ll look to community teams to define goals and priorities, identify important stakeholders and system actors, articulate insights that ring true and define problems worth solving. We’ll ask you to talk with underrepresented individuals, but we won’t tell you who those people should be or what to talk about. We’ll ask you to observe what happens in environments that are critical to children’s success, but we won’t prescribe which environments those are or when to visit.

Most importantly, we will not profess to know more about your community than you. Rather, we will go on a journey of shared learning by following the process and principles of human-centered design — an approach that we know to be successful in tackling ambiguous, systemic challenges.

We hope you’ll consider applying to Raising Places by submitting a Letter of Intent for your community by March 31.

We won’t bring an outside agenda, but we’ll certainly bring agendas.

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