Interconnected problems require interconnected solutions. And to design solutions that meet the needs of the communities we serve, it’s important to involve those communities in the decision-making process.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing some of the thinking around the design of our new website. In my last post, I talked about how we’re addressing jargon and building a shared language online. This week, I’ll give you an inside look into how we’re working to engage and share a diversity of voices and points of view.

How could your work benefit by including others?

We consistently challenge ourselves to think about this question - one that we believe that is central to advancing our mission. The problems we confront, like failures in education systems and critical gaps in access to jobs, are too big for us to take on alone. Central to our theory of change – and the design of our new website – was the idea that engaging and collaborating with others is a prerequisite for building a new urban practice that will dramatically improve the lives of low-income people faster. So, as we designed the new LivingCities.Org, we focused on building a platform where a whole community of changemakers could come together to discover and share, test and apply, teach and learn. Challenging ourselves and our innovation partners to think about ‘including others’ was a first step that led to the design of my favorite feature on the new site – discussion prompts! (Yup, that’s the orange box you see below, to the right).

How could your work benefit by including others? Add your thoughts 

We wanted to be able to ask the questions that Living Cities grapples with in our work, and reap the benefits of others’ experiences and learning, to advance our own understanding. At the same time, the public conversations sparked by the discussion prompts enable our online community to learn from one another. We believe, this learning and sharing orientation can be a first step toward deeper forms of engagement.

How often have you seen the following scenarios play out?

A government or foundation makes a small grant to ‘fix’ poverty in a neighborhood, then are surprised when they come back at the end of the grant period and very little has changed.


A nonprofit launches a platform that they think will quickly fill a need in a community, then is surprised when its use does not meet expectations.

For too long, philanthropic organizations have implemented solutions that are inconsistent with community needs, and fail to take into account what others have learned before them. Living Cities believes that, in order to change the systems that are producing unequal outcomes for low-income people, we need to build on the best knowledge available and engage the communities in designing solutions that best serve them. The discussion prompts on our website work to address the first need. We are also building a learning agenda to better understand how to accomplish the second (look out for more on this next month!). For example, we have worked closely with Open Plans and the City of Louisville to develop a tech solution focused on deepening the engagement of low-income people in city planning. And, we are learning with The Integration Initiative sites about what community engagement can look like for large scale social change initiatives focusing on improving the lives of low-income people. We hope to use what we learn from these experiments to expand the conversations that we are sparking on the website to include community voice.

A group of people stand in a circle during one of The Integration Initiative Learning Communities.

Bringing our partners in The Integration Initiative together during a ‘Learning Community’ gathering.

Our efforts to engage others, both in person and in the digital space, benefited Living Cities in more ways than one. We’ve been able to cultivate a network of learning partners, understand the tools and resources they needed to do their jobs effectively and identify opportunities to contribute. In addition, we’ve synthesized information from across the field to inform Living Cities’ assumptions and hypotheses—the underlying beliefs and hunches that we are working to articulate and test. Given this focus, we decided to build a space for ongoing conversation into our new website. The ‘discussion prompts’ (which I mentioned earlier) allow you to contribute thoughts, ideas, advice and questions in the comment section of the new site. We’ve organized these discussions around learning questions that Living Cities is exploring. You’ll see these pop up on blogs, in resources and on the pages about our work.

As a collaborative of 22 institutions that works closely with civic leaders leading change in their cities, harnessing diverse voices to advance our own work and the work of the social change through the power of shared learning and collaboration is part of our DNA. Your voice is also crucial to designing and accelerating the uptake of solutions that achieve lasting, transformative change for low-income people. I invite you click on the discussion prompts and respond as you explore our site. I invite you to lend your voice to the issues you care about. Who knows, this might be the space where you make a lasting connection or have a break-through moment in your work!