This project, a partnership between the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.) and IIT Institute of Design, was a way to support the Englewood neighborhood in learning resident needs and desires in order to develop public spaces. This project tapped into relationships established over a year-long project with Amanda Geppert, PopTech social innovation fellow and IIT Institute of Design PhD candidate, and IIT Institute of Design students.

A Journey in Social Innovation

My team and I iterated through a social innovation design process to develop a deliverable that documented community plans for use by community stakeholders for discussion and concept development. In four months, we captured and documented community wants and desires in three stages: learning about Englewood’s neighborhood and residents; extracting themes about Englewood’s social and economic context, and community spaces around the globe; and facilitating a large community brainstorming retreat.

My Role on the Team

On the team, I was the lead interviewer for half of the interviews and planned a youth workshop; unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, it was unsuccessful but an important learning experience for us and our partners. I facilitated the final brainstorming retreat, leading attendees through the afternoon and staying on schedule. For the summary report, I summarized all of the interviews, wrote the executive summary of the entire project and edited the entire report, synthesizing all of the distinct writing voices into a single tone.

Phase 1: Learning About Englewood & its Residents

To begin learning about Englewood, we visited key community spaces in the neighborhood through a day-long ride along with local community members. The project officially started in Englewood with a kick-off session with R.A.G.E. members to gain and build a common understanding of members’ thoughts and dreams.

In order to learn how Englewood residents spent their time, the daily pressures they may face and where they find happiness, an ethnographic-style interview and map activity was developed and strengthened with R.A.G.E. members’ feedback during the prototyping process. This prototyping was incredibly valuable for our team because it gave us the right language and great interview questions, such as, “If you were a tourist in Englewood, what would you do or see?”

The team recruited residents from a variety of social, economic and family backgrounds by posting flyers across the neighborhood, and posting to the online Englewood portal and Facebook.

Thirty residents responded via phone and email and after screening, nine ethnographic-style interviews were conducted with seven women and two men from varied economic backgrounds and half of interviewees between 50-60 years old. We had some difficulty reaching young adults and teenagers; I planned a youth activity that tapped into a local community organization, but on the day of the event, very few youth attended. Unfortunately, neighborhood troubles prevented the activity from happening, but the student team and partners walked away with important learnings.

Phase 2: Extracting Themes

After gathering information and stories from interviews, the team enlisted our partner’s help in developing higher-level concepts and patterns that would create actionable learnings for the project. In a co-analysis session, R.A.G.E. and IIT Institute of Design sensitized themselves to resident interview transcripts and used a framework to organize the masses of information from interview participants.


In light of our co-design philosophy, R.A.G.E. and IIT Institute of Design needed to work together to discuss and compare data from multiple participants, so our insights could be accurate. Secondly, because our R.A.G.E. partners were not present during interviews, they needed to become familiar with research participants in order to see others’ perceptions of the neighborhood, further engaging and connecting with the residents they are trying to serve.

In a four-hour workshop with five community members, we sensitized ourselves to the resident interview transcripts in a snippet format. Each resident we interviewed was assigned a colored paper. We then organized that data into the four categories (Activities, Attitudes, Anxieties and Ambitions) as a group; each community member sorted the comments from a single resident. After, we sorted as much information as possible, leaving out what was deemed  unimportant or conversational. Finally, we discussed the themes we were seeing in the information based on the framework and our own experiences in interpreting that information.

In additional student team work sessions, we took advantage of the multiple perspectives from the co-analysis session to properly interpret the information. Through our research we found three distinct clusters of matters of concern: divisions, youth and control.

In addition to analyzing the participant data, the team also assembled a library and typology of social innovation projects related to repurposed space and community development. These precursors from across the world would serve as inspiration for future brainstorming.

Phase 3: Brainstorming Retreat

In order to capitalize on community interest in how shuttered schools could be repurposed and to sensitize the project work to broader audiences, we facilitated a co-design brainstorming retreat with an invited group of 30 residents, community leaders and experts.

This retreat was an opportunity for the Englewood community to combine their collective experience and come together to generate solutions for potential school spaces.

Attendees of the retreat were sensitized to the resident quotes, stories and insights and discussed the research and insights as small groups; reviewed and were inspired by the precursors from secondary research; and, brainstormed ideas and solution ecosystems. Attendees were highly engaged and, by the end of four hours, had created seven distinct space concepts aimed to exist as economically and socially sustainable ecosystems.

“I don’t know all this design thinking. (laughs) But, no, this was a really helpful process… I like this structure… it’s structure organized to be open, right. So, if there’s a way to, as your debriefing, I would love to have like a kit of how someone like me could like do this… I would love to be a part of that.” – Retreat attendee

“I can appreciate this because I go to a lot of meetings, and these meetings always say, ‘take our community back,’ but the only thing is like, ‘what is your vision?’

I have a vision now, right, and you can tangibly see how, you know, this is possible… I’m glad to come here and see other people’s visions and not just talking about a vision. Maybe we can do it right now, because it’s in a vision… now we have a process.” – Retreat attendee

Project Outcomes & Next Steps

At the culmination of this process, the Englewood community has additional tools and knowledge that can empower and energize their efforts to develop space and resources that residents want and desire. Our 80-page report documents a process that is still living and growing in Englewood, as community organizations, leaders and residents rally around a key vision. The report summaries our recruitment process, interviewee stories and perspectives, workshop and retreat execution and outcomes, documentation of public space concepts and advice for project continuation.

Our hope is that this report will support a variety of community development efforts in Englewood and help bring funders and implementation partners on board. Personally, I am excited by what this community has accomplished and energized by the great people there to create a model for all communities.

To learn more about our community partners and follow their progress in Englewood, please like them on Facebook:

Key Roles

Education & Facilitation, Social Innovation, Leadership, User Research