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Designing for Community Well-Being


Partnering with residents to help our community understand and tackle some of our thorniest challenges. In partnership with community members, co-designing solutions alongside them is how we contribute to equitable, systemic change for our community.



The Columbus Foundation’s well-being work focuses on ensuring community members reach their full potential, live well, and experience a sense of meaning and purpose.


Our work focuses on measuring both individual and community well-being and, through partnerships with community members and the social sector, improving it.


To measure well-being, the Foundation built on a partnership with Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program and CHRR at The Ohio State University. To improve well-being, we collaborate with community members and use human-centered design as a tool to understand and solve community challenges.


Human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that incorporates the perspectives and insights of those who experience the problem throughout the process of solving it.


Human-centered design has been used in businesses and design firms for decades, but the process of applying these principles to social sector problems is new. The Columbus Foundation realized the potential for this approach within our community’s social sector and brought the Stanford University to Columbus in 2020 to teach an intensive workshop to nonprofit and social sector leaders.


“People from all over the country and world attend these workshops at Stanford; we are excited to partner with The Columbus Foundation to offer a place-based workshop to practitioners in Columbus and facilitate a shared ability and language for this human, exploratory, and collaborative way of working."


Thomas Both, Director of Designing for Social Systems Program at the Stanford


The has held multiple Designing for Social Systems workshops that participants have traveled across the world to attend, but the program had never before left the Stanford campus.


Beyond the's training, the Foundation has developed a human-centered design practice that helps our partners in the social and public sectors gain a deeper understanding of the needs and challenges facing our residents. We then help those partners work together with residents to develop solutions that address their challenges and promote overall well-being in our community.






The design process first engages deep listening sessions to fully understand the experiences of residents and investigate all dimensions of a situation, after which we co-design multiple potential solutions to the issue. Finally, through rapid prototyping, we test concepts to determine their potential viability with residents.


During this phase of our work, we listen to residents’ stories about their experiences. We seek to understand what works well for them, what doesn’t, what workarounds they created to deal with situations, and how residents feel about their experiences. Interviewees are paid for their time to honor their contribution to solving problems in our community.


The design team, which includes community members, design experts, and The Columbus Foundation staff, works through what we hear from interviewees. In this phase of work, the goal is to listen to what residents tell us without judgment. Only through this deep listening can we hope to understand the challenge. During this part of the process, we brainstorm many possible solutions to the problem as we now understand it.


Once we brainstorm hundreds of different ways to solve the challenges we uncover, we select several ideas to build into low-resolution prototypes. Those concepts are then shared with residents to get their feedback. This “trying” allows us to test the design team's assumptions and get to solutions that will most accurately address the challenges residents are experiencing.



Since 2019, the Foundation has led dozens of design “sprints” that seek to develop solutions to intractable problems facing our residents. In doing so, leaders of schools, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations have worked alongside their constituent groups to gain greater insight into their experiences and generate collaborative ideas to improve well-being.


The case studies below demonstrate the types of community problems human-centered design has been applied to help solve and the innovative, equity-centered solutions that developed as a result of the process.

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