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Designing for Community Well-Being
Partnering with individuals to co-create deeper, more sustainable solutions to complex social and community challenges.

Discover how the human-centered design process can unlock voice, advance true understanding, and build belonging, all in pursuit of equitable and systemic change in our community.


Since 2019, The Columbus Foundation has been a leading practitioner of social sector well-being work in central Ohio, in partnership with universities, local nonprofits, city and county partners, and community members. The work we have led and collaborated with others on—both here and from around the country—is as groundbreaking as it is powerful.


Explore our collection of videos and case studies that illustrate the transformative power of human-centered design in action.



Museums for All

In the spring of 2021, The Columbus Foundation carried out a design project with six of the largest museums in Columbus as they prepared to roll out a Museums for All program to better understand how they might increase belonging in museums for people currently experiencing poverty.

Youth Safety & Well-Being

In the summer of 2021, The Columbus Foundation worked with community co-designers to better understand how young people were feeling about their own safety and security in their neighborhoods.

Digital Equity

Building upon insights from previous design sprints, The Columbus Foundation and community co-designers wanted to continue to learn how people experiencing poverty can use technology in all the ways they want to and need to.

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Youth Workforce Development

In this design sprint, The Columbus Foundation and its co-designers worked with youth ages 18-24 to better understand what the concept of workforce development means to young people and what kind of workforce assistance they want and need.


The Columbus Foundation’s well-being effort focuses on ensuring central Ohio residents reach their full potential, live well, and experience a sense of meaning and purpose. Our work measures both individual and community well-being and, through partnerships with community members and the social sector, ways we can improve it.


To measure well-being, The Columbus 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 co-create solutions that lead to lasting positive change.


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.

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.

Image: 'Equity-Centered Design' from the National Equity Project, Liberatory Design Project (recolored).

"I've never seen success when you solve a problem for someone. I've only seen success when you solve a problem with someone."



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 newer. 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.

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.

“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."



Beyond the's training, The Columbus Foundation 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.



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.


These case studies illustrate how the human-centered design process can unlock voice, advance true understanding, and build belonging, all in pursuit of deeper, more sustainable solutions to complex social and community challenges.

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To learn more about human-centered design at The Columbus Foundation, reach out to Heather Tsavaris at

Heather Tsavaris
Principal Consultant, Community Well‑being: Design & Impact