I want Colorado students
to access a broader set of learning opportunities.

Donnell-Kay Foundation

  • 1 / 7

    We worked closely with a local organization, Boulder Housing Partners, to identify five families whose young children spent their days in informal care environments. Our team “followed the child” from home to care and back again, giving us a unique glimpse into the everyday lives of children, parents and caregivers.

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  • 2 / 7

    To distill our learnings, we started by making our data tangible, printing out notes, photos and video screenshots. Then we identified all the people and things that make up the ecosystem of family, friend & neighbor care, and jotted down the unmet needs and hidden assets of each person involved.

    2 / 7

  • 3 / 7

    We presented findings to a room of stakeholders, and led the group in a discussion and brainstorm to generate new ideas that would create a more learner-centered education system.

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  • 4 / 7

    We quickly turned those ideas into visual prototypes, and brought them back to the same Boulder Housing Partners families for feedback and iteration.

    4 / 7

  • 5 / 7

    Based on families' feedback, we chose the ten most promising concepts and created a book to share the ideas more broadly with parents and policymakers. One idea—“learning dollars”—was uniquely suited to creating systemic change, and the team decided to move forward with a prototype.

    5 / 7

  • 6 / 7

    Over the course of 14 weeks, we coached the Donnell-Kay Foundation and Boulder Housing Partners teams through the process of prototyping the “learning dollars” concept. They recruited seven families, hired two Learner Advocates and created materials that effectively simulated how the program would work.

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  • 7 / 7

    At the end of the prototype, the team reflected on an enormous amount of information and distilled it into a set of recommendations for how the program should ultimately be implemented.

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This work taught us the power of human-centered design to not only engage people, but empower them.”

Colleen Broderick, Donnell-Kay Foundation


Our research presentation was designed to inspire ideas and ownership from stakeholders. We identified four areas of opportunity around learning, progress, convenience and motivation. The presentation not only clarified these opportunity spaces, it told stories and built empathy among stakeholders for the tricky balance parents face every day. Download the presentation here.

We created a visually-engaging book—in both English and Spanish—of ten concepts to increase learning. DK used the book to rally support for these potentially game-changing innovations. Download the book here.

We coached the DK and BHP teams for 14 weeks as they developed and prototyped the “learning opportunities” program. We mapped out a prototyping plan to align the broader team, and our biweekly coaching sessions provided guidance and structure. We even opened a bank account and issued debit cards for the seven families when red tape prevented DK from doing it themselves.

The final result of this engagement was a tested prototype and a set of recommendations for how to give parents access to, and autonomy over, their children’s learning opportunities. Learn more about how our prototype impacted families in this article, read about the insights that inform a larger education system design here, and see an infographic from the prototype here.

Most importantly, with our comprehensive, real-time training on human-centered design, the Donnell-Kay Foundation will be able to provide innovative solutions for the people they serve, now and for years to come.