a group of 12 adults sit around three rectangular tables, each covered with papers, cups and water bottles. they are in a bright room lit by a wall of windows in the background. some are smiling or interacting, others are looking at their phones.
Reconnecting with the needs of volunteers and participants
with Center for Economic Progress

The Center for Economic Progress (CEP) helps low-income, working families as a trusted provider of tax and financial services. Everything they do, from direct service to informing public policy, improves the financial stability of those they serve.


Chicago, IL

Topic Area

Economic Inclusion

Project Type

Capacity Building
Programs & Services

The Center for Economic Progress is a small nonprofit with a big goal: to provide free tax prep and financial services for income-eligible individuals and families. They wanted better ways to serve their volunteers and participants, as well as strengthen their own team’s work.

We worked with CEP to leverage our research skills and human-centered design (HCD) tools, and facilitated a one-day retreat. During this retreat, we provided staff members with concentrated opportunities to hear from community members and work together as a team on developing new ideas.

Our Process

Our team conducted immersive research at one of CEP’s full-day tax prep events, observing how their volunteers worked with members of the public, and how full-time staff members interfaced with volunteers and participants. We then synthesized our findings to develop “How Might We” questions, or statements that help define new opportunities. As part of our facilitation of CEP’s staff retreat, we presented these observations along with audio recordings collected from research. During the retreat, CEP team members also participated in brainstorming and prototyping of new ideas.

headshot of a light-skinned man with gray hair and gray/brown beard, black square glasses, wearing a light purple collared shirt and navy blue jacket.

This retreat was a highlight during my tenure at CEP, engaging all our staff in a bottom-up learning exercise to strengthen the work we do. The workshop was well-organized and your team was so open, humble and accessible that staff felt at ease to share and reflect.

David Marzahl Center for Economic Progress

Client & Community Outcomes

By sharing observations and audio from participants and volunteers, we helped CEP gain insight and understanding of people’s experiences. This knowledge and HCD training helped strengthen CEP’s professional services to community members.

Comparing the HCD process to engaging in “little bets,” CEP’s Executive Director Raissa Allaire stated, “That day was like an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me because you can take these little bets, make these little observations, and try something without it looking that pretty to see if it’s a road you should travel down. [Your team] gave us such great tools that we’ve been practicing these past few months and we’re excited.”

Listen to an interview with Raissa Allaire and George Aye on the Forefront podcast.