OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more


EarlyEducatorSpace reimagines live/work housing to provide the best possible spaces for childcare entrepreneurs and the families they serve.

Photo of Brenna
2 7

Written by

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Based on feedback from our mentor, we have provided more detail about the ArtistSpace program that our idea is modeled after.

Name or Organization

City of Boston, Office of Women's Advancement


Boston, MA

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Team

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Boston’s proposed EarlyEducatorSpace project would bolster early childhood entrepreneurs in the Boston area by creating subsidized live-work units specifically designed for their needs. Educators would have the opportunity to build community with their peers and improve their small businesses' bottom lines. This concept also introduces affordable, high-quality child care options to Boston neighborhoods that currently lack adequate choices. Finally, our proposed registry would raise the profile of family childcare in the city.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Business model: a better model with more effective structure or financing

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

EarlyEducatorSpace reimagines the artist live/work model for child care entrepreneurs. Boston’s ArtistSpace program already develops artist live/work spaces in zones that straddle industrial and residential areas and do not readily support traditional family housing. EarlyEducatorSpace would develop similar live/work spaces for family child care entrepreneurs and center-based early educators, offering them affordable rent as well as spaces designed specifically to accommodate instructional and play activities. A certification process enables the City to screen applicants for housing to ensure only artists occupy the ArtistSpace units; in a similar fashion, applicants would be screened for eligibility for EarlyEducatorSpace units. The common space in the building would not serve as a community-held child care center. Rather, it would be a space in which multiple individually-owned early education providers could converge, collaborate, and share resources. The reason for this is to respect the autonomy and flexibility of these small business-owners. In interviews with many women who run these businesses in Boston, we have found that each early educator has a distinct style, and that they readily refer families to other early educators that might be a better fit. These early educators are much more aptly described as collaborators than competitors because there is far more demand for affordable childcare than open spaces in their early education programs and across the city.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Family childcare entrepreneurs face high barriers to finding housing that will suit their needs. The rising cost of housing in Boston is exacerbating this problem, squeezing childcare - that is already in short supply - out of the city. Family childcare providers are closing due to these barriers: high cost of housing, unstable renting environments, cost of retrofitting spaces for childcare, overhead costs, and much more.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Imagine a childcare provider who has taken the required steps to open her own family childcare business in her community. Having worked as an assistant at a center for years, she has the necessary experience. She has taken child development courses and attended trainings offered by the state to understand the space requirements. Like many of her peers, she has a deep commitment to the kids of her neighborhood and knows families looking for care. Searching for an apartment that will accommodate both her own family and her center, she runs into a problem. Prospective landlords have many applicants for each available unit. She wants to be up-front about her plans to open a daycare, but finds again and again that landlords would prefer not to rent to her. This scenario is increasingly common for family childcare entrepreneurs in Boston. EarlyEducatorSpace will partner with city agencies, nonprofit developers, and the design community to test a new idea for solving this problem. In addition, we will create a registry modeled on the artist housing model. The registry will make it easier for childcare entrepreneurs to market their services and for families to find care that is close to home, work, and transportation. Wages for family child care entrepreneurs are low (on average, just over $13 per hour in 2016) while rental prices in Boston continue to climb (annual fair market rent for a 2-bedroom in Boston costs over $17,000 per year). Yet even providers who have housing vouchers or rent currently affordable units face skeptical landlords. Raising rates to pay more rent is not an option -- for providers who accept public vouchers, rates are centrally set, and Boston already has the highest average child care costs in the country. Our first step is to study the feasibility to build or adapt existing housing that is available or becoming available in a neighborhood with high child care needs. In this initial phase, we will explore funding sources. This model has been created and refined over the years as the city built artist live/work spaces, so the infrastructure to support such an endeavor already exists to some extent. The timeline from conception to building and occupying such a building will be several years, but along the way, we have an opportunity to raise the profile of family child care entrepreneurs and build on our already strong connections with non-profit organizations to move this conversation forward. The ultimate product of this process could take different forms: new construction suited for family child care entrepreneurs, other early educators, and families with young children, or renovation of an existing building to house exclusively early educators, or something else entirely. We see the opportunity to collaborate with members of the design community to create the best possible space for our purpose. ArtistSpace is the City of Boston’s program for creating artist live/work housing. EarlyEducatorSpace is modeled on this tested approach, which has created hundreds of affordable spaces for artists in the City of Boston. Dedicated artists spaces can range from large, open lofts, to small studios in spaces with extra common space. Some are purpose-built for artists, some are renovations of existing buildings, and some of the oldest are historic artists’ studios that were brought into code compliance and “legalized” over the years. Some spaces for rent are work-only. Artists who want to be considered for an available unit of ArtistSpace must first register with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. To become “certified,” they demonstrate that they have a recent body of work and that they are contributing to the artistic community in Boston. The certification determinations are made by a panel of peers. Certified artists receive a letter from the City, and can apply for any open vacancies. Vacant units are unfortunately, rare (especially when compared to the number of artists residing in the City). The City has found other ways to make the registry relevant to the city’s artistic community – through regular emails about upcoming opportunities, and “office hours” for artists to come and get assistance from the Office of Arts and Culture.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

1. The primary beneficiaries of our idea are the childcare entrepreneurs who will be housed by EarlyEducatorSpace, as well as the families and children they serve. By extension, neighborhoods with high-quality childcare will flourish as we remove some of the barriers that childcare providers currently face. If we address the burden of housing costs, these providers will be able to save more money, hire teachers, replace supplies, and so on. This is ultimately good for the city as a whole. It revitalizes the childcare ecosystem by promoting higher wages for providers who already do so much for our neighborhoods and families with little recognition. 2. Two members of our team have extensive experience interacting with family childcare entrepreneurs. Through dozens of conversations with Boston-based providers we have learned that housing is a concern across the board.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

First and foremost, this idea will make it possible for family child care entrepreneurs to live and work in Boston’s neighborhoods. By reducing the financial burden of renting a home or apartment, this idea will free up resources that family child care entrepreneurs can use to hire an assistant, raise the wage of an assistant, or purchase new books, materials, and equipment. Affordable rent will entice these early childhood entrepreneurs to work and live in Boston, and invest in the growth and sustenance of their business. The affordability of family child care as compared with child care centers means that stimulating the growth of family child cares in Boston neighborhoods will alleviate the intense scarcity of child care options for middle and low-income families. Second, our project will allow us to ensure that the valuable interventions targeted at the 0-3 age group, are able to reach children whose families prefer to utilize family child care. Recognizing the lifelong implications of the development that happens between birth and age 3, the state has emphasized raising the quality standards for early education, yet the declining availability of licensed care threatens to undermine those efforts. EarlyEducatorSpace will increase the availability of high-quality, licensed care for low income families so that all children can access high-quality care.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

In Boston, family child care is the largest pool of care available for low-income families. This pilot would present the opportunity to open additional child care slots to fill an overwhelming demand. For parents who don’t have a voucher or are on a waiting list, this pilot would reduce the cost burden of finding care. We want more low-income children to be in licensed care, and simply increasing the availability of vouchers will not be enough to achieve this if family child care entrepreneurs are priced out of the City. Because family child care entrepreneurs would be housed in a communal setting, they could exchange expertise with one another to enhance the quality early education they provide to children and share a greater variety of books, materials, and recreational and business equipment to improve the quality of their small businesses.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

As far as we're aware, a live/work building specifically for family childcare providers is not being done anywhere else. In some way, this is an old model (artist housing) being applied to new user groups, in an arguably more dire situation. A lot of ECD work is focused either on specific interventions for children or training for providers. We often forget to consider childcare on a larger scale, specifically here, in the context of a major city with cost of living (thereby working) rising rapidly. By placing EarlyEducatorSpace in a neighborhood with a high demand for affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare and nearby public transportation, we make it less impossible for parents to work and raise children simultaneously. Center-based care is so often out of reach for our low-income families in Boston. It can be much too expensive and is often a bus and a train away from home or work.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Family child care entrepreneurs form the backbone of the child care infrastructure in Boston. There are approximately 21,000 children ages 0-3 in Boston, yet the City only carries the capacity to provide care for 6,000, of which nearly 4,000 slots are in family child care. Without creative approaches to housing educators, the gap between demand and availability could grow. Our housing pilot is promising in several ways: 1. It builds on one of the greatest assets of the family child care model: the way in which family child care entrepreneurs create networks of shared support and build deep, long-term relationships with both families and other providers. 2. It raises the profile of family child care entrepreneurs, where these entrepreneurs often worry that they are seen as “just babysitters” and parents are often unaware that family-based care is a licensed option for their children. 3. It further develops the entrepreneurial skills of family child care entrepreneurs. We need more early educators (from family child care, centers, or both) to fill the gaps in our current system. Our proposal removes one of the key obstacles to opening family child care -- housing -- and puts early educators into community with their peers and in proximity to resources that can support creating sustainable family child care businesses for the long term.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Members of our team have spent hours in conversations with family child care entrepreneurs, understanding their experiences of building successful small businesses. From those discussion, providers have expressed shared concerns ranging from licensing and credentialing, to working with parents, to marketing their services to new families. The answer to the first feasibility question -– would family child care entrepreneurs even want to live and work in such an arrangement? –- is a resounding yes. High-quality family child care entrepreneurs stay in a challenging field because of their deep connections to their communities and the families they serve. They work collaboratively, finding placements that suit each family’s scheduling and language needs. Many family child care entrepreneurs cite privacy and space issues as key frustrations for their work. This pilot presents the opportunity to understand and possibly solve some of these challenges through good design, while incorporating best practices for deliberately creating spaces that support early learning. The second hurdle will be identifying and assessing available properties within the city. This development model already exists (as applied to artist housing) and has been refined over the years. EarlyEducatorSpace could utilize a variety of spaces, ranging from the city’s iconic three-decker style multi-family homes to new construction. Our next steps would be to cost out a budget for acquiring and renovating a property, in partnership with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development and their Housing iLab or with a non-profit housing developer. Designers and architects could be invited to submit ideas for spaces that provide the ideal learning environment. The recently implemented Community Preservation Act, which provides $20 million per year for housing, preservation and open space projects, could be a potential funding source.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We see a strong demand for EarlyEducatorSpace. The challenge will be to find the resources to build spaces at a scale that can meet the need of families and educators. A demonstration project that starts with a small number of units could help make the case that this model should be a piece of larger developments going forward. EarlyEducatorSpaces could work as standalone units, or embedded within larger apartment buildings, or as renovations of small 2- or 3-family homes. This flexibility will give us greater opportunities to pursue development opportunities.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

The idea for EarlyEducatorSpace was born out of many conversations with providers where they consistently cite the cost and availability of housing as one of their biggest challenges. Going forward, we will incorporate educator perspectives as a key element of our planning process. Our model will be the process conducted to review the ArtistSpace housing guidelines. This process brought artists into the room to map their work processes and needs. A description of the process is attached to this submission.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

The Office of Women's Advancement is an embodiment of Mayor Walsh’s commitment to advancing and supporting women in the City of Boston. We provide a permanent, effective voice for all female residents of Boston by working inclusively with public, private, and non-profit partners on key issues that significantly affect women and girls. In recent years we have developed an innovative and effective approach to closing the gender wage gap in Boston. We seek to support women entrepreneurs, including family childcare providers. Through our conversations with colleagues and childcare entrepreneurs, we have learned about the challenges they face finding suitable space to operate their businesses - our idea was inspired by those conversations.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Our partners within the City of Boston, including the Department of Neighborhood Development, the Housing iLab, and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, have extensive experience in testing new approaches to solve complex problems. We would like to partner with others with expertise in the field, and with designers and architects with a particular interest in designing spaces for childcare entrepreneurs.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would like to partner with others with expertise in the field, and with designers and architects with a particular interest in designing spaces for childcare entrepreneurs.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would like to design a collaborative process that engages families and childcare entrepreneurs in the process of siting and designing EarlyEducatorSpace.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Mayor's Office of Women's Advancement: Brief overview of ArtistSpace:

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

Our mentor gave us two great ideas that we implemented to give our application some more context. Because our team already had a relationship with our mentor, she was familiar with our work and goals which made for a very productive conversation.

Name or Organization

City of Boston Office of Women's Advancement


Boston, MA.


  • Team


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jane Vox

Oh, i think that having a good time spending for children its very important! and it will be a good investment in the future. and I can say that what i find such a great site. just check it out!

View all comments