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Engaging by Design

Pop-up human-centered design studios that are placed-based in neighborhoods to engage parents in creative problem solving with EC providers.

Photo of Nancy Lewis

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

Engaging by Design has grown and evolved throughout the Prize timeline. Our team discussed the concept and continually refined the idea. The comments we received were extremely beneficial, initially from Iliana and later from Raul Mendoza Azpiri. I am grateful that Raul reached out (Reading Honeycombs) as we were able to Skype and share our experiences. How inspiring to learn more of the Reading Honeycomb trajectory, with its successes and challenges. Raul generously offered guidance from his broad experience and we both expressed a desire to look for ways to collaborate (Mexico and New Mexico. A natural fit). I've mentioned in the Mentor section the invaluable nature of this aspect of the prize. I was fortunate enough to have been matched with Matthew Ridenour. What a powerhouse of HCD and business expertise. Thank you Matthew and IDEO for that arrangement. I have another submission (The Red Envelope Project) and have copied my general response to this question from that submission and pasted below: This is my first experience with an OpenIDEO Challenge. At first, it took a bit to wrap my head around the concept of a proposal writing phase that extended over months with the ability for ongoing edits and to the level of openness of sharing our ideas as we go. Most responses to Requests for Proposals are both secretive and competitive. This OpenIDEO process has been amazing. I have so enjoyed reading so many of the proposals. Also find it interesting the differences in the number of proposals in each of the Opportunity Areas. This area, Supporting Parents and Families, has 175 proposals at the moment while Leveraging People and Places has only a quarter as many at 44 proposals. Just an interesting trend to ponder. I've enjoyed reading the international submissions, and salute those submitting in English when that may not be their first language. Using the toolkits provided by IDEO has been useful, kind of like thought process maps. Finally, my idea evolved from a feeling of being part of this GCI/OpenIDEO EC Challenge community. It's hard to put into words and it might sound sappy if I could, but I have felt like we are a community. It's been a pleasure to read people's work and to be so appreciate for their contributions. If we were continuing in this open forum, I'd behave a bit more like an extrovert and comment on many more submissions. Such a rich experience!! Thank you.

Name or Organization

Nancy Lewis & Co. with The Grants Collective, 501 (c) (3), as fiscal sponsor. Partners include The Thornburg Foundation, New Mexico Act Early/EC Design Team, the University of New Mexico (UNM) Innovation Academy, Parents Reaching Out (PRO), NM Pediatric Society, UNM Young Children's Health Center and neighborhood/community centers.


We are based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and are planning to scale statewide.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of 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)

Our idea involves mobile, pop-up human-centered design (HCD) studios that are placed-based in neighborhoods with high concentrations of low income residents. Our hunch is that by reaching parents in their neighborhoods and involving them in some creative problem solving relevant to their young children, we will not only increase parent engagement but level the playing field for parents to collaborate with early childhood stakeholders. By equipping families and EC providers with HCD strategies in a community-based collaborative venue, novel solutions to complex challenges may emerge.

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Engaging by Design aims to use mobile, pop-up HCD studios & creative problem-solving activities to level the playing field between low-income parents and EC providers/stakeholders as a means of addressing the challenges encountered by families and their young children. The HCD is a methodology that is relatively new within the NM EC sector. Too often, EC professionals develop programs and services without direct input or empathetic understanding of their end use: low-income families with young children. Consequently, programs, services and policies may not address the real problem and the complex challenges facing low-income and otherwise vulnerable families persist. Initially, we will go to where parents naturally convene: parent groups at community centers, the UNM Young Children’s Health Center, community-based markets amenable to a pop-up station, and conferences and meetings designed for parents. We have existing relationships with key stakeholders at these venues. We believe additional venues will emerge such as grocery store parking lots, restaurants and faith communities once we begin. We’ll start by asking parents to share their biggest dream for their child and the biggest barrier as a segue into the “how might we” phase of the creative problem solving process. From there we’ll use the low-resolution prototyping materials and the pop up studio to put feet to their ideas.

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

We are aiming to to achieve higher levels of engagement of families with existing services. By engaging families and local EC providers through HCD studios and creative problem-solving curricula in venues located in beneficiary communities, solutions will emerge that will have the end-user, young kids and their families, at the center rather than excluded from the process.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

The NM Act Early EC Design Team (herein referred to as the EC Design Team) will be the lead for the Engaging by Design Project. The EC Design Team has just completed a two-year grant project focused on parent engagement in the ongoing monitoring of child development through an Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) grant. The EC Design Team worked with the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) and the NM Act Early Partnership State Systems Team to address this challenge. For the first time in early childhood arena in NM, a human-centered design methodology was used to guide the work. The EC Design Team included T.J. Cook, Executive Director of ABQid ( and former CEO of CauseLabs ( who was brought in as the HCD expert/facilitator, Nancy Lewis, AMCHP Project Lead and CDC’s Act Early Ambassador to NM, Michael Weinberg, Early Childhood Policy Officer with Thornburg Foundation, Melissa Mason, M.D. and Past-President of the NM Pediatric Society, and Erika Candelaria, Parents Reaching Out Liaison. The larger ECCS/Act Early State Systems Team included stakeholders from the public, private, military and academic sector. Although the focus of the grant was on increasing parent engagement, we knew from previous projects that it could be challenging to attract parents of young children to attend the meetings and maintain participation in this systems-level work. One obvious barrier was that, although this particular grant provided a $30/hour stipend for parents, the meetings were held in the middle of the day and no child-care was offered. We have some assumptions about other barriers. First, the conversations and presentations at these state systems meetings are often filled with undefined acronyms and assume a level of background familiarity with a broad range of topics and policies. Second, some parents who attended a meeting provided feedback that the agenda seemed unrelated to their lives with their young children. Finally, parents expressed concern that there was a lot of talk and little action. Given the ironic difficulty of including parents in the exploration of parent engagement, we knew that a HCD approach would allow team members to benefit from understanding parent’s underlying needs, making sense of the situation to see the challenge in a new way, and rapidly generate and test ideas. As well, it would begin to expose the EC sector in NM to the mindset and tools of design thinking and HCD. At the beginning of the HCD process, most of the State Systems Team members assumed that the biggest problem had to do with the state’s limited resources, both financially and in the service sector. Another assumption was that young parents relied on their pediatrician as the premier resource for information on child development, developmental screening and any necessary referrals. The HCD process led us to some different findings. We discovered that the real barrier to parent engagement in the ongoing monitoring of the developmental health of their child had to do with a lack of effective communication and awareness regarding the resources available for families. Not only are parents unaware of what is out there, providers, including pediatricians, are not informed or updated as to services, resources or the most effective way to access these services for families. The issue is that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing rather than not having enough hands to get the job done. This was an impactful realization for the EC stakeholders. So often, solutions have to do with creating more resources rather than improving awareness and access to allow existing resources to function at capacity. We also discovered that a strong driver of change for parents with concerns about their young child’s development came from their own social network, not a place of formal authority such as their pediatrician. Ninety percent of the parents with young children that we interviewed in our empathy fieldwork were eventually linked to help via a sister-in-law, co-worker’s daughter, neighbor or the like. Engaging by Design will pick up at this point to prototype and field test solutions based on our discoveries. If awarded, we will leverage the GCI funding with an additional $10,000 AMCHP one-year extension. In collaboration with the University of New Mexico (UNM) Innovation Academy, we will develop a hub-and-spokes HCD Studio, with the hub being at the newly opened UNM Rainforest Innovation Ecosystem ( The Canopy for Design and Systems Solutions at the Rainforest houses the permanent HCD Studio and classroom space. Pop-up HCD Studios being constructed as mobile studios that will be place-based in communities of choice. We will collaborate with existing community partners to coordinate events and activities for families. We start with a group of Spanish-speaking parents of young children with special needs on 2/23/18.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Primary beneficiaries will be the families in low-income neighborhoods. We believe parents will benefit from being part of the creative problem-solving process to address the challenges they face as parents of young children. Together, our team has decades of experience in the EC sector and in working with vulnerable populations. As well, in addition to having many years serving vulnerable families in NM, we represent a wide breadth of sectors including pediatrics, policy, philanthropy, advocacy, child development, and early intervention. All of the members of the EC Design Team have some level of experience with HCD training.

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

Engaging by Design is at the Research and Early Testing stage, so we do not have data to speak to impact. Our first prototyping with a parent group is scheduled for Feb. 23, 2018. We have been invited to present on design thinking a the Parents Reaching Out Family Leadership Conference on April 19-20, 2019. These soft prototyping opportunities will provide us with some initial ways to test our hunches that parents will respond positively to creative problem solving activities. Our envisioned long-lasting outcomes include an increased level of parent engagement, by 20 percent within two years, among families living at a low socio-economic status. We know that HCD efforts have greatly increased engagement within local communities. We know that parent engagement improves outcomes for children. This increased engagement would result in downstream savings by reducing the strain of the social services system. We are hopeful that the process will also inform the EC professional as ways they can change their practices and services to enhance the positive conditions that enable family engagement. We believe that this effort to level the playing field will empower parents to be active in the process of crafting and implementing solutions toward improved child well-being.

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

In New Mexico, 29 percent of young children live in poverty, second worst in the nation for childhood poverty, with rates particularly high among Hispanic and Native American. Too many children lack access to even the most basic resources needed in order to thrive. NM has the highest rate in the nation of Medicaid births at 72% (2015 data point). NM ranks at the bottom of the states in child well-being. We see disparities along racial and ethnic lines in nearly every indicator of child well-being. This problem exists across the nation, but what makes this a more pressing issue in New Mexico is that 75 percent of our children are children of color. While most other states have recovered from the recession, New Mexico’s economic recovery has flat-lined, which means fewer families have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. Children are three times as likely to be at high risk for developmental delay if they have no parent with a high school diploma compared with children with parents who have education beyond a high school diploma. With almost three-quarters of the babies born in NM meeting the low-income requirement to be Medicaid eligible, we will reach these families in all of our place-based locations. Parents may find the creative problem solving activities fun and energizing. Our hunch is that by being part of the solution to complex challenges in their everyday life, parents will feel inclined to engage in their child’s developmental care.

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

Engaging by Design is a unique approach within the EC arena in the state of New Mexico and may be relatively new at the national level as well. Two of our team members delivered a seminar at the national Zero to Three Convention in November 2017 entitled “Creating a Culture of Parent Engagement: Getting to the Core Through a Human-Centered Design Lens.“ The topic generated great interest as over 350 attendees preregistered for this session. At the start of the session, we asked how many people in the audience had heard of human-centered design or design thinking. Out of the 350+ participants, less than 10 people raised their hands. And this was an audience of professionals who specialized in the birth-to-three age range. We believe that the pop-up design studios that are place-based in low-income neighborhoods will be a new way of engaging with our end users: parents of young children. The idea of aiming at increased parent engagement by leveling the playing field between parents and EC providers is a bit disruptive. Our hunch is that this will increase the interest on the part of the parents to engage, shoulder-to-shoulder, with their EC and health care providers through creative problem solving strategies. And leveling the playing field will create an opening for EC providers to examine their role in parent engagement. How might they, as service providers, improve the conditions for parent engagement within their sphere of influence? As we have written this proposal, at times it has felt like writing a screenplay about writing a screenplay. That is, applying to a HCD Challenge by proposing HCD pop-up studios as a main component. Unlike many submissions, our content goal of improving the conditions for low-income parents to engage in their child’s developmental health is quite broad, intentionally. We believe the innovation and outcome from Engaging by Design, in true HCD spirit, cannot be predicted in advance.

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

New Mexico has approximately 140,000 children from birth through three years of age. Engaging by Design will begin in Albuquerque, the most populated area in the state. We will be continuing the recently concluded work of the EC State Systems team via the 2016-2018 AMCHP grant. AMCHP has offered a 12-month extension with an additional $10,000 of funding. Introducing parents to design thinking through pop-up studios will align with our ongoing work. After some initial research, we plan to scale to rural areas including Native American communities. We hope to scale in our neighboring state, Colorado, and to partner with the EC community in the state. Our states share some similar EC challenges. Colorado may be ahead of the curve, compared to NM, when it comes to design thinking in EC. We believe we can inform each other's work in such a partnership. Anticipated barriers include initially attracting the attention of parents and creating experiences that are relevant in the lives of low-income families.

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

We are eager to be part of the GCI/OpenIDEO EC Challenge, especially at this entry level, as we believe we can do a lot with even a small amount of initial funds. And we know there will be tremendous opportunity for collaboration within the Prize network. We have a robust and experienced team that is committed to this project. We have partnerships with key community stakeholders where the place-based pop-ups would be located. We have a great understanding of the complexity of the needs of vulnerable families with young children. At this stage in our research, we see a clear path to initial implementation. Ongoing financial support would come later.

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

Our team has expertise in finance, business start-ups, philanthropy to inform our approach to a business model for this market. Engaging by Design can operate at a relatively low expense. Materials are inexpensive. No overhead is required. For the next year, compensation for team members will be covered via existing arrangements.

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

Human-centered design directly influenced this concept as Engaging by Design arose from our two-year HCD EC project that has just concluded. The EC Design Team went through the steps in the HCD process while investigating ways to increase parent engagement in the ongoing monitoring of child development via the AMCHP grant. The idea is to bring parents into the fold via pop-up design studios in their neighborhoods, in part, to begin to prototype solutions from our HCD project findings that the real barrier to parent engaged monitoring of their child’s developmental health is a lack of awareness and communication about available resources for families among parent and providers. Also, we want to leverage our findings of the importance of informal authority structures via social networks as a means of linking parents to necessary services.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

We have discussed where our idea came from and our inspiration in previous sections so we won’t repeat ourselves here. We have a robust and diverse team who are each excited by the possibility that Engaging by Design, with its HCD-foundation, will bring novel solutions to improve child well-being in NM. The majority of children in the state live in low socio-economic conditions. We have seen efforts enacted to improve conditions for children yet NM has arm-wrestled with Mississippi for 50th place in child well-being for the last ten years. We believe infusing the mindset of parents and EC providers through HCD brings the promise of solutions to problems that include the end users and may move the dial. In terms of relevant experience in the EC field, as the writer of the proposal and EC Design Team lead, I will describe my experience. I have worked in the early childhood field for over 30 years, initially as a bilingual speech-language pathologist and later at the systems level. Currently, I co-lead the NM Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems and Act Early State Systems Team, I am the CDC's Act Early Ambassador to New Mexico, and the Coordinator for the Design Thinking ABQ Meetup (650 members!). I began a self-study of design thinking/human-centered design in 2009, and have most recently participated in the first Stanford's Designing for Social Systems Intensive training in August 2017. Initially, early child development captured my attention through the study of language development and disorders. Communication development is core to social-emotional development, cognitive development and the full spectrum of growth in early childhood. As a speech-language pathologist who has worked with thousands of children, birth to three, and their families, I have witnessed the impact that improved communication skills can have on the lives of the child and his/her family.

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

We do have the partners that we need to do what it will take to initiate Engaging by Design in Albuquerque. We look forward to potential inter-state partnerships as we scale beyond Albuquerque. NM is a sparsely populated state. One of the benefits of the statewide population being around 2 million is that it is easy to establish and maintain friendly and collegial partnerships with key stakeholders. And it is usually easy to reach the right person, regardless of the level of the position they may hold.

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)

As we consider our next steps for Engaging by Design, we are very eager to be part of the GCI/IDEO EC Innovation Network. We are not seeking a high dollar amount in this proposal. We recognize the value of working together with the rest of the EC innovator ecosystem, nationally and internationally. We believe our project will grow and evolve as needed. We are willing to fail forward, if need be, and iterate as needed based on feedback. Being part of such a network that is working on the precipice of innovation will benefit our work and ultimately benefit the children and families in New Mexico.

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

Mentoring in marketing and HCD strategies.

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).

Nancy Lewis, MPA, M.S. CCC-SLP, is the director of the New Mexico Act Early Partnership housed at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. She has over 30 years experience in the early childhood sector, both on the ground as a practicing speech-language pathologist and holding leadership positions at the state and national level.

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

I had the extraordinary opportunity to be mentored by Matthew Ridenour at IDEO. In our Skype session, Matthew walked me through components of the Challenge as it related to Engaging by Design. He asked key questions that helped me flesh out the concepts and become more concrete. In our 60+ minute conversation, I took about nine pages of handwritten notes. Matthew is amazing. He offered many suggestions to strengthen the proposal and offered novel ideas regarding a sustainability plan. I am grateful for the time spent with Matthew and for the generosity of his sharing of his expertise. The mentoring aspect of the Challenge has been a tremendous exchange.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Deborah Castillero

I love this idea because as humans we can, collectively, solve many problems on a micro level that can lead to the macro level. Can I help you start a pilot in Norwalk, CT?

Photo of Nancy Lewis

Hello Deborah,
Thank you so much for your note. I was at a training at the Stanford last week, so just getting a chance to catch up.
I'd love to chat more. Want to plan a Skype call soon? I looked at your submission. Very exciting! I worked as a bilingual speech-language pathologist for many years :).

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