Raising Places is not your typical grant opportunity. A major reason for this is its emphasis on building relationships between better childhoods and better communities perspectives, rather than implementing any one particular child-centered solution. Here's how we defined these perspectives in our call for proposals:

Definitions and examples of better communities and better childhoods as including in the Raising Places call for proposals.

This theory of change was first articulated by our program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

“I believe that by bringing different perspectives together using a structured approach, great ideas will happen, new skills for working across sectors will develop, and deeper relationships will grow.”
—Katie Wehr, RWJF Senior Program Officer

How did this theory play out?

Diverse perspectives are about more than job titles

In designing the Raising Places process, we sought design teams with people from a variety of professional backgrounds. But even our greatest expectations were surpassed by the overall breath of experience represented across design teams.

  • Almost half come from non-profit backgrounds, but there are also representatives from academia, philanthropic organizations, local government, for-profit companies, and more.
  • Their expertise spanned fields from affordable housing and business/economic development to early childhood development, arts and culture. Many individuals brought experience from multiple fields to the team.

Let's start by examining the Hudson design team.

Downstreet Plus State and Columbia design team members, conveners, and Greater Good Studio facilitators after the Kickoff Lab in Hudson, NY.

Take a look at the range of fields represented in on the Hudson design team alone.

Chart displaying the wide range of professional experience across the design team focusing on Downstreet PLUS State and Columbia in Hudson, NY. Note: this is more fields than team members!

While the range of professions was impressive, we were even more struck by the diversity of design teams extending well beyond their job titles. Ultimately, each design team member brings a lifetime of experiences that are uniquely their own.

Design team member quick facts:

  • 63% are female, 47% are male.
  • 13% are under 25 or over 65 years old, about half are between 35 and 54 years old.
  • Over 90% of team members either live in the community (31%) and/or work in the community - either exclusively (31%) or as part of a larger area of their work (30%).
  • Design team members come from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, including those of Native, African, Latin, European and Asian/Pacific Island descent.
Graphic displaying the connection design team members in Hudson, NY have to the Downstreet PLUS State and Columbia community area.

The design team focused on the Downstreet Plus State and Columbia area of Hudson, NY is a great example of how multidimensional  one team could be.

A shared desire to come together

The diversity of the design teams, not to mention the 156 wide-ranging applications we received, revealed a strong appetite across the country for unlikely partners to come together at the intersection of kids and place. We were thrilled by this finding, but still wanted to learn more. So during the Raising Places process, we continued to deepen our own understanding of what is driving this desire for cross-sector collaboration and the possible impact on communities when diverse perspectives come to the table.

We were curious about design team members’ visions for what change they hoped would come out of the Raising Places process. So before the labs began, we sent out a survey asking just that. Among the wide range of hopes expressed, across the board, the most common was that Raising Places would offer an opportunity to cultivate relationships across differences to catalyze change in their community.

Even though they were optimistic, the survey revealed that design team members were clear-eyed about challenges. They voiced some common pitfalls of cross-sector work: difficulty getting everyone on the same page and speaking the same language, competing interests and power dynamics that can hurt trust and hinder collective work, and limited funding available to support collaboration. Still, they were confident that the benefits could far outweigh the challenges. Take for example, the efficiency of cross-sector work. Many design team members talked about the slow, arduous nature of collaboration, but most felt that even if it took longer, it could lead to a more efficient use of expertise, resources, and networks in the end.

Unlikely partners in action

Raising Places isn’t over yet, but we already have some initial insights into how design team members’ hopes for collaboration played out over our time together.

New perspectives, fresher ideas: Design team members hoped that involving different perspectives in problem solving would lead to fresher ideas and better, more holistic solutions.

“Tackling challenges and approaching opportunities with a diversity of skills and perspectives leads to relevant, resonating, lasting solutions and community betterment.”  – Survey response from a Plymouth Avenue Corridor design team member

We agree! And we think the proof is in each Raising Places community’s comprehensive portfolio of projects that span the built, social, economic, and even family environments.

Need more convincing? Check out the collection of concepts the Hudson design came up with and the experience of North Wilkesboro and Minneapolis teams co-designing concepts across sectors and with communities.


A network of relationships: Raising Places was seen by many as an opportunity to grow and strengthen the network of organizations and individuals equipped with the commitment, connections, and skills to collectively build child-centered communities.

One North Wilkesboro design team member hoped that bridges could be built between organizations:

“I know that I am more comfortable reaching out to agencies with whom I have a professional relationship. Surely, I'm not the only person who behaves this way so I hope that each agency represented will move forward not just with a greater willingness to collaborate, but with a truer desire to collaborate.”

Almost immediately, we saw design team members’ networks begin to converge. In fact, 95% of design team members who responded to the Research Sprint survey felt between their team, the convener, and their own personal contacts, they had the connections needed to research end-users and influencers from all segments of their communities.

In North Wilkesboro, the design team set out to understand housing challenges in their community by learning from the families who experience them every day. To make those connections, they turned to a member who worked in affordable housing services. After hearing from families, the team generated ideas to fund property improvements. They still needed to uncover the possible obstacles to implementation, so a member who worked at the Chamber of Commerce utilized her network to get feedback from a banker and the home builders association. Having team members who could open doors to different networks ensured that the final concepts were both rooted in families' needs and feasible within the North Wilkesboro housing system.

Here is the breakdown of fields represented on the North Wilkesboro team.

Chart displaying the various professional backgrounds of North Wilkesboro design team members. Again, more fields than individuals!

A culture of collaboration: Many design team members saw Raising Places as an opportunity to shift negative narratives about cross-sector collaboration and create a model for shared problem-solving in their community. Building trust and creating spaces for inclusive dialogue were seen as foundational to supporting this type of culture.


“I hope this project will begin to eliminate some of the fear and scarcity mentality that many in the community have about sharing in work with others. I hope this project will become a model that will inspire other cross sector collaborations here.” – Survey response from a Plymouth Avenue Corridor design team member


While we don’t know what will happen over the long term, we already see some promising signs that Raising Places is shifting the culture of collaboration between team members and within communities. On the design team survey distributed after the final lab, over 95% of respondents said they were committed to executing their team's pilot plan, 98% agree that their ideas and input were valued through the Raising Places process, and 95% agreed that there was an environment of trust. We also asked design team members to tell us about their biggest take-away or “Aha” moment from the lab. One design team member responded, “We have authentic engagement from a broad cross-section of our community and it is awesome.” Another stated simply, How good it feels to all come together.”

We are inspired by the progress made in the six Raising Places communities. We are also excited by the growing number of cross-sector initiatives coming together around kids and place across the country. Over the past year, we have noticed the work of several initiatives sharing our belief that it will take many people across different perspectives working together to create communities where all children and families can thrive. Here are just a few examples:

We can only hope that this momentum continues to grow within the participating Raising Places communities and in the overall continued work to improve the lives of children and families.

Have you seen any collaborations we should know about? Do you have ideas for how to bring unlikely partners coming together around kids and place? Tell us!