At Raising Places, we hope to go beyond business as usual to catalyze local momentum for child-centered communities. We know that this is no small task. That’s why we have adopted an approach that brings together several unconventional strategies- bridging better childhoods and better communities perspectives, using place as a unifier,  and utilizing a labs-based process rooted in human-centered design. By themselves, each of these are new endeavours for many communities, let alone taken all together. That’s why during the Raising Places community selection process, we looked for existing local momentum that could be leveraged to help communities create solutions at the intersection of kids and place. In other words, we were looking for communities ready to take the next right step towards building child-centered communities, not the first one.


We defined “local momentum” loosely and didn’t give applicants a set of specific criteria. Instead, we tasked potential design teams with identifying the things happening in their community context that they felt like Raising Places could capitalize on from the start. We encouraged applicants to include any history with cross-sector collaboration or place-based initiatives, particularly at the intersection of kids and place. We believed that having experience in these areas could provide a level of buy-in needed for Raising Places to hit the ground running. Despite this assumption, we were committed to considering momentum of any kind, so long as communities made a compelling case for how it was right for Raising Places.


This open application approach not only helped us to select communities well-suited to our project, but it gave us a unique insight into the colorful tapestry of places, projects, and people that communities are eager to harness to create environments where children and families thrive.  

Here are a few of the things we learned:

Across that country, diverse communities share the Raising Places vision.  

When we released the  Call for Proposals, we wondered what types of communities would be interested in this type of work. We hoped our vision for Raising Places would have wide appeal and attract an array of applicants. Even with our hopes already high, the response completely surpassed our expectations. We had 156 applications from 42 states and the District of Columbia. The applicant pool came from urban, rural, suburban, and tribal communities, represented diverse populations, and ranged in size from one block to a whole county. Each of these communities had a unique patchwork of local momentum across a variety of issues, populations, and places. Learning about each community was inspiring. Looking at the entire applicant pool, we were even more awestruck by the collective momentum of communities across the US who are committed to dig deep into the challenges facing kids and families, and to design solutions together.

National and community-based initiatives alike are driving cross-sector and place-based work.  

In the applicant pool, we were excited to see represented many of the national place-based and cross-sector initiatives that have influenced our thinking, such as federal programs like Promise Zones and HUD Choice Communities, networks like Purpose Built Communities, and initiatives like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize, among others. We were also inspired by the depth and breadth of independent regional and local efforts to break down silos between sectors and/or to tackle complex and interrelated challenges by focusing on place. There were local cradle-to-career projects that used a collective impact model, community revitalization projects that made health a priority, and many more. Judging by our applicant pool, while many communities are bolstered by national expertise and resources, many more are forging their own path.

Momentum comes in all shapes and sizes. 

Our application questions left room for design team members to think outside of the box when it comes to defining momentum. We found that the majority of our applicants didn’t have the cross-sector or place-based initiatives like the ones we described above. That doesn’t mean, however, that they didn’t have anything to share. For example, a community with no history of widespread cross-sector collaboration, might instead share bright spots, like a new partnership between a hospital and social service agency or a community-led transformation of a vacant lot into a pocket park. Many applicants described how community data, such as findings from health needs assessments, and municipal plans like a Neighborhood Plan or Mayor’s Agenda, lent themselves to taking action at the intersection of kids and place. Other applicants spoke to the power of residents and local stakeholders to move communities forward. One described local momentum as “the great motivation among community members to serve as change agents in addressing their own health and other issues.”

Better communities and better childhood perspectives are ready to come to the table.

A key premise of Raising Places is that better childhoods and better communities folks operate in silos that rarely intersect. This assumption was affirmed when reviewing applications, with the exception of a few examples. There was definitely a spectrum of community experience with working across sectors; for some it is a totally new endeavour, for others it’s status quo. Among those with cross-sector success, examples ranged from bringing together public health and community development, business and youth development, education and social services, and the list goes on. Rarely, however, did you find collaborations where a real estate developer and a kindergarten teacher were at the same decision-making tables by design! 

There are a lot of reasons that this is that case, but in reviewing applications, we learned that there is an appetite for this type of dynamic team. The diversity  of individuals and organizations represented in the Raising Places application was incredible. There were superintendents, early childhood educators, and pediatricians, alongside local business owners, urban planners, and police officers, as well as government officials, artists, community activities, to name a few. Yet they all saw a role for themselves in helping to create community environments that will give kids and families in their community a better future. A few applicants told us that the process itself helped to uncover shared goals and synergies that communities plan to continue exploring, even if not selected for Raising Places. We can only hope that this was the experience of many of our applicants, and that there will more and more examples of better childhoods and better communities folks working side by side.

So does this mean that all communities had the momentum they need for the Raising Places process?

Well, no. Raising Places is looking for communities poised to quickly build community buy-in at different levels of influence, and prototype projects that can have a community-wide impact. We still don’t have a momentum checklist, but it was clear that most of our applicants had more work to do before they were ready for that. For example, one applicant though Raising Places “would be an essential first step to starting [the] conversation.” Another reflected the ongoing culture shift, stating that “we are a community that is learning the value of collaboration.” These conversations and shifting attitudes are critical building blocks, but will take more time than our 9-month project allows.

Nonetheless, while we can’t facilitate Raising Places labs in all 156 communities, we hope to continue to both learn from and support all of our applicants in other ways. It is our intention to share resources and learnings, showcase diverse voices and perspectives, and facilitate conversations with the broader public. Our vision is that Raising Places can inspire and spark ideas in ways that support communities in taking the next right step for them, no matter where they are or what momentum they have.

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Don’t forget, we’ll be announcing our six Raising Places communities in the coming weeks! Be sure to stay tuned at raisingplaces.org to learn about these communities and the momentum that drives them.

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