After nearly a year of groundwork, Raising Places commenced with its first Kickoff Lab in Valley of the Chiefs, Montana. Twelve community members make up the design team in this tribal town on the Crow Reservation.

Surrounded by the stunning landscape of Big Sky Country, the first lab on September 16 and 17 included two full days of relationship-building, decision-making and research planning.  

Scroll down to discover more about what it’s like to participate in a Raising Places lab.

Welcome to classroom 317 at Lodge Grass School in Valley of the Chiefs, Montana where 12 design team members have come together to build a more child-centered community where children and families thrive.

Meet the 12-member design team opening up the kickoff lab on the first day by sharing life insights through storytelling.

Before the labs began, design team members identified major social issues in the Valley of the Chiefs – barriers to kids and families thriving. Facilitators then used this information to design a ‘mapping root causes’ exercise. 

During the first day, small groups were formed to delve deeper into understanding community issues. One small group formed around the community issue of “broken young families,” exploring why this challenge persists in Valley of the Chiefs despite efforts to address it. 

To lay the foundation for research, the group shared their underlying assumptions about the conditions that may be working to create broken young families in the community.

Casaja (left) – a native to Valley of the Chiefs and a public health nurse – partners up with James and Sarah, who run an alpaca farm and clothing business, to better understand the social factors which create the challenges young families are facing.

James and Sarah live hours away from Valley of the Chiefs, but have a heart for their fellow Montana community members and are invested in creating healthier communities.

This small group working to address the issues young families face is also supported by Sara Aye, co-founder of Greater Good Studio and project director for Raising Places (far right).

After choosing the issue which they believe contributes most to the experiences of broken young families, the team crafted positive goals. These positive goals are some ways the small group believes it is possible to shift the experience of young families in their community towards living healthier, more stable lives. Colored dots indicate votes by team members.

This ‘root causes’ exercise is designed to map possible contributing factors of major community issues which act as barriers to the health and success of children and families. While focusing on young parents who need support, this team concluded that a lack of trustful and respectful relationships across the community may play a role.

Day 2’s agenda is packed with critical work to build research plans – and ultimately begin the first steps of the design process.

Casaja, James and Sarah work collaboratively using brainstorming and discussion throughout the lab. Here, the team plans the questions they want their research to answer by making protocols to guide interviews and observations with youth, elders, teachers and sports coaches in Valley of the Chiefs.

Casaja gets right to work on helping her team define research methods while embracing the advantages of visualizing the work on sticky notes — design research is inherently more collaborative when everyone can see plans and move them around easily.

“You have to come into this work with compassion – people feel it.”

Casaja Fritzler

In the afternoon, as the research work got more complex, the team decided to meet outside in fresh air and sunlight to restore their energy and stay on task. 

After determining which community members to engage with to better understand how to achieve their positive goal, the team walked away with to-do’s and plans to enter the next stage of the research process.

The team of Casaja, James and Sarah started with the challenge of broken young families, and ended with a positive goal of youth and elders connecting through tangible experiences of their history and culture. They will spend the next six weeks exploring this goal by engaging with community members in Valley of the Chiefs.