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United Way

New skills for a new approach to serving communities

Collective Impact—or the coordination of work and effort towards a clearly defined goal across distinct organizations—is shifting the way social organizations think about how they serve and address the needs of their community. Moving towards Collective Impact, the United Way of Greater Metropolitan Chicago identified the need to work differently, both in how community organizations work with each other and in how the United Way works with service-providing organizations.

gravitytank designed an experiential and collaborative session to kickoff United Way’s Collective Impact initiative. The Six Principles for Working Differently—an organizational practice identifying and describing critical behaviors of innovation—was used to ground and inform the session content and design. Based on the unique needs and goals of the United Way, gravitytank designed a two-day Design Summit for 60 participants to begin their collective impact initiatives across six neighborhood networks.


United Way


Nonprofit Organization

Featured Outcomes

Design thinking methods and skills training for nonprofits

Workshop facilitation with organizations from 6 Chicago communities

Follow-up "booster sessions" for focused learning and cross-network collaboration


The two-day Design Summit had three key objectives to help the organizations start to work differently:

  • Create an environment and interactions that facilitate reflection on current ways of working across organizations
  • Teach new skills to support organizations in their move towards Collective Impact
  • Introduce and familiarize participants with content associated with Collective Impact


To better design the session, the team worked to understand what ‘work differently’ meant to United Way. A series of facilitated work sessions with United Way identified the most important skills and topics for the session, and uncovered nuances and sensitivities across the groups. Our learning enabled the team to create Design Summit activities that prompted analysis and reflection on existing relationships and behaviors between organizations, with opportunities to gain new insights through cross-network sharing.


While Design Thinking is most commonly associated with new product and service development, it is a powerful tool for collaboratively tackling intractable problems of any type or scale. Effective collaboration—soliciting input from diverse sources in a structured way and gaining alignment to move forward—is critical to Collective Impact.

With a focus on developing collaboration skills, workshop activities focused on two of the Six Principles for Working Differently. Exercises in ‘Dimension & Diagram’ allowed participants to practice soliciting input from large audiences, and prioritizing and synthesizing that information to better frame their respective neighborhood challenges. ‘Imagine & Model’ activities provided participants with ways of making their ideas tangible in a low-cost, low-fidelity way. Emphasizing tangibility throughout the problem solving process facilitated deeper learning, and encouraged sharing ideas with others for greater impact. Reflection and facilitated discussion developed greater understanding of the techniques with an aim of replication beyond the Design Summit


Content for activities was based on the tenets of Collective Impact, including the Common Agenda and Community Engagement Plans. Using specific Collective Impact material made activities more relevant and engaging for participants, while exposing and socializing the content to develop a shared language and understanding of key work streams ahead.


gravitytank is continually impressed by the impact United Way and their partner organizations have in our communities. We are excited to see how new behaviors and a design thinking toolkit will benefit their future collective impact initiatives.

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