boston college career life readiness facilitation

Building a Citywide Vision for College, Career & Life Readiness

In partnership with Agncy and the Boston Opportunity Agenda, we led a coalition of stakeholders from across the City to create a shared definition of college, career, and life readiness that has been adopted system-wide. Working with leaders from Boston’s district, charter, and Catholic schools—as well as higher education, school-to-work, the philanthropic community and the Mayor’s office—we spend nine months develop deep consensus around a single, shared goal for the City’s high school graduates.

In order to ensure this definition could change what actually happens for the City’s young people, we chose not to create a disconnected list of discrete competencies and skills like those used by most other cities and states.Instead, we distilled this vision into a unified, flexible metaphor that could give to stakeholders across the system a tool they could use and a target toward which they could aim. This definition is accompanied by a set of indicators that have been validated and benchmarked within the Boston ecosystem. Routine reporting against these indicators has begun this year.

Here’s a PDF which explains the definition, how it was developed, who participated in the process, and the indicators that Boston’s education system will now track towards college, career, and life readiness.

Understanding our Experience of Pain


In collaboration with Massachusetts Health Quality Partners and Mad-Pow’s Health Experience Design team, we used human-centered design to tackle the opioid crisis, aiming to improve the ways that clinicians and their patients assess, discuss and understand pain.

Our initial hypothesis—that the real problem stemmed from flaws with the pain scale we use to communicate our pain (how impossible it is to Rate your pain on a scale of 1-10)—grew less compelling as we interviewed the range of people involved in our experience of pain (e.g., patients and their families; physicians and nurses; pharmacists and physical therapists; insurers and system administrators). As we understood more deeply the human dynamics surrounding our response to pain—how we feel it, assess it, and treat it—we discovered a range of opportunities for reducing the prescription of unnecessary opioids, by building trust between pain sufferers and the people who care for them.

Phase One of the project wrapped up with a webinar: take a look and let us know what you think.

Redesigning Recruitment at Bennington College

Using a human-centered design process, my team explored what it's really like to be a high school student moving through the process of choosing a college. Along the way we uncovered a series of powerful insights that led us to overhaul Bennington's admissions strategy—and turn its application from a selection tool into a recruitment tool. The result: 40% rise in applications, 50% rise in yield, and a dramatic increase in the academic quality (as measured by SAT scores and GPA) of incoming students.

Here’s the story.

Building a Culture of Innovation at PepsiCo

design thinking for culture of innovation

A Fortune 100 company, much of PepsiCo’s success builds on the strengths it has developed in operations and marketing. (“We’re really a distribution company,” one senior leader explained. “We can get a cold drink anywhere in the world in 12 minutes.”) However, when CEO Indra Nooyi decided to push the company to an emphasis on healthy foods and beverages, she recognized how important it would be to build out PepsiCo’s innovation capacity. Nooyi decided to focus her culture-building efforts on those high-performing young leaders across the organization who could serve as change catalysts. That's where we came in.

Read more.

Get in touch to set up a complimentary consultation.

Understanding the Help Teachers Need

An online community where pre- and in-service teachers learn from, collaborate with, and root for each other, Teachers Connect also provides teacher preparation programs with an essential means for keeping connected to their alumni.

Early in its growth, TC recognized the value of precisely understanding—and not just guessing at—what matters most to its users. We led their team through research to ground the development and evolution of their online platform in a nuanced understanding of how and why teachers give and get help, in-person and online. Through interviews, observations and testing with dozens of teachers across the country, we isolated the practical needs and emotional values that drive teachers’ behavior, then distilled this understanding into a crisp set of design principles. TC now reaches 12,000 teachers through partnerships with districts and education schools across the country.

Strategic Planning for the City of Cambridge

The City of Cambridge operates through a coalition between a professional administrative staff and a Council whose members are elected every two years (in a process that pits each member against all the others). After a number of years without a clear set of goals to drive decision-making, this group turned to Big Sky Blue to lead its diverse set of stakeholders through the work of coming to consensus around an overarching vision, a set of granular strategic goals, and the metrics that would hold all parties accountable to them.

Here are the high-level Guiding Principles and Strategic Goals that emerged.

Teaching a Designer’s Mindset at Harvard

Each year, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education draws together leading architects and educators from across the country and around the world to explore where the future of physical space might meet the future of learning—and to develop blueprint-thinking for schools and school systems building the learning environments of tomorrow.

design thinking at Harvard

But what if you could teach people how to design the physical space of schools—in a way that taught them how to bring a designer's mind to each and every aspect of the learning experience? How might choosing where the walls should go help us practice reinventing the way we use time, or curriculum, or all the other parts that school is made of?  

For the past several years, I’ve partnered with Danish Kurani—whose work includes projects for Khan Academy, Google, and Denver’s Public Schools—to teach design thinking through practice in design doing. Over the course of an intense three-day immersion, participants cycle through the logic of the design process, digging deeply into their own beliefs about how we learn and hammering out a precise understanding of what they really mean by “student-centered learning” or what they really want from a “maker space”—defining clear, deep learning principles that can shape every choice they make as learning architects.

Innovation: A Rough Guide

Written for Continuum’s prospective clients, A Rough Guide offers clients a glimpse inside a design strategy project—along with some principles to keep in mind while moving through the messy process of innovation. (Co-authored with Augusta Meill, former VP at Continuum, currently Executive Director, Agncy.)

Check it out.

Get in touch to set up a complimentary consultation.