Taking it a Step Further: How Elon By Design has crafted community partnerships for mutual benefit

After four years of considerable growth, Elon By Design is expanding its consulting practice to nonprofit organizations, local school districts, healthcare providers, higher education institutions, and beyond, solving real world problems and having large scale impact on communities.

The Center for Design Thinking at Elon was founded to bring design thinking practices to students, faculty and staff at Elon University. But the center’s Director, Danielle Lake, wanted to take it a step further.

She is expanding the center’s reach into the community to build connections and solve real-world problems that have an impact while also giving Elon students the opportunity for meaningful engagement. By building out an external consulting practice, the Center for Design Thinking has been partnering with nonprofit organizations, schools, small businesses and local governments to pair strategic problem-solving and project-based learning strategies with social justice, advocacy and relationship-building.

Center for Design Thinking

Elon By Design’s consulting practice meets clients where they are, using thoughtful assessment and customized levels of engagement. Projects have spanned one-day workshops to over two-year engagements. Their model is designed to adapt to the individual needs of an organization and provide high-impact practices at a local level.

Project Highlights

In 2020, Elon By Design partnered with Cone Health to solve problems that gained attention during COVID-19 and have had a systemic impact on the Alamance County community.

By working together, Elon by Design and Cone Health were able to identify problems affecting the community using a community-first model and then developed prototypes to test and cultivate over two years. The project began by introducing the design thinking process to participants involved through a series of workshops.

Participants included neighborhood residents, local youth, nonprofit leaders and staff members, as well as Center of Design Thinking facilitators and researchers from Cone Health and Elon.

The first workshop taught each team about design thinking processes, building relationships, brainstorming desired outcomes and discussing community assets and shared meanings. The following workshops focused on inspiration framing, ideation, prototyping and refinement of the next steps. Between workshops, participants were asked to engage community members about their work and solicit feedback, thinking deeply about diversity and equity implementation.

This partnership is receiving international recognition as this summer Elon By Design will be presenting their findings at the Service Design and Innovation conference in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2021-22, Elon by Design partnered with Southern New Hampshire University’s Center for Project Based Learning to develop high-impact experiential learning opportunities for students. Elon By Design worked with SNHU’s center to design a plan to sustain, enhance and extend initiatives and draft a list of recommendations to move forward. The SNHU team met with student leaders, catalysts, faculty and staff at Elon, attended workshops on team-based learning and reviewed reports on best practices.

Looking to the Future

In 2023, the Center for Design Thinking supported Safer City Greensboro, a collaborative city-wide initiative to combat and address the underlying issues that contribute to violent crime.

As a community-led organization, they wanted support building their capacities to cultivate relationships within the community and ensure community change merges participatory practices.

“It is a really great opportunity to work alongside community and work towards meaningful community change,” said Emily Joss, a student catalyst in the Center for Design Thinking that worked closely with the organization.

This summer, Elon By Design has partnered with United Way of the Triangle and Alamance Achieves to support their community-first design efforts. As Elon by Design continues to grow, it plans to build its consulting practice and increase capacity through student leadership. To learn more about consulting, visit the Center for Design Thinking website.