Using Design Thinking to improve parental involvement with early childhood development programs

Can design improve early childhood development in a community and help lower poverty levels? That’s the question that e4c, Panorama Innovation and Barnraise participants set out to answer during their two day design challenge at the BarnRaise Edmonton event that took place from March 17-19, 2017 in Edmonton, Canada.

The challenge at hand was to help e4c increase parent participation in their early child development programs in order to help reduce the effects and impact of poverty.

“One out of every five Edmonton children – nearly 33,000 – is living in poverty. Just over one in three Edmonton children who live in a lone-parent family live in poverty," according to the 2014 "A Profile of Poverty in Edmonton" report from the Edmonton Social Planning Council.

This was the first time e4c had taken a design thinking approach to solving a community problem. Improving parent participation was identified as the first step to helping reduce the effects of poverty, but parents in the community were not taking as active a role as was needed to make this happen. The Barnraise event and Panorama Innovation’s facilitation helped identify areas where improvements could be made using design as the catalyst to that change. The verdict? It was a success.

While solving any problem of this magnitude will take time and additional resources, e4c learned a lot in the process and they were happy with the outcomes. Planning and Evaluation Manager Deshay Wachilonga was encouraged by the momentum that was started and believes they have come away with a process and ideas they can use going forward.

“The design approach introduced us to interesting ways of breaking down the problem into subject areas that could be comprehensively explored and then brought back together into one meaningful and productive discussion.” - Deshay Wachilonga, Planning and Evaluation Manager, e4c

There were several early concepts identified by the team during the Barnraise event:

  1. Quick Connect - Develop a set of tools for facilitators and parents to quickly learn about one another.

  2. Creating an “I Belong” Environment - Developing a sense of belonging through physical and experiential elements.

  3. Alumni Activation - Leveraging existing alumni to create ambassadors for the e4c program and connecting alumni with current parents in the program.

By taking a design thinking approach to these opportunity areas, BarnRaise participants were able to leverage creativity, along with theory and practice of design to create solutions for the community.

They were also able to deliver some physical solutions. Tangible prototypes of suggested deliverables, such as welcome boxes for new parents coming into the program, were created by the design teams. There was also lively discussion groups, group work, and facilitation that brought all the elements together to achieve the greater goal.

“When parents and children feel like they belong to a group, they are more likely to be engaged and less likely to drop off, thereby participating to a greater capacity and referring the program to others.” - Kelly Costello, Panorama Innovation

Part of the success of any new process is the willingness of participants to use the process going forward. According to Wachilonga, e4c will be using the design process for another project in the near future and they are excited to see continued development in their fight to end poverty in Edmonton, Canada.

To learn more about e4c and get in touch please visit:

To learn more about Panorama Innovation and get in touch please visit:

To learn more about BarnRaise Edmonton and get in touch please visit: