When studied out of context, best practices often overlook the cultural complexities from city to city. In our studio, we’ve learned that while you can’t always replicate projects you can most certainly replicate principles. 

As a way to consider how we might better share, scale and replicate transformative projects, we’ve recorded many of our lessons learned, both from observation and experience. Read on. Visit often.

Start small

Systems change takes time. Grand plans involve the alignment of many moving parts, not to mention the time it takes to assemble the necessary buy-in, support and resources. While the complexity of city challenges seem to demand large-scale reactions, there's great value in starting with smaller, quicker, approaches at the onset to build momentum and gradually grow impact. Small moves make room for quicker pivots.

Invest in individuals

Human ingenuity drives innovation. In the face of intractable challenges, citizens are increasingly inclined and able to take action on the problems they're most passionate about. Engagement and innovation on the individual level can serve as a precursor and driver for wide-scale positive transformation over time. Projects and platforms that invest directly in people have the greatest return on investment.

Know when to say no

Individuals in leadership roles are often overwhelmed with attention-consuming requests. Take meetings, give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, get coffee, donate time. While it can be difficult to know which of these requests actually matter in the long run, the most productive individuals know how to keep focus and avoid overzealous distraction. Rule of thumb: say no to most things.


Ernest Hemingway was known for his rigorous editing technique in which he meticulously removed word after word from his manuscripts. The result was a direct and pointed handling of the English language, one devoid of superfluous expressions. Simplifying both written and visual communication down to the essence helps make information approachable and accessible to a wider audience.

Participation shifts perception

Civic engagement efforts initiated by individuals or groups from outside the community of focus can quickly be viewed as inauthentic and sometimes even threatening. Demonstrating commitment through direct, on-the-ground involvement helps clarify intentions and build necessary trust among constituents. Relationships form quickly and grow strong when all sleeves are rolled up.

Use English

Complicated industry nomenclature coupled with million dollar buzz words confuses your audience and makes communication efforts worthless. While many civic innovation projects address dense, often complex issues, communication to the public should still be in clear and accessible. Jargon-filled language muddles the message, therefore weakening the case. Use English. Thank you.

You are needed

Take care of yourself. When you don't sleep, eat poorly, avoid exercise and live off the dangerous combination of coffee and adrenaline, your work suffers. In turn, your partnerships and personal relationships suffer as well. Know your boundaries and build time for rest into your process.

Give a damn

Citizens want to make a difference in their city. Fostering small, participatory projects that call citizens to action increase citizen involvement and, over time, ensure work is sustained. Leverage an eager community. Get to it.