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Find Community Partners

How can we find the right partners for our project teams?


A community partner is a local organization working within your project’s problem space. They are often experts in their field and have similar goals and interests. You can work with a community partner to connect with other experts, focus your research, and recruit users, many of whom are the users of the community partner as well!

Effective ways to do this include:

Identify potential community partners

  • Create a list of 4-5 potential community partners from your secondary research findings, or by asking for recommendations from your faculty advisors and mentors.

Craft your message
Similar to pitching to users, how can you pitch to community partners?

  • Start with a warm, welcoming intro.
  • Share your personal connection to the challenge area.
  • Describe what Design for America is and what your studio is trying to accomplish this term.
  • Make a specific ask for an interview call or visit, suggesting a few specific times and dates in the next few weeks.

Schedule 2-3 calls or in-person meetings with community partners

  • Reach out to your list of potential partners to schedule a call or in-person meeting. Come prepared to the meeting with a few things:
    • Findings from secondary research on a few narrow problem spaces you are trying to explore further. See which area connects with the goals and recent efforts of the community organization.  
    • A hand-out or a one-pager of the DFA process phases that teams will be going through and the key deliverables along the way.
    • A communication plan on how you’d like to engage with the community partner throughout the term to set expectations on time commitment.  
    • What deliverables the community partner can expect from teams.

Network Best Practices

Work closely with the community partner like DFA Northwestern Summer Studio

In 2015, 3 Summer Studio teams worked with Heartland Alliance and their Refugee Assimilation Team, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and a research team from Northwestern Medicine. After a project coach suggested to work with the same community partner as the previous year, the studio lead met with them to go over important details at this early stage of scoping and starting a new project. 

To accompany the conversation that went through possible project topics, she made a timeline of their DFA process, highlighting important dates for the community partner including a mid-project and final review. You can see her timeline and project briefs of summer studio here! 

Picture taken by teams during a field research trip in the first week.