Designing an innovation roadmap for one of the world’s largest and oldest charitable organizations.



The 175-year old YMCA of the USA, one of the largest charitable organizations on the planet, needed a way to enable and sustain an innovation process across their vast network of local Ys. How might they be able to empower individual chapters across the country to innovate while drawing from the expertise and experience of 300,000 employees across the Y network?



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Design Thinking Facilitation

We first facilitated a 2-day on-site in Chicago alongside a curated design team representing Ys of various sizes, locations, and budgets. Together, we synthesized existing discovery work and developed personas using real-life stories of local Y chapters experimenting with innovation.


Research Synthesis

Following the 2-day on-site, we created a synthesis report which highlighted insights from discovery, key images, personas, and quotes. This iterative field guide documented outcomes to-date and advised on continued roles and responsibilities. Working with the design team’s feedback, we looked at national trends and created concept maps, ecosystem maps, and a design research plan which the design team then tested.


Innovation Roadmap

We co-built the innovation roadmap prototype in virtual sessions showing how innovation can happen at the local level while receiving support from the multitude of resources available in the Y network.



The collaboration revealed remarkable opportunities for the Y to promote innovation at all levels of its network. The roadmap prototype we developed helps to establish a cultural default towards creative problem solving, opportunity recognition, innovation experimentation, and reporting to leverage as much of the Y’s mindshare as possible. We also developed a pathway whereby the national YMCA team can issue design challenges to teams throughout the network that directly address roadblocks experienced by local Ys and their partners.

With a streamlined innovation process, the centuries old organization now has the means to stay young and agile for another 100+ years.



Borough + Block is a human-centered design studio focused on learning and educational projects. We turn user insights into strategies and build customized education programs and tools so our clients can grow. We guide research methods, build strategies, provide design direction, and coach teams through the process of change and implementation.