What is community-centered design?

Community-centered design is an ongoing practice of self-reflection, co-creation, and transformation. Refined over ten years of practice, our approach to community-centered design honors communities whose voices have been excluded or marginalized from the very processes that impact them. By creating space for inclusion, respect, healing, and equity, we strive to redress legacy systems of oppression, including colonialism, racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, caste discrimination, and more. Without designing to account for all dimensions of oppression, we risk creating superficially transformative strategies that are neither relevant nor effective at addressing the roots of our societal issues.


Our approach to community-centered design sits within a broader transformative paradigm, a framework for mixed-methods research that explicitly addresses inequality and factors in dynamics of power and privilege. Community-centered design is one application of a transformative paradigm that values communities as experts and agents of their own lives. We consider our practice as part of a lineage of inclusive design methods, such as liberatory design, equity-centered community design, participatory design, emancipatory research, and transformative research design. We respect and learn from practices such as the Design Justice Network, Equity Design Collaborative, BlackSpace, Beytna Design, Greater Good Studio, and Creative Reaction Lab.

What does this Toolkit offer that is new or different?

Based on our own experiences facilitating partnerships, we have assembled this collection of methods and tools designed to help you identify new approaches to solving gridlocked challenges in ways that are inclusive, collaborative, and hopefully, transformational. In short, our tools are intended to help to nurture processes of inclusive innovation from within your team or organization.


Our Toolkit includes three core learning pathways: Changing Perspectives, Institutionalizing Change, and Reimagining Futures. Each pathway includes tools, mindsets, and exercises that you can engage with as part of professional teams, academic institutions, and also informal learning and organizing environments.

When you say community, who are you talking about?

We recognize communities as networks formed around shared identities, interests, resources, geographies, and needs. Our community-centered approach is premised on the notion that traditional approaches to research and engagement need to be re-framed from the perspective of partnerships, and a belief that every interaction within a community presents an opportunity to move toward a more equitable social contract between communities and the organizations that serve them.

Is this Toolkit open source?

Over the past decade, we have been formulating the mindsets, processes, and resources for ourselves and for our partners to continuously grow and critically evolve this field. We are excited to be opening up our Toolkit to wider audiences and we look forward to hearing your feedback and ideas.


To this end, we have made our Toolkit free to access and published using a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0license. This means that individuals or organizations are free to share and adapt our toolkit materials with appropriate attribution and for non-commercial purposes only. While we hope you can learn as much as we have from developing these tools, our ask is that you respect the work that 3×3 and our collaborators put into producing this, and refrain from copying it in part or whole without proper attribution or consent. If you would like to partner on the distribution or adaptation of our toolkit, we would love to work together. Feel free to reach us at info@3×

I am not a designer and we do not have any designers on our team. Can we still use these tools?

Design, design thinking, design strategy, urban planning, public policy, international development, and other fields in which we have worked and trained are largely shaped by colonialism, structural exclusion, and stark power imbalances. To move on from the exclusive and hierarchical lineages that create so-called experts and outsiders, we approach every role as included as part of design.


Learning and applying community-centered design tools does not require any traditional training in design or experience with design thinking and strategy. All that is needed are flexible mindsets open to self-reflection, critical thinking about existing systems and structures, and an appetite for exploring systemic problems and challenges at hand, such as the design of decision-making processes, policies, and programs.

What were your intentions in deciding to create this Toolkit?

We believe that to achieve the change we want to see in the world, we need community-centered design to become a normative approach in private, public, and social sectors. In putting together these resources in no way was our intention to own or brand community-centered design.


Our intent is to make our approach as accessible as possible so organizations and fellow practitioners can employ these tools as building blocks for their own community-centered lexicon and projects. In short, we would like to be a part of helping make community-centered design synonymous with design.

When is the right moment to start using these tools?

Any time, really! It is never too soon or too late to try one of our community-centered design approaches to get started or get unstuck in a collaborative project. The only wrong time to use this toolkit is when practicing perfectionism. We created this resource to inspire, elevate, and evolve your work. Please do not try to learn and apply it all at once or spend any time feeling guilty about how you could have used these tools in your past work.


Here are a few scenarios we had in mind while making this Toolkit:

  1. You are beginning to plan a new external engagement campaign or co-design process and are looking to design an inclusive process.
  2. You have initiated an external engagement campaign or co-design process and want to ensure that you have taken everything into consideration.

  3. You are moving an organizational change or strategic planning initiative forward and need to workshop the initiative with different internal stakeholders.

Can you share examples of teams and organizations that have used these tools successfully?

Take a look at the Work section of this site to read about the different scenarios and partnerships where community-centered design has carved inclusive pathways to innovation and positive impact. In particular, take a look at these examples:

  1. In collaboration with Public School, facilitating process design workshops with city agencies;

  2. With the Delhi Urban Arts Commission in Lado Sarai, applying participatory action research and design thinking to rejuvenate underutilized open space and a rainwater harvesting system;
  3. With American Institute of Graphic Arts, leading a place-based communications in East New York, Brooklyn to improve communication channels between local service providers and the small business community.

Where can I learn more about inclusive approaches to design?

We are happy to be part of a growing, global network of peer organizations and individuals practicing inclusive approaches to design, strategy, and transformation work.


Here are a few compendiums to explore:

  1. Social change by design database v2
  2. The social design directory
  3. Community-led design wiki

Can I get some advice on how to integrate community-centered design into a project?

Of course! We often partner with teams to provide capabilities training, inclusive facilitations, and more extensive research and design consultations. While the toolkit proposes different scenarios in which our approaches may be applied, we know you will come up with your own ideas about how and when these tools might be best to be used. For any specific questions about how to assemble and apply these resources into a cohesive project plan, or any other feedback, please reach out to us at info@3×

If the Toolkit were a street food, what would it be?

You can think of our Toolkit as panipuri or tacos. Both provide crispy or soft shells to fill with savory nourishment in ways that are accessible, warm, and allow for creativity. They both lend themselves well to remixing, fusions, and portability. And lastly, you can make a whole meal out of panipuri (we actually know people who can eat 30 panipuri in one go!) or tacos, or just grab one as a snack at any time of the day. Now stop making us hungry 🌮