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An Introduction to Equity Design

This is part two of a two-part introduction to design thinking. Part one is available here. 


Design thinking is a method for creative problem-solving that has been around for decades. While design thinking is primarily thought of as a methodology for designing products, it is now used in a diverse array of fields and sectors. It is being used to change the experience of votingtransform the emergency roomreimagine the way we vacation and more!

As design thinking is utilized to solve big-problems and ultimately redesign systems, if it is to produce equitable solutions, then the process of design thinking itself must be examined closely to mitigate the causes of inequity. Design thinking as a field often refuses to acknowledge power imbalance or the exclusive nature of many design processes. Design thinking cannot create equitable outcomes on its own (Equity Design Collaborative, 2016).

That is where equity design comes in.

What is Equity Design?

Equity Design Collaborative, a group of individuals and organizations committed to cultivating the field of equity design, defines equity design as a creative process to dismantle systems of oppression and (re)design towards liberation and healing by centering the power of communities historically impacted by the oppressive systems being (re)designed. 

In other words – “If racism and inequity are products of design, they can be redesigned,” said Dr. Christine Ortiz, founder of Equity Meets Design.

Equity design combines the consciousness of equity work with the power of design thinking methodologies. In the equity by design framework, there are three core beliefs; Historical context matters (learning to see), radical inclusion (be seen) and process as product (foresee). These core beliefs lead equity designers to a set of five principles:

Five Design Principles of Equity Design ( From Equity Design Collaborative)

  1. Design at the margins: Our current innovation conversation is exclusive, accessible only to the powerful and privileged. Designing at the margin means that those in privileged positions do not solve for those experiencing oppression; rather, in true community, both the privileged and marginalized build collective responsibility and innovative solutions for our most intractable problems.
  2. Start with yourself: Our identities (race, gender, upbringing, social status, home language, etc.) create our lens for the world and how we make sense of it. We must raise our awareness of our own identities and how bias impacts our thoughts, choices, conclusions, and assumptions to truly co-create with others.
  3. Cede Power: Equity requires a nonviolent, action-oriented spirit of co-creation and co-invention, necessitating an inversion of legacy power structures. Equitable design demands that practices change and evolve — that we redefine roles, revalue ways of knowing, and reassess the ways we reach decisions.
  4. Make the invisible visible: The relationships between people and problems are often governed by sets of heuristics — techniques that allow problems to be solved with speed, agility, and economy. However, these preexisting schemas can perpetuate exclusionary assumptions and biased practices, manifesting as implicit bias, power dynamics, and hegemonic practices that govern relationships with people in our organizations, schools, and governments. By making them visible, we can assess their impact and create a space for reflection and repair.
  5. Speak to the future: Because an equitable reality has never existed, we cannot look to our past to learn how to create an equitable future. There is an often-overlooked power in language and discourse to influence and control ideas, beliefs, actions, and ultimately culture. When we take control of our language, when we speak to the future, we lay the groundwork to create something new — together.

The process used to design is a product in and of itself. We must engage in equitable practices during that process. By designing with these principles in mind, we can begin to mitigate the inequities that exist in the systems and processes that impact our daily lives.

Equity Design: What’s next? 

Take a few moments to think about the last time you “designed” something. If you are a part of an ELCA Congregation, that might have been something like a community event, a weekly bible study or a food drive for your local food pantry.

  1. In what ways did your design process include the five design principles of equity design?
  2. In what ways could your design process have been modified to include the five design principles of equity design?

If you would like to learn more about equity design, Equity Meets Design offers a free online course: Introduction to equityXdesign. 

References and Other Resources

Equity Design Collaborative. [Nov 2016]. Racism and inequity are products of design. They can be redesigned.
Equity Design Collaborative. [Dec 2017]. Equity is a Verb.
Equity Design Collaborative. [Sep 2017]. The Big 10 (+1) Ideas that Fuel Oppression.
Eric Blattburg. [May 2020]. Traditional design won’t save us in the COVID-19 era.
Free online course: Introduction to equityXdesign offered by Equity Meets Design.

Thriving Congregations, Thriving Church

Congregations Lead Logo Square

Congregations Lead Initiative

People are lonely. A January 2020 survey from Cigna found that three in five US Americans are lonely, and we know loneliness only got exponentially worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education analyzed data from an October 2020 online survey of 950 Americans and “reported substantial increases in loneliness since the outbreak of the pandemic.” Loneliness can seem like a taboo topic, but this survey shows that our neighbors are crying out for connection. So, what does that mean for a church that believes in a relational God? The ELCA is called to respond to the needs of our world by nurturing our relationships with our global and local communities as well as building stronger ties with our neighbors. 

At its November 2020 meeting, the ELCA Church Council affirmed the Future Church design, which focuses on a “renewed purpose to activate the entire church so that more people may know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love.” In doing so, it identified three priorities for the church moving forward:

  • a welcoming church that engages new, young and diverse people
  • a thriving church rooted in tradition andradically relevant
  • a connected, sustainable church that shares in a common purpose and direction

These are big priorities that can be lived out in a variety of ways. One way to live into this renewed purpose is a program that evolved out of this refocused purpose statement: the Congregations Lead Initiative, made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment. As our world and local contexts grow more complex, the ELCA is called to respond to the needs of our community. This program seeks to equip and inspire congregations with innovation and design-thinking tools to spark the next chapter of congregational ministry. At a time when many congregations feel like they’re struggling to survive, this initiative seeks to provide the tools to thrive. In addition, we hope this program will spark greater change across the whole ELCA, where thriving congregations will inspire a thriving church, so that all “may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10). We are looking for new and creative ways to invite people to know the love of Jesus.

God demonstrates time and again that we are meant to be in community; in one Body of Christ. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it,” (1 Corinthians 12:26). When loneliness is an epidemic, we are called to listen to our neighbors, be present in community, and to be a safe space where people can experience the love of God. If this call to activate the entire church so that more people may know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love excites you, then your congregation might be a great candidate for the Congregations Lead Initiative! To learn more, you can visit; applications are open now! If you have any questions, feel free to email 

Rebecca Payne (she/her)

Program Manager, Congregations Lead Initiative

Open Doors


Open Doors Logo
Open Doors supports ELCA congregations interested
in meeting new people in this time of re-gathering
in physical spaces

Over the past 18 months, faith communities have gathered to worship and share the faith in new and different ways. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, worship has moved online, in-person events have been reimagined, and new questions have arisen. Yet, faith communities around the world have served their communities with profound compassion and creativity. As vaccine availability in the United States increased and outbreaks of Covid-19 lessened in severity, communities across the ELCA have begun considering what might be next. Additionally, as the ELCA sets out to share the story of Jesus and the ELCA with one million new, younger, and more diverse people, the opportunity became clear. But without a set list of “best practices” for emerging from a global pandemic, the ELCA set out to learn – together.

The Open Doors initiative was launched to support ELCA congregations interested in meeting new people during this time of transition and re-gathering in physical spaces. ELCA congregations were invited to share their concrete, actionable ideas for meeting new people during this critical time.

Open Doors Map
To see a map of Open Doors recipients click here.

Over 1,000 ELCA congregations – nearly 12 percent – responded with their ideas. The ideas ranged from responding to the immediate needs of communities to sparking moments of joy through a traveling ice cream cart with a cool, sweet treat and warm welcome. Other congregations are imaging outdoor public space for reflection and tranquility through a garden or prayer labyrinth or celebratory block parties and concerts. Many are planning to continue virtual worship and community in addition to returning to physical gathering, and still others will accompany neighbors in community prayer gatherings through grief support and intentional time to remember the many lives lost during the past year.

In total, 134 grant applicants from across the ELCA were selected through a random selection process and received a $1,500 grant to put towards their idea. Grant applicants and recipients are implementing their ideas and will be invited to share their learnings toward the end of 2021. If you would like to share your idea for meeting new people in this time of re-gathering, you can do so using the Open Doors “bulletin board.”

Though the future may be yet unknown, the opportunity to learn and grow together continues. If you’d like to follow along, please subscribe to the ELCA Innovation Lab blog, and you can email us at

An Introduction to Design Thinking


Have you or your worshipping community ever encountered a tough problem and found yourselves unable to come up with a solution? Then design thinking might be able to help! Design thinking is being used every day by global companies, top universities and people around the world to help solve big challenges.

Typically in problem-solving, the problem and solution are defined within concrete confines — for example, in innovation, we look for the ideal overlap of viability, feasibility and desirability. Design thinking enters the innovation process to help expand the options and imagination into the abstract before coming back down to finalize or define the concrete solution.

Design thinking can also help break down large, complex problems into more discrete yet interconnected segments.

“Great!” you say? Then, let’s get to it. What is design thinking?

Design Thinking: An Overview

Design Thinking Overview
Source: Stanford d.School,
Design Thinking Bootleg.” Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Design thinking is a method for creative problem-solving that works on an understanding that the best solutions and problem-solving involve the perspectives of those who will use the design — “the user” (ex. customer, member, constituent). By gaining a deep understanding of the user first, design thinking considers whether the problem is a problem at all, helps to uncover assumptions and explores the implications of a potential solution.

To better understand the problem, the users and potential solutions, there are five “modes” within design thinking. While there are many ways to explore these phases, here is how the Stanford d.School (Stanford Design School) defines the five modes:

  • Empathize: Empathy is the foundation of user-centered design. The problems you’re trying to solve are rarely your own; they’re those of particular users. Build empathy for your users by learning their values.
  • Define: The define mode is when you unpack your empathy findings into needs and insights and scope a meaningful challenge. Based on your understanding of users and their environments, come up with an actionable problem statement: your Point of View. Understanding the meaningful challenge at hand and the user insights you can leverage is fundamental to creating a successful solution.
  • Ideate: Ideate is the mode in which you generate radical design alternatives. Ideation is a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes — a mode of “flaring” instead of “focus.” The goal of ideation is to explore a wide solution space — both a large quantity and a broad diversity of ideas. From this vast repository of ideas, you can build prototypes to test with users.
  • Prototype: Prototyping gets ideas out of your head and into the world. A prototype can be anything that takes a physical form — a wall of Post-it notes, a role-playing activity, an object. In the early stages, keep prototypes inexpensive and low-resolution to learn quickly and explore possibilities.
  • Test: Testing is your chance to gather feedback, refine solutions and continue to learn about your users. The test mode is an iterative mode in which you place low-resolution prototypes in the appropriate context of your user’s life. Prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong.

Design thinking is an iterative problem-solving process, meaning that the five phases are not sequential. For example, after prototyping, you might want to go back to empathize with users to understand whether a potential solution will work.

Design thinking also opens up the opportunity to think from different perspectives and in alternative ways to reach a better solution. To explore further, check out the Stanford d.School’s “Design Thinking Bootleg” or IDEO’s design thinking introduction and related resources.

What’s next?

While design thinking often follows or uses the five “modes” outlined above, even this innovative field continues to evolve. Look out for part two of this design thinking story, which will focus on equity design!

References and Other Resources

IDEO, “Design Thinking.”

Stanford d.School, “Design Thinking Bootleg.” Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang, “What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?,” Interaction Design Foundation, July 2020.

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A Sanctuary in Time: Holding Space for Reflection

This post features a story from The Rev. Matt Short, Director for Evangelical Mission, Greater Milwaukee Synod.

In July of 2016, as a part of a three-month sabbatical, I had the chance to spend a week at the Taize Community in France. Three times each day, I would kneel on the floor of the Church of Reconciliation with thousands of others from across the globe as we sang and prayed with the brothers of the community. Three times a day, the cavernous sanctuary became, for me, a place of reflection, peace, and deep contemplation. It was the first time I personally experienced the truth behind Jesus’ words in John 7:38; “…out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

A Sanctuary in Time
The Church of Reconciliation,Taizé, France
“Bourgogne Taize Eglise Reconciliation”
by rene boulay is licensed under CC BY 3.0

When I first returned to the United States and emerged from sabbatical to begin active ministry again, I felt a sense of sadness that this beautiful sanctuary was so far from me. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that what I longed for wasn’t the physical structure of the Church of Reconciliation; it was the space created in my life by the rhythms of the sabbatical. That space is what allowed for the depth of reflection that felt to me like a river of living water. I soon realized that I could create a “sanctuary in time” by simply slowing down enough to ask deep questions and hold the space for reflection I deeply needed.

I am convinced that in our harried pace of daily ministry, exacerbated by the disorienting effects of the Covid-19 virus, space for reflection is one of the first things to go. For me, it is also at times like this that I need that “sanctuary in time” the most. Recently, I, along with several colleagues, facilitated a conversation in which we held that space for reflection.

There was nothing particularly profound about the process we used or the questions we offered as a frame for the reflective time. However, I am convinced that the brilliance lies in the simplicity of clearing a space in time and using open questions to open us to the movement of the Spirit.

During that time of reflection, we asked these questions:

As you think about your ministry during this time of pandemic:

  • What do you notice? (Spend 5 minutes thinking or writing just about this.)
  • What questions are emerging for you? (Spend another 5 minutes thinking or writing just about this, and avoid the temptation to answer any of the question. Just make a list of them.)
  • What might God be nudging you to consider? (Spend 5 minutes thinking or writing just about this.)

The simplicity and open nature of the questions, along with the time set aside, acted as our sanctuary that day. This held open the space for us to let go of the drive to be productive for just a bit and listen to the leading of the Spirit. We then used the reflections as a springboard to innovation by following God’s “nudging” and identifying one new thing we could try.

A month after facilitating this time for reflection, we returned, asking the simple questions again:
  • What new action did you try?
  • What did you notice?
  • What questions are emerging for you?
  • Now, what might God be nudging you to consider?

The key, at least for me, has been the commitment to regularly holding space for reflection. I have found the regular practice of this simple process, whether alone or with others, acts as a sanctuary in time, allowing for the living water that’s always just beneath the surface to burst forth.

The ELCA Innovation Lab Blog is new! We’d love to hear what you think. If you’ve got a few minutes, complete this short survey. If you have any additional questions or comments let us know at

ABIDE in Failure

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of participants have taken part in small groups as part of ELCA Young Adults ABIDE ministry. ABIDE invites young adults ages 18-35 to build community and talk about what it means to abide in this moment.

Last week, Mikka McCracken, Director of the ELCA Innovation Lab, spoke about our call to “fail boldly” and what it means to ABIDE in failure. Check out the video below which explores the importance of taking risks in service to our neighbor, and remembering that our worth is not defined by our success or failure but rests in our identity as loved children of God. 

ABIDE in Failure: Discussion Questions

ABIDE in Failure
  1. When you hear the word failure, what do you think of? When it comes with working through failure, where do you find yourself? How does failure feel in your body?
  2. When you’re sitting in the immediate aftermath of failure and its accompanying emotions, what helps you get through? Who are the people who have showed up for you at these times? Where do you see God?
  3. Mikka talks about taking the call to turn outward toward our neighbors – to shine and share the light and love of God’s grace so freely shared with us. In doing so, we are surely in the failure likely zone more often. What was a time you took a risk to serve your neighbor? How might you take a risk to serve a friend, neighbor, or your community this week?
  4. How does failure (or fear of failure) stop you from being creative and innovative? What tools or support can help you step boldly into the “failure likely zone”?

The ELCA Innovation Lab Blog is new! We’d love to hear what you think. If you’ve got a few minutes, complete this short survey. If you have any additional questions or comments let us know at