Growing an Engaged Education Innovation Community: SXSW EDU Workshop by Deborah Chang, Jessica Falkenthal, and John Baldo


On March 7th, 2018, Jessica Falkenthal, John Baldo, and I presented Growing an Education Innovation Community at SXSW EDU, one of the country’s most influential education innovation conferences. We wanted to support, inspire, and learn from fellow education innovation community builders so that together, we could work towards that better future for all. This post is written to walk you, or your team, through the workshop. You will start broadly by sketching out a 20-year vision for your community and end concretely at an action plan with next steps towards making that vision a reality.

Step 1: Spark Your Thinking

Spark your thinking by clicking on each of the questions above and respond with your own answers. By doing so, you’ll be joining a group of community builders throughout the world who have contributed their own answers. Use this as an opportunity to reflect deeply, broaden your perspective, and spark your thinking as you move into the hard work of establishing a vision.

Step 2: Establish a Vision

Read the quote below out loud. Then read it again.

“The promise of community innovation is the belief that we do not need to remain a powerless recipient of the whims of change, but rather that, together, we are capable of shaping and guiding the changes unfolding around us in ways that help to orchestrate a better future for all.”

—Sylvia Cheuy,
The Community Innovation Imperative

We’ve highlighted two important elements of this quote:

1) “shaping and guiding” because communities don’t just happen, instead, they are designed; and

2) “a better future for all” because the power of community is not just in the building of connections, but in the building towards a purpose

So what do you want to be true of the world in 20 years? And, what role does community play in getting to this vision of the future?

Take the time to really reflect on these questions. At the same time, you won’t have the full answer, and that’s okay! Instead, your vision will evolve as your community creates this vision together. Visioning isn’t a one-and-done deal, it is an everlasting process.

To support you in documenting your answers, please go to the Our Vision for Our Community worksheet and make a copy for you to complete for yourself.

This is a crucial part of growing an education innovation community because we need to be able to see that future in order to shape and guide our community towards that future.

Step 3: Design Your Community

Now that you have your vision, how does your community make that vision a reality? To answer this question, you need to think of the elements that make up the design of a community, and how they all work together. Our framework for thinking about these elements is slightly modified from the Community Canvas (co-authored by Fabian Pfortmüller, Nico Luchsinger, and Sascha Mombartz). This framework includes:

  • Identity
    • Purpose: Why does the community exist?
    • Member Identity: Who is the community for? How is diversity and inclusion enacted in all parts of the organization?
    • Values: What is important to us as a community?
    • Success Definition: How does the community define success?
    • Brand: How does the community express itself?
  • Experience
    • Member Selection & Onboarding: How do people join the community?
    • Shared Experiences: What experiences do members share?
    • Rituals: What happens in our community on a recurring basis that helps us achieve our goals and expresses our values in action?
    • Content: What content creates value for members?
    • Rules: What are the community’s rules?
    • Roles: What roles can members play? How do handovers and transfer of responsibility happen?
    • Transition: How do members leave the community?
  • Governance
    • Organization: Who runs the community?
    • Governance: How are decisions made in the community
    • Financing: What is the community’s plan to be financially sustainable?
    • Channels & Platforms: What channels does the community use to communicate and gather?
    • Data Management: How does the community manage the data of its members?

Answer these questions in the Community Canvas Worksheet Summary to diagnose how your community is currently designed (or not designed) to make your vision a reality. For an example of how this tool has been applied as a diagnostic, see the Community Canvas Worksheet Summary for the Innovative Teaching Coop (as filled out by community builder Kyle Liao). Or, you can use the Community Canvas Worksheet Summary as a planning tool for how your community could look like in the future. If you’d like a longer version, see the full Community Canvas Worksheet. Just like with the vision, you will not have the answers to all these questions. Instead, work with your community to design your community together, and continue to improve on that design as you grow.

Step 4: Make an Action Plan

  • What insights emerged as you worked through the community canvas?
  • Review your vision of the future. What’s the one next step that you can take to get the community closer to this vision?
  • What unanswered questions or barriers do you face in taking this step?
  • How might you find the answers to those questions or overcome those barriers? Which stakeholders will you prioritize working with to continue designing your community?

Use our Make an Action Plan worksheet to document your answers.

Step 5: Make a Commitment

Finally, I leave you with these parting words.

Review one more time your vision, your community design, and now, your action plan. Figure out just ONE thing you can do to take you just ONE step closer to the future you want to see. This can be as simple as, “I’m going to email Shandra and invite her to dinner to brainstorm better ways to make parents an integral part of our school community.”

Share your commitment to “What will you today?” with us in the comments below so that together, we can support one another as fellow community builders. So that “together, we are capable of shaping and guiding the changes unfolding around us in ways that help to orchestrate a better future for all.”


To see our full presentation and additional resources of education community building, visit

Special thanks to Kyle Liao, Rahul Patel, Steven Goss, and Christine Bediones for testing out early versions of the workshop and Sean Duffy, Laura Gilchrist, Cricket Fuller, Vicky GuoMelanie Kong, and Katie Anderson for being our workshop facilitators!

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