The Institutional Dilemma
At Civilla, we believe that the best and fastest way to scale change in society is through our existing institutions. Institutions as we know them today are in a crisis–operating under industrial era mindsets and challenged by the pressure of today’s fast changing world. We want to change that.
Civilla is a nonprofit design studio dedicated to changing the way our public-serving institutions work. We wake up every day with the goal of positively impacting one billion people through institutions that are more compassionate, more effective, and less expensive to operate. There is no way we’ll be able to do this alone. It will take a community of leaders and change makers to rally around a new way forward.
Our work started in Michigan in 2015 when we partnered with state leaders to streamline the longest public benefit application in America. In a few short years, the work has already improved service for over 2.5 million people across the state. Today, we’re building a more human-centered safety net while expanding our efforts beyond health and human services.
At the heart of Civilla is a dedicated team of researchers, designers, and strategists united by our mission and vision. Civilla’s work is informed by our experience leading change in organizations such as United Way, Stanford University’s design school, IDEO, and global policy organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS).
Areas of Expertise
We walk arm-in-arm with leaders to design institutions that are fit for the future.
User Research + Strategy
We conduct in-depth qualitative and quantitative research to help institutions understand people’s needs and identify the biggest opportunities for change.
Using human-centered design, we reshape services from end-to-end to improve technology, business process, policy, and operations.
Our team works alongside our partners to navigate the path to implementation so that solutions remain human-centered all the way through.
We train individuals and teams in human-centered design to shift organizational cultures over the long term.
Civilla was listed as one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers in 2019 by GovTech Magazine and was honored by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) as one of the Top Organizations Moving Society Forward in 2018.
Our work is grounded in a set of values that reflect our dedication to our mission:
Optimism – We remain open to the immense potential of our institutions to do good.
Curiosity – We constantly seek new inputs that can grow our context about what is possible.
Empathy – We view human-to-human connection as the foundation of our work.
All In – We regard showing up and seeing work all the way through as essential for leading change.
Our studio is based in Detroit, Michigan where we occupy a 10,000 square foot space in the TechTown building. It’s a place of meaning and purpose - where people have the courage to ask the hard questions, approach serious work with optimism, and pursue bold solutions that reflect what ought to be in the world.
Peek inside the studio:
Civilla’s culture is founded on 11 principles which we spent two years crafting as a team. We reflect on them weekly to ensure they guide the organization as we grow.
When we launched Civilla, we asked our friend Paul Siebert to gift us a name that reflected the essence of what we are creating. He returned two weeks later and slid an envelope across the table that contained a combination of two words: civil and village.
Civil - reflecting the role of individuals in civil society. When you look at change initiatives around the globe, they are always rooted in individual action.
Village - reflecting the notion that nothing big in the world has ever been done alone. Change is always supported by a collective.
We checked to make sure the url was available (it was!) and we never looked back. Thank you, Paul.
The Civilla Bird
The official Civilla bird is the Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful bird that we admire for its elegant, restrained, and powerful use of color.
The Civilla Chronicle
We have a soft spot for snail mail and analog press. We publish a bi-annual newspaper that shares learnings and reflections from our design work. Interested in receiving a copy? Sign up and we’ll mail the next issue to your doorstep.
Each week we re-dedicate ourselves to a ten year walk to poke the universe. We’ll know that we've achieved this when we’ve positively impacted one billion people and deeply impacted one thousand lives. It’s also why we named our podcast One Billion. Tune in for behind-the-scenes stories about the way change happens.
A Strengths-Based Culture
We believe that everyone has the capacity to contribute in unique ways and that change requires people to bring their full selves to the table. We strive to create an environment where individuals can lean into their unique abilities and use those strengths to do the best work of their lives.
There are a number of change efforts that would totally rock our world. Here’s an ever-growing list of projects we’d love to get our hands on:
Redesign the FAFSA application process to streamline access to student aid
Streamline Medicare enrollment to reduce confusion and cost of administration
Redesign the voting experience to maximize national participation and civic engagement
Redesign standardized testing for public school students to modernize college entrance applications
Reshape state and federal tax codes to streamline processing and expand prosperity
Develop plain language standards for data security agreements to improve consumer protections
Design an official U.S. Postage Stamp