Designing Human-Centered Institutions

The lesson that took 30 years to uncover

By Michael Brennan

In my thirty years of working on institutional challenges at a local, national and international level, I’ve had the privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the very best leaders from the private, public, and NGO sectors. During that time, I’ve continued to return to this image because the key message always hits home:


When we look at the large brick path, it causes us to reflect on all the solutions we’ve designed to address pressing institutional challenges — education, health care, transit, water, and housing to name a few. Yet too often the organization, the program, or the money became the core focus. Very rarely did we put the person we were trying to serve squarely in the center. In almost every case, the brick path solution didn’t deliver the desired results, and often the work was difficult to scale or sustain.

I want to be clear–there are beautiful examples of high impact work taking place in institutions around the globe. But at the end of the day, we aren’t experiencing as much progress as we would expect from the level of resources we’re applying to the problems. Moreover, we don’t see progress happening for all.

When you get leaders to a quiet and safe place, they will often admit a few things:

  • The complexity of institutional challenges has grown larger than their ability to solve them with existing tools.

  • The progress they’re making isn’t enough — nor is it possible to scale.

  • They don’t know how to create the ‘new’ while running the ‘now.’

  • They feel stuck and alone.

We put Civilla into the world to tackle these challenges. We’re here to design solutions that begin and end with those we are serving. We’re here to create a space of oxygen for leaders. We’re here to offer the capacity of an R&D team for our public-serving institutions. And we’re here to build a network of change makers who, together, can find a new way forward. We hope you’ll join us.

Adam Selzer