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Case study: Workforce Communities of Action (WCA) with JFF

Guiding a cohort of workforce boards to examine a challenge and scope practical next steps in addressing it

Jobs for the Future (JFF) & CivicMakers partnered to design and facilitate the Workforce Communities of Action (WCA) pilot program. This national cohort of workforce boards aimed to strengthen workforce professionals’ ability to identify and collaboratively address complex issues.

20 communities (workforce boards) were selected to share and explore their challenges in a structured environment and then define viable ‘Action Plans’ for implementing solutions. After eight months of guided exploration into their challenges, 11 communities officially submitted Action Plans for seed funding consideration. Of those candidates, four communities were selected to receive $10,000 toward implementing their Action Plans (Workforce Development Board of Solano County, Hampton Roads Workforce Council, SCPa Works, and Southern Indiana Works). This flexible funding will help these four communities take critical next steps in addressing their newly scoped challenges.


Throughout the pilot, we facilitated Discovery sessions to introduce human-centered design topics and resources for the month, as well as Design sessions at the end of the month to reconvene communities to discuss wins, lessons, and challenges from their work. While the program left room for emergence, we made sure to anchor around the following phases:

  1. Ecosystem Mapping & Gap Analysis
  2. Challenge Definition
  3. Impact Assessment
  4. Ideation & Action Planning
  5. + Complementary Coaching in JFF’s Future-Focused Behaviors: (1) Opportunity-Oriented, (2) Data-Obsessed, (3) Human-Centered, (4) Tech-Enabled

The Design sessions created an ongoing opportunity to listen to participants and adjust the program to meet their needs. We also checked in with teams through office hours and over email to follow their progress exploring challenges and developing clear Action Plans to address their community’s unique issues, as a way of offering individualized support.

By the end of the program, we pulled together multiple data sources (e.g. session debriefs, pre- and post-questionnaires, closing interviews with participants, and more) to evaluate the program from both a participant and project team perspective.


Throughout the pilot we learned how valuable it is to create space for communities to give focused attention to a single challenge. While many of the challenges they shared have been verified by their community, partners, or their organization, it can be hard to devote staff capacity to research and address challenges, particularly when they are intersecting.

“I think the biggest value-add for me was to hear how others are doing throughout the nation. I found peer to peer conversations really valuable.” – Participating Workforce Board

We learned that peer to peer learning is incredibly valuable to see challenges through a different lens, and having nationwide participation enabled workforce boards to learn from folks outside their regional or state context. Many communities felt validated just hearing that others were experiencing the same challenges, such as:

  • Mitigating systemic barriers to employment (e.g. access to childcare or transportation),
  • Designing industry-specific strategies / skill development (e.g. creation of a talent pipeline for the emerging biomanufacturing / biotech industry),
  • Connecting with opportunity populations (e.g. transitional age youth), or
  • Increasing system alignment or program strategy (e.g. alignment between businesses and workforce/training providers)

Participants embraced the discomfort of the HCD process, which requires spending much more time in the problem space without immediately jumping to solutions. We observed participants making a point to try new research approaches or establish new partnerships to examine their challenges through a new lens.

They learned and applied tools such as ecosystem mapping and stakeholder identification exercises to spend more time exploring how challenges impacted different people, programs and policies within their communities. For some, the structure of the program and its activities even provided a tangible opportunity for new partners to engage and collaborate:

“We’ve been able to get people in the room talking about these topics that we never have before.” – Participating Workforce Board


We designed the content of the program to center around challenge exploration and helping teams build a clearer view of priorities with their stakeholders. With the Action Plan as the final outcome of the program, the aim for communities was to have a greater clarity and specificity around their challenge and how to prioritize next steps.

Communities came into this program with different challenges, at different stages, and it was important for this process to be broad enough that it could accommodate those differences and not arbitrarily force them to define solutions.

“[We’re] taking a step backwards before moving forward…[this program is a] good exercise in ‘before you rush into this, take some time.’” – Participating Workforce Board

To help standardize the approaches – and support anyone new to human-centered design or research, generally – CivicMakers designed templates to accompany each step. These were a key opportunity to embed considerations of diversity, equity, inclusion and access. The research methods templates (for Interview Protocol and Survey Design) included specific tips to elevate one’s approach to data collection and analysis, to ensure that they mitigate their biases and create intentional and safe environments for stakeholders to share personal experiences.

Overall, the pilot helped organizations to structure their efforts (whether tackling new or ongoing challenges) and define actionable next steps. Despite nationwide challenges around capacity, participating communities surprised us by taking things a step further and applying their lessons to challenges from the start. Before Action Plans were submitted, some of the communities had already shared program frameworks with partners, developed RFQs, and applied for (and won) funding. It was a pleasure to see the Workforce Communities of Action program deliver on its mission of action not just practice.

“Informed by our work on the WCA project, we were recently notified of a $150,000 corporate grant for one year, with an option to renew for multi-year funding, that will directly support our talent development work in healthcare!” – Participating Workforce Board

“I’m so appreciative of CivicMakers’ creativity, preparedness, expert facilitation, and thoroughness. CivicMakers were true partners in delivering on our concept. They were collaborative, respectful, and produced high quality content on time and on budget.”

Veronica Buckwalter Director in Solutions Design & Delivery, Jobs For the Future