4: envisioning & design

envision [en-vizh-uh n]

v. the manner in which one sees or conceives of something, the mystical experience of seeing something that is not in fact present to the eye

design [dih-zahyn]

v. to formulate a plan for, devise; to have as a goal or purpose; the purposeful or inventive arrangement of parts or details; deliberate intention

Consider: Whether you're a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.

All that you touch

You Change.

All that you Change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change.


Is Change.

— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)

In this and the next chapter you will be introduced to four tools which flow from each other to create the actual content for our Women of Color programs.

  1. The Design Guide: Is your broadest vision for your program. It creates a container for free flowing brainstorming from different vantage points, looking ahead to impact and backward to our ancestors’ wisdom.

  2. The Program Overview and FAQ

  3. Wireframes (Section 5: Wireframes & Sessions)

  4. Session Guides (Section 5: Wireframes & Sessions)

The Design Guide

Our first collective design process as a team (for Power 50) inspired the creation of many tools along the way which we have subsequently used to develop and refine other programs. One such tool, originally conceived by Viveka Chen, is our Design Guide for conceptualizing the vision and core components of a program (and that we now offer to you!). Like a vision board, the Design Guide captured our radical imagination, inspirations, purpose, approach, and goals — in other words, our “why” and “how” of holding space for Women of Color.

The Design Guide is your broadest vision for your program. It creates a container for free flowing brainstorming from different vantage points, looking ahead to impact and backward to our ancestors’ wisdom. It includes placeholders for defining goals and indicators whether for a program, a convening or a session/workshop.

Design Guide Applications

Naming Long & Short Term Goals

For Power 50 and the women’s fellowship, developing skills in and habits of Transformative Organizing were our apex goals, while the incremental goals were Transformation of Self and Transformation of Organization & Community. Here’s how we articulated them in the design process using the outcomes matrix:

Assessing Impact

We implemented a robust evaluation approach that helped us to continually learn about what we were doing well, how we could improve, and to highlight program impact along the way. The outcomes and metrics were developed over several months using the above matrix and coincided with curriculum planning to ensure the desired impacts would be measurable. We understood that a traditional transactional approach to evaluation (such as a year end anonymous survey) would not effectively capture the outcomes of Power 50 and the women’s fellowship. Since we were interested in measuring complex changes in participants’ consciousness, leadership development and attitude, we use mixed-methods to collect data:

  • Surveys were administered after each gathering and frequently in real time to capture ideas about the day and preferences for the rest of the gathering.

  • Evaluative vignettes describing a leadership challenge and questions about how to respond to them were created to assess participants’ approach and mindset.

  • Ethnographic observation to observe impact as participants showcase their grasp of concepts and strategies and their growth as presenters and facilitators.

  • Interviews were conducted with select participants prior to and after each gathering.

  • Focus groups were conducted with participants prior to and after each gathering.

Developing Program Overview & Faqs

The Program Overview and FAQS organizes the expansive vision and details of the program you imagined through the Design Guide process into something succinct that you can use to recruit for and describe your program to others (see 'Translating the Design Guide into your Program Overview & FAQs' below). The programs that grew out of design processes for us are Power 50, the women’s fellowship and the WoC Gathering Space that together support Community Change’s Path to Power.

You can learn more about these programs here.

Power 50

Launched in 2018, Power 50 was named to honor Community Change’s 50th anniversary of building grassroots power in low-income communities and communities of color. Power 50 takes inspiration from Acorn, the community founded by Lauren Oya Olamina, the Black woman leader in Octavia Butler’s science fiction novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. Acorn arose out of a belief system called Earthseed (see verse in sidebar), formed to provide protection and learn adaptive skills, especially for people of color and mixed race people, in a future where society has collapsed due to climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed. In Power 50 we imagined a space invested in women of color as the engineers and stewards of the progressive movement; a space where WoC leaders can safely, bravely acquire practices and knowledge necessary for our complex time of change. As these are uncommon skills in our society, there is also the need for women of color leaders to pass on their knowledge and skills.

Power 50 is a 9-month, cohort based program for WoC already steeped in basic leadership that provides organizing and management skill development with deep grounding, tools, practices, and inter-relational and political analysis to stay the course of their convictions. Power 50 members are staff at current Community Change/Action partner organizations and:

  • Are “mid-trajectory” in their movement lifespan having demonstrated past leadership and impact in their organizations and the field and are poised to make a significant future impact in these spaces

  • Have a base that they are accountable to and are positioned to build other leadersWork in organizations that see the value of investing in leadership development and demonstrate clear commitment to making time and space for the Power 50 member to fully participate

Power 50 gathers at retreats and mini-intensives four times a year for relationship building, workshops, site visits and other teaching/learning experiences. Between these gatherings the women met virtually for coaching, accountability and to stay connected, and this was enhanced by digital communication through WhatsApp.

women’s fellowship

Launched in 2018, the name honors the legacy of the Women’s Gathering and all women of color who have given their love for the movement. The women’s fellowship was motivated by the appalling realities of United States’ carceral state and immigration policies.

The US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and worldwide women living in the U.S. represent 4% of the female population, but comprise over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women. Women are being criminalized for their responses to gender-based abuse, discrimination and domestic abuse and for engaging in sex work. Once in prison they are likely to face severe disciplinary action, reducing any time off earned on their sentences for good behavior or for parole, and deal with the dehumanizing nature of incarceration that impacts their mental, physical and emotional wellness. Concurently there is increased detention and deportation of immigrants in the US and the accompanying fear of people who are undocumented simply for wanting to provide for their families. Mothers, daughters and sisters whose families include both US citizens and those who are undocumented carry a particular burden as essential workers in and outside of their homes, and like their formerly incarcerated comrades, are susceptible to mental, physical and emotional distress.

And yet, formerly incarcerated and immigrant WoC have stepped up as leaders to expose the fraud and force used to criminalize WoC and poor people and to organize at the risk of being deported. The women’s fellowship was created to support the self-initiative of these women in a model of development that not only recognizes their experiences with trauma, but uses it as an asset for prison reform and abolition.

The women’s fellowship is a 10-month cohort based program that builds the leadership of WoC who are directly impacted by the criminal injustice and immigration system. We equip WoC leaders with the tools they need to engage in strategic discussions and partnerships that shape policy decisions and establish how power is attained and wielded at home, work and their communities. Through training and political education sessions, the program aims to support justice-involved women so they can envision themselves out of their current realities and craft an agenda that is for and by them. Women in this program:

  • Have personally experienced incarceration or detention or that of a close loved/convicted of a felony and/or are immigrants

  • Staff members or leaders of current Community Change/Action partners

  • Lead local campaigns and/or organizing on social justice issues (e.g., They have demonstrated leadership and impact in their organizations and the field and are poised to make a significant future impact.).

  • Have a base that they are accountable to and are positioned to build other leaders.

  • Come from organizations who see the value of investing in leadership development and demonstrate a clear commitment to making time and space for staff to fully participate in this program.

The women’s fellowship gathers three times over the course of the program for concentrated blocks of time that include workshops, relationship-building, and guest speakers. In-person retreats are supported by monthly virtual circles that through peer coaching create opportunities for the women to share knowledge, provide mutual accountability, and build interdependence that breaks traditional notions of who can offer “expert” counsel.

Women of Color Gathering Space

Launched in 2020 and anchored by our Cross Movement Convening, the WoC Gathering Space is a mutually held space (Community Change staff and partners) meant to reground, to reinspire, and to direct the eyes of WoC on the horizon. We use storytelling, discussion, culture, and tool sharing to build shared analysis, build relationships, and share tools that ground us in our authentic selves and that are helpful in creating the conditions we need to thrive in the movement (e.g., the six D’s tools, strategic imagination during a pandemic and widespread protests).

The women have the option to engage in an annual retreat that happens ahead of CC’s Cross-Movement (CMC) Convening, and which is intended to provide an opportunity for WoC to connect with, learn from, and accompany each other throughout the CMC (and beyond). Virtual gatherings take place every month to connect the joys and struggles of the WoC, reconnect them to our vision and purpose, and to exchange great practices and tools. The calls are organized and led by CC staff and partners. Ongoing communication is additionally supported by a WhatsApp Group and email listserve to help maintain ongoing emotional support and connection as well as a place to share or request resources.

Designing a Program Logo

Coming up with a logo for our program was an important step in the process of conveying the identity and culture we hoped to cultivate for and with our participants. It was also an opportunity for our team to be imaginative and get creative by turning our vision into a visual. Check out our program logos and read below about how they came to be.

Power 50: The core team for Power 50 struggled for months to design a logo that properly expressed the journey they hoped to take with their participants. During a design retreat, the team got to talking about their shared admiration for the work of movement artist, Favianna Rodriguez, and decided to explore her work for inspiration. The group instantly fell in love with Caterpillar in Chrysalis which Favianna so graciously agreed to let them incorporate into the logo. The image honors who the leaders are at present, the leaders they are becoming, and the sacredness of the space that facilitates the transformation.

women’s fellowship: women’s fellowship is written in lowercase to honor the author, educator and activist bell hooks and to focus on her way of being that is grounded in black feminist theory. The ten butterflies represent transformation, the heart of the heart of the women’s fellowship. The design was created by Karla McClean.

Assembling a Cohort

Developing a cohort, translating the vision of who this program is for at the macro and micro level, was a critical application of our design process that is both science and art.

The Science (Criteria): During the design process, we developed a set of criteria for the individuals we wanted to comprise a cohort. For example, the women’s fellowship we sought:

  • People who identify as indigenous women and/or Women of Color who have personally experienced incarceration or detention or that of a close loved/convicted of a felony.

  • Staff members or leaders of current Community Change/Action partners

  • People who are leading local campaigns, and or are organizing on social justice issues, meaning they have demonstrated leadership and impact in their organizations and the field and are poised to make a significant future impact in these spaces

  • Those who have a base that they are accountable to and are positioned to build other leaders

  • Those coming from organizations who see the value of investing in leadership development and demonstrate a clear commitment to making time and space for staff to fully participate

Size of Cohort: Here we considered our resources and capacity along with the following.

Long division: Much of our curriculum content involved breaking the group into smaller groups (about 4 people) or pairs and for very practical reasons, assembled a cohort size that was easily divisible aligned with our program plan.

Capping for intimacy: We found that it is difficult (though not impossible!) to achieve cohort intimacy with groups larger than 16. If you proceed beyond that number we suggest you do so with intention!

The Art: Our goal was to welcome in the valued perspectives offered by the different criteria while minimizing tokenization in order to balance the diversity of selection criteria with the actual individuals making up the cohort. Reflecting on example criteria, see 'Sample Questions for Reflecting on Cohort Criteria' below for some questions you might consider.

Lessons from Facilitating Programs in a Virtual Space

Consistent with Community Change’s standard of working closely and in-person with partners, allies and staff across the country, we also gave preference to bringing the women into the same space. But due to the Covid 19 pandemic, we had to move all our programs to virtual platforms, at least temporarily. Black feminist thinkers “treat geography not only as human and social landscapes, but also as systems of thought that move across, move through, and span space and bodies.” And so we pushed ourselves to think innovatively about our virtual space as a kind of geography to co-create with the women in hope of, to borrow from Celeste S. Henery, “rethinking human-spatial dynamics to explore and combat social inequalities as well as to identify practices of liberation from gendered and racially oppressive forces.” In other words, there is opportunity in this moment of physical distancing for social deepening that will continue to emerge.

Shifting Content & Flow

After learning we would need to move to a virtual platform, our core design team formed a subcommittee of women from the Power 50 cohort to help us think through adjustments to the content and flow of the session, then made these shifts.

  • We limited programming to 3 hours/day and shorten our 4-day closing retreat by a day.

  • We agreed to have 90 minute sessions between the longer gatherings.

  • We adjusted the planned content by considering:

    • Where are the opportunities to draw clear lines between planned content, current context, and historical context?

    • How do we retain the “stepping back” feel of the Power 50 space while offering practical tools that move participants through the current context?

  • We considered the schedules of outside guests and which topics could translate into a standalone session between retreats.

  • We incorporated stretch and movement activities.

Creating Sacred Space Virtually

Along with the above shifts, we incorporated recommendations from the women to enhance how we engage virtually.

  • We encouraged the women to think through what they’d need to fully participate before meetings so they are prepared when they take place.

  • We offered multiple ways of participation to keep them attentive including by having them take on roles during our virtual gatherings.

  • We sent each woman a “care package” in advance that contains some of the essential things they would expect to see if we were at an in-person retreat.

  • We made sure they had a quiet place for meetings and one where they could recreate the sense of a decolonized space they would experience were we gathered in-person.

  • We made sure they had access to adequate WiFi.

  • We made sure they had child care in their homes yet also welcomed on-camera visits from their children into our virtual space.

See Maximizing My Learning (during Covid 19 & homelife)

Accompanying Journaling Prompts & Coloring Pages:

Journaling Prompt: Take a walk! Get out into nature or another place that brings you peace and start to reflect on some of the imagery noted in question #7 of the design guide (page 40). No need to write your answers down or try to remember your thoughts word for word. Simply engage your senses, reflect on this question & notice how you respond.

Coloring Page: Juneteenth flag was created by Ben Haith in 1997 and revised in 2000. The bursting star symbolizes the end of slavery.