Church Health Center

Coaching young professionals on design thinking for program development



The Church Health Center (CHC) is a local faith-based organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income, uninsured workers through education, prevention, and affordable medical services.

One of their divisions saw the benefit of incorporating a design thinking approach in their program development and was eager to embark on a demonstration project.


CHC chose one of their cornerstone programs as the project focus, the Church Health Scholars Fellowship. The program provides recent college graduates from a variety of educational backgrounds with a year-long practical experience serving in CHC offices and clinics. This would be an opportunity to optimize the program experience by including their scholars in the process of identifying real needs and pain points. CHC selected an intentionally diverse team to tackle the challenge with Little Bird serving as capacity builders, training and guiding the team in their first human-centered design endeavor.


Through a series of workshops, co-working sessions, and day-to-day guidance, the CHC and Little Bird team moved through this sixteen-week project with Little Bird evolving from lead to mentor as the CHC team learned the process and took primary responsibility for work and outcomes. The team felt strongly about developing a deep understand of the current experience and conducted immersions, job shadowing, photo journals, and research interviews with past, current, and potential scholars and supervisors. They conducted stakeholder interviews with CHC leadership to ensure they understood the landscape and their mandate. They also studied other institutions to establish a baseline for similar gap-year programs. They then analyzed all of this information and created the Scholar Journey within which they applied experience mapping to identify bright spots and areas of opportunity. Insights from this work guided a large brainstorming workshop with scholars and supervisors generating new ideas. Both groups were involved again as the team refined their ideas through a series of co-creation sessions. The project culminated in a roadmap of program recommendations for the short, medium and longer term and a presentation to stakeholders.


Recommendations spanned from enhanced systematizing of the application process all the way through to intentional network building with program alumni. The team knew that curriculum is core to the program and wanted to expand the content. They smartly recognized that not everything has to be done in-house; sometimes it is better to leverage what others have already developed. This led to forging new opportunities for education partnerships. The research also reinforced the importance of building community amongst the scholars so the team developed more deliberate ways of building cohesion and connection within each cohort, starting with a retreat at the beginning of the scholar year.

As so often happens with a design thinking approach, this project forced the team to ask bigger, more strategic questions about the purpose of the Scholars Program and how it aligns to the broader CHC mission. The team did an excellent job of surfacing these thought-provoking questions and had strong support from their leadership team, which is so integral to any successful effort. By using real examples from their research to show opportunities for both improvement and celebration, the team brought everyone else along on the journey and garnered their support for recommended changes.