2017 - Metathemes Release


Disrupting Patterns of Inequity

Partners: United Way of Greater Cincinnati

Project Years: 2016-2019

Location: National


After years of hearing similar insights from different projects across many different sectors and issues, we decided to investigate these themes. We spent a year synthesizing stories from hundreds of people on the frontlines of poverty work, including families experiencing issues related to poverty day-to-day.

These pervasive “metathemes” not only highlighted our broken system through the eyes of individuals experiencing inequity, but demanded widespread change.


In 2016, we partnered with United Way of Greater Cincinnati, which invests in nearly 140 social service agencies in the region, to publish Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change. 


Using a research methodology based on human-centered design and intersectional analysis, we reviewed insights from over 30 projects and 300 interviews. Our comprehensive insight database doubled as a prototype for an open-access archive of qualitative data.


2017 - Metathemes Release

Download the full report


Since we released Metathemes in 2017, we’ve presented our findings to hundreds of community members and systems leaders around the country. We’ve received validation from frontline workers, neighbors, and community leaders, who not only see their work reflected in this report, but use the findings to shift their own work. We’ve seen educators use Metathemes to train college students in community change, and witnessed grantmakers use our findings to design more equitable systems.

We’ve also used Metathemes as an internal compass and barometer to ensure our projects and internal practices are rooted in community voice.

It’s deeply relevant. In a way, you are strumming my pain with your fingers. . .I just think is really exciting because it feels like we are trying to build a spaceship while we are driving a car. We are trying to model a different way of working for the field. . .this report helps us see better.”

Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy

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