5 Ways to Adopt a Discovery Mindset for the Public Good

Source: All In For Kids team

In science, tech, and business leaders are often encouraged to take risks, learn, invest in new ideas and change course if necessary. R&D—research and development—is encouraged. Exploration and experimentation are essential.

It’s also understood that no single person has all the answers and that trying new things and putting new teams together can get underneath the problem. Solutions are tested and taken to scale. 

What if the social sector also had an ethos of this kind of R&D? 

That’s the approach we’re using at All In For Kids, an innovation incubator that leverages what actually works for kids with grantee partners that develop and design responsive healing and caring early childhood ecosystems from deep within their communities.

Here are five insights from All In For Kids grantee partners to inspire funders, municipal leaders, and other officials to explore how a discovery mindset can benefit the public good.  

1. To find the answer, don’t assume you know the answer.

Being open to where the question leads you to generate new ideas and hypotheses. 

When the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) team at the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) developed the Community Report Card to identify systemic barriers and co-create solutions with community members, they started with discovery. While the staff organized and provided some guidance, they were open to what the process itself would reveal.

“The first questions we got when we did an orientation, so what are we building? What is the report we’re creating?” said Ana Avilez, Promise City Program Associate. “And my response was, we don’t yet know what we’re creating. This process with you will let us know what to create.”

For Carry the Vision, the discovery process for how they could best serve their network of primarily Spanish-speaking community outreach members, or promotoras, started with questioning their very relationship with them. They began as a fiscal sponsor, but when they realized the promotoras could run independently, Carry the Vision shifted that model to help the promotoras become their own nonprofit organization. 

“Because we listened and were open to the solution, we’ve developed a relationship that centers sustainability for the promotoras,” said Reneé Ridgway, Program Administrator.

2. See the creative genius in the whole community.

Carry the Vision’s work with their promotoras network also shows the power of seeing the rich talent within the community. 

During COVID-19, Carry the Vision partnered with community leaders to mobilize door-to-door to keep the community safe. These leaders had expertise beyond Spanish language abilities. They each possessed the knowledge and wisdom to deliver a targeted, culturally grounded public health message. Being seen as creators of knowledge instead of mere information brokers—was pivotal in designing programs, interventions, and solutions that helped the community get through the pandemic. 

For The Primary School, developing a model for very young children is driven by community needs. Staff works with families when the child is just a year old and with the community and the local health clinics to develop a plan for consistent support and a culturally responsive approach throughout the child’s life. 

“We believe that when a parent is well, a child can thrive,” said Natasha Hall-Sevilla, Executive Director. “We partner with parents to truly understand what parenting means to them and build a supportive community where we can all lean on each other to best meet the needs of our children. Promoting the wellbeing of the whole family ensures that children are receiving the best start for their health, learning, and social-emotional development.”

3. Widen the lens to become more focused.

Children Now realized discussions about health and wellness often exclude our youngest children. 

“When you get in spaces where we talk about health and wellness for children, the zero-to-five population is often left out of the conversation,” said Lishaun Francis, Senior Director of Behavioral Health. “We wanted to change that.” 

Children Now widened the conversation about children to advocate for more funding and programs that support infant and early childhood mental health. They have also purposely shifted the narrative away from the mindset of fixing problems, which is behaviorally and symptom-driven, to doing what we know has lifelong effects. 

Safe & Sound has also widened its lens to redefine child protection. Historically, too many families have been caught up in the child protection system for “neglect” due to issues of poverty, and there is significant overreporting. So, Safe & Sound gathered family input through various methods and lifted these needs through a coalition to reform the mandatory reporting system. Now, they are creating a mindset shift in how society views and supports low-income families and narrowing the door to child welfare. 

“In an effort to change the statutory definition of neglect, we were not the typical advocacy-only partner; instead, through our Family Services Alliance, we came as a representative of family support organizations and community voices and were able to lift up an essential perspective,” said Jenny Pearlman, Chief Policy Officer. “Being part of the All In For Kids network has provided valuable learning opportunities and models for our work to ensure that community organizations have a seat at the table.”

4. Ask questions and provide a space to listen. 

Sometimes, shifting how you listen can make all the difference. 

“We used to hold focus groups where we’d hear families say certain things; then we’d go to our own team meeting and debrief,” said Liz Cortez, Vice President of Collective Impact at MEDA. It didn’t allow them to collect the whole story.

Now, during MEDA’s community report card process, they use a human-centered design methodology that encourages open-ended answers, even allowing participants to see how others responded to the same questions. This helped build a bond between community members, who could now understand wider community perspectives. 

Out of the report card process came the Photovoice Project and then a Mi Storia project, where families could select insights that the community had surfaced and then tell their own related stories. There were no predisposed ideas or prescriptions for the project, allowing for authentic interactions. 

“The whole thing has been transformational,” said Liz. 

5. Recognize that nobody has all the knowledge. 

In the social sector—particularly in early childhood and child and family sector—there can be a deep-seated way of thinking that can trick us into believing that we already have all the answers. 

Solutions are often organized around services and programming, but First 5 Monterey County and  La Luz shake off old thinking by recognizing parents and community members as knowledge generators and solution architects. 

“This means we really get to learn about the people we work with and build the type of programming that meets their needs,” said Sandy Sanchez, La Luz’s Director of Programs. “As we know, children are not an empty vessel for us to fill with knowledge, nor are the ecosystems that help raise them. We each come with our hopes and fears. And when we can surface those together, it changes the dynamic of everything.”


At All In For Kids, our network of grantee partners embodies this ethos of discovery. We strive to understand and embrace the complexity of child development, and in doing so, we are continually inspired by the depth and breadth of knowledge yet to be uncovered. When fear of failure is replaced by curiosity about why, we can build solutions that impact future generations.