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Case Study

Imagine Science


Noyce Foundation






Can we design and facilitate a process that fosters a potential partnership between five, independent national non-profit organizations—and at least one philanthropic investor—all of which have different rules and customs for how they engage their local and community-level affiliates?


In 2013 the presidents and CEOs of some of the nation’s oldest and largest youth development organizations attended a meeting convened in Washington, D.C. by Ron Ottinger (President of the Noyce Foundation) and Don Floyd (former President and CEO of the National 4-H Council). They asked us to plan and to facilitate the conversation.

In addition to Mr. Ottinger, Mr. Floyd, and Dr. Robinson, the participants in the discussion included:

  • Jim Clark, President & CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Neil Nicoll, President & CEO, YMCA of the USA
  • Charles Pierson, President, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
  • Jennifer Sirangelo, President & CEO, National 4-H Council
  • Judy Vredenburgh, President & CEO, Girls Inc.

At this meeting the group discussed whether it was possible for them to find a way to work together more collaboratively and to do so in the area of STEM. The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

In the months that followed, Dr. Robinson was retained by the Noyce Foundation to help the group clarify and develop a potential partnership model. He was asked to facilitate conversations with the “CEOs” and their national representatives, with the goal of constructing a strategic framework for collective action that could be translated into a formal proposal for funding. Dr. Robinson teamed up with representatives from each of the participating national organizations to develop the framework for a summer-long pilot program to commence in the summer of 2015.


Throughout the engagement, we designed and facilitated numerous stakeholder meetings and design labs, developed strategic plans, crafted shared principles of action, and enforced those principles through some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Here’s a glimpse of some of the techniques we brought to the table.

Shared Principles of Action

With our leadership, the partners agreed to the following principles that informed collective efforts at both the national and local levels. These operating principles were designed to create the conditions for effective and sustainable collaboration and to minimize conflict.

  1. Executive Level Leadership: The Imagine Partnership will involve the full and active participation of the senior-most executive from each participating organization.
  2. Transparency: All participating organizations commit to creating a culture of full transparency where revenue and expenses are disclosed readily.
  3. Uniform Measurement: All participating organizations commit to using shared performance indicators and a shared assessment system to measure and to track performance.
  4. Community Engagement: All participating organizations commit to a process that cultivates local, community-level engagement and participation.
  5. Resource Exchange: All participating organizations commit to share knowledge and to exchange resources in ways that increase the capacity and capabilities of local clubs, chapters, councils, affiliates, etc.

These five “Operating Principles” represented commitments that each participating organization agreed to follow.


The Imagine Science Campaign

With a little passionate persuasion from us, the partners agreed to launch a bold and innovative collective campaign. We came up with the name and developed the tagline and design principles. Tagline: If you can imagine it, you can create it.

At the end of the engagement, we were able to help the partnership set the following collective goal: We will do our part to help America remain competitive, prosperous, and curious. Our goal is to provide the nation, by 2020, with 4 million more students who are interested in and literate in science, and who are inspired to pursue STEM jobs and careers.


We forged a multi-sector partnership characterized by value-added, mutually-beneficial relationships that were designed to be nurtured over time. We successfully facilitated a process where the parties agreed to collaborate by exchanging resources and sharing the costs (as well as the risks) that come with a collective effort to increase the number of young entrepreneurs in America who can imagine what others dare not, and who have the technical skills to build what others cannot.

As a direct result of our engagement, the partnership successfully completed summer pilots in three cities: Dallas, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; and Orange County, California.


Since it’s inception Imagine Science Dallas has served the Pleasant Grove community and others like it with over 25 pop up events, 18 outreach programs and 7 STEM Summer day camps to over 2500 youth. With new goals and reinvigorated staff we were able to reach new and more youth in partnership with Dallas ISD, Salvation Army, and other schools and churches throughout the Dallas metroplex.

The Imagine Science Omaha community is made up of The YMCA of Greater Omaha, Girls Inc. of Omaha, UNL Extension 4-H, and Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands. These four organizations are collaborating to bring engaging hands-on stem activities for 9 to 14 year-old youth in North and South Omaha. These organizations are working together to expose underserved youth in stem various science, engineering, technology, and math activities (STEM).

The Imagine Science Campaign also tested features of a collaborative model, and in the process, we learned that we could:

  • Create a shared experience during the summer that is delivered jointly by local affiliates from each of the 5 participating national organizations.
  • Successfully use an evidence-based, STEM-focused curriculum that is enhanced by positive youth development principles and practices.
  • Incorporate hands-on experiences that involved discovery (i.e., learning through investigation how something today was created) and creation (i.e., using science, technology, engineering and math to create something new and innovative).
  • Conclude with a community-wide event, such as a showcase, a team-based contest, or even a community-wide game or challenge.
  • Use a shared assessment framework to collect data and to assess the impact of the program before, during, and after the summer long session.
  • Employ leading data analytics methods to generate insights into why some interventions work better than others with key youth segments, such as minority girls.


From Collective Action to Collective Benefits

The impact of this 2013 project has been tremendous. Partner organizations reported the following:

  • The ability to draw insights and best practices from community-level campaigns that can be used to improve our individual understanding of what engages and motivates young people of different backgrounds and from different communities. These insights can now be shared with other communities in our networks throughout the country.
  • The opportunity for local affiliates to access resources and capabilities from one another and from national offices they cannot develop on their own (e.g., STEM curriculum, professional development platform, data analysis collection and reporting systems, etc.).
  • The potential to significantly expand the pool of financial investments that are available to local, community-based affiliates.