Collaboration in Human Centered Design – The Lake Lorna Doone Park Initiative

Lake Lorna Doone Park, which is owned and managed by the City of Orlando, is being redesigned. Improving this historic park, which sits in the shadow of the Orlando Citrus Bowl, is a top priority for area residents as reported in surveys completed by Polis Institute in early 2014. As the year progressed, an action plan was created, initial funding was secured, and the design process got underway. In January of 2015, the first formal design plans will be unveiled for additional comment.

The redesign process was initiated and funded by LIFT Orlando. Florida Citrus Sports has pledged an additional one million dollars towards the project and is providing leadership as it progresses. It is being facilitated by Polis Institute. Jacobs Global Buildings is drafting the physical and architectural plans. Key contributors include residents who live near the park, regular users of the park, and the City of Orlando.

The truly collaborative effort makes this redesign unique. The partners are working together at the same table. This is rare. Collaboration is one of those words that everyone likes to say but no one likes to actually do. It takes more time. You hear more complaints. You entertain more ideas. You include more voices.

More voices means more opinions. Different opinions. Each time a new opinion is voiced it represents another person that is not going to get exactly what they want. But it’s these very differences of opinion, when voiced in the context of a healthy design process, that become integral strands of a strong and sustainable solution.

Dan Kirby and Kevin Kuehn move the design process forward with City of Orlando, residents of West Lakes, Polis Institute, and LIFT Orlando

Dan Kirby (back left) and Kevin Kuehn (fourth from the right) from Jacobs Global Buildings move the design process forward with City of Orlando, residents of West Lakes, Polis Institute, and LIFT Orlando

Human Centered Design (HCD) is just such a healthy design process. HCD sets a stage where these myriad voices converge at the harmonious intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability. What do people really want? What is technically and organizationally feasible? What is financially viable? (Human Centered Design Toolkit)

The bulk of the work thus far has been centered on answering the desirability question. In many ways, that’s the fun part. The work is now transitioning into the feasibility phase and will conclude with viability. Answering these questions is not strictly linear but it does help to allow each question to take center stage for a season. Maintaining focus and making steady progress keeps collaborators more engaged.

Long-term resident Tangia Smikle hopes that her teenage daughter will get to really enjoy the park like she did in her youth and that the park will be fully accessible to people with disabilities. Thomas Frazier, who walks the perimeter of the park several times a week, hopes that a paved walking path will one day undergird his trek. The five walking clubs in the immediate area share his interest.

Eugene Leach, a lifelong advocate for youth recreation, longs to see a first-class playground and well-maintained sports amenities like basketball courts. Margaret Hill envisions a beautiful fountain on this historic lake. Many others share her vision. Doug Head wants people to be able to learn about the ecology of the lake and the rich cultural history of the neighborhood as they enjoy the park.

Volunteers from Polis Institute and Collins Recreation talk with people in the park during a Family Fun Day

Volunteers from Polis Institute and Collins Recreation talk with people in the park during a Family Fun Day

Amidst these hopes for the future, there are also concerns. Many current regular users of the park, who range from organized athletic teams to pickup basketball groups to the ever-present dominoes crew, fear that their interests won’t be preserved in an updated park. The City wants to make sure that anything that is put in place is sustainable, safe, and helps them meet demands from across the region for park amenities. Many people who do not currently use the park but would like to, express concerns about safety and not feeling welcome.

The greatest uses of the park currently are large, informal social gatherings that happen each week. The park is a regional gathering place for the African American community. Most of these regional visitors have a very personal, local, connection to the park. Many share stories of running through the park during football practice when they were at Jones High School or recall playing in little league games on the currently absent baseball fields. Still others go way back and talk about swimming in the lake that is now only suitable for fishing.

The common denominator of these stories is connection. “This is where I can always catch up with my family and friends,” said Rod Faulk. “That’s important.” He wants to see a nice fountain in the lake too. He’d love it if the there was another basketball court. But most of all he wants that sense of connection to the place itself, and the people who have woven their story with it, to remain regardless of any changes.

Allowing all of these voices to inform the design for the park will result in the best park possible for this place at this time in its history. That is the benefit of collaboration. We are far better together than we are alone.

Additional info:

Lake Lorna Doone Park – Desirability Sessions Report (9/15/14 – provides detail for each session held over the summer)

Lake Lorna Doone Park – Action Plan (10/22/14 – summarizes the initial design work and drafts a plan)

If you would like to stay informed of the progress of this effort,sign-up for our newsletter.


Community Transformation: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Polis often gets asked, “Does community transformation happen from the top down or the bottom up?” It might be surprising to hear that the answer is “yes.”  It takes both, plus a concerted effort from the middle. This is what makes the Polis model distinct and effective. Bottom-up efforts tend to run into capacity issues while top-down efforts often struggle to sustain community engagement. Both bottom-up and top-down efforts often fail to yield an impact, particularly in chronically distressed neighborhoods. The key is in the middle. Polis focuses on directly connecting the interests of high capacity investors (top-down) with the interests of residents of distressed neighborhoods (bottom up). The result is transformation.

Polis has developed a proven methodology to make it work. It requires listening intently to the residents of a particular distressed neighborhood while simultaneously listening intently to caring people of substantial means who want their ideas, talents, and social connections as well as their charitable dollars to truly make a difference. These are often highly successful business people. Both of these groups have too often been ignored. The business people have been seen almost exclusively as funders for needs based services and poor residents have been seen almost exclusively as clients for needs based services. Polis works directly with both groups, maps assets at all levels, and creates opportunities for them to come together in ways that lead to measurable change.

Working in a small geographic area (less than a square mile) with a dedicated Investor Council of high capacity leaders, residents are recruited, trained, and employed to do the work of community building. In the process, they learn important workplace skills, build helpful community initiatives, and make some money. The initiatives that are built garner additional support as needed but maintain at least 50% involvement from residents at all levels (staff, volunteers, clients). The initiatives are aligned with goals from the Investor Council in order to make measurable improvements in key areas such as wellness, housing, education, and income.




Lift Orlando

The initial POLIS research, conducted between 2006 and 2009, highlighted the first social problem that we designed a solution for – concentrated poverty. Key to our model is a galvanized group of high capacity leaders willing to make a long-term investment with a particular neighborhood. Such a group is rare but in 2013, Lift Orlando formed with a focus to do just that within a 3/4 square mile area just west of downtown Orlando. Polis has provided strategic consultation, baseline demographics, and a comprehensive asset map of that very same neighborhood since before Lift was created. So, the two companies teamed up to organize the local community to build initiatives that have significant community involvement with real community leadership. Since July, roughly 80 residents have been regularly involved developing five different initiatives: engaging the youth, improving a community park, enhancing access to technology, increasing economic development, and improving housing conditions.

To gain more information to support those initiatives, Polis conducted the largest privately-funded community survey ever done in Central Florida. We went door-to-door and surveyed 1,500 adults at five community events.

In the meantime, we worked with Orange Center Elementary and with the Jackson Center to involve children, who painted over 70 inspired pieces of artwork to add to the festivities. Both the survey and the art project were done to discover the interests, hopes, and concerns of the residents of this downtown historic neighborhood – with the hope of also finding leaders willing to guide the way to a brighter future. Since those events, eight people from the community have been trained and hired to do the bulk of the work. Their efforts were complemented by over 80 volunteers and supported by two Polis staff members. Over the course of eight months, nearly 30,000 hours were spent on the project. The result: in addition to the invaluable conversations and relationships that formed, over 200 people stepped up to get involved from the neighborhood and 12 ideas were revealed as areas of greatest importance. These ideas are coming together to positively impact housing, education, income, and wellness.


Florida Citrus Sports

Florida Citrus Sports (FCS) was established to benefit children in Central Florida and it has utilized its sporting and entertainment events, which take place at the Citrus Bowl, to do just that. Large-scale sporting venues do not typically bring prosperity to the communities in which they reside, but FCS wants to break from the norm. When they decided that they wanted to use the redevelopment of the stadium to benefit the neighborhoods around the stadium, they asked Polis to help. Earlier in 2014, we helped reorient their long-standing summer camp so that nearly all of its campers were from the neighborhood immediately adjacent to the stadium-which was no small feat. We trained and employed people from the neighborhood to knock on every door and invite every child to the camp. The result: the camp went from less than 5% neighborhood kids in 2013 to over 95%, in the course of just one year. And that was just the beginning, as FCS and Polis continue to invest in long-term relationships with the families who live near the stadium.


Northland, A Church Distributed

Northland Church has been a leader in serving the community for many years. The leadership is now guiding its flock towards a new paradigm of service through a campaign they are calling “Serving to Empower.” We began coaching their leadership team and providing key trainings to facilitate the transition into the campaign, along with the metrics to evaluate its impact. To date, we have trained 130 parishioners in the Dignity Serves course and brought on 14 new, certified Dignity Serves facilitators.


Bags Inc.

Bags, Inc. is a fast growing hospitality services company based in Orlando. They are also a very generous company in terms of charitable gifts and even direct their staff to involve themselves in charitable work. In early 2014, when they realized that their largely entry-level workforce consisted of some of the same people who may be in need of social support, they sought Polis’ help to learn how they could better serve their employees.

We conducted random surveys and focus groups in order to provide the most helpful recommendations. The yielded results that showed the company had three issues they needed to address: 1) one related to basic human needs, which required immediate intervention; 2) one related to the stability of home life, healthcare, and transportation; and 3) one related to personal development such as employment status, education, and language proficiency. Over-all, our recommendations led to corporate actions to face these challenges head on.


Best practices, baseline demographics, asset mapping, developmental evaluation, long-term impact monitoring – everything we do is based on sound research. Read our 2017 Annual Report.

2017 Neighborhood Stress Index Map:

Historical research projects:

  • Thriving Cities (2013-Present): Led by University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Culture, POLIS is contributing the Orlando Profile and providing feedback on the developing matrix.
  • Seeking the Welfare of the City (2006-2009): The initial POLIS research on the culture of service in Central Florida. This core research project identified 100 distressed neighborhoods and a model to alleviate this distress.

Sustainable Program Design

Are you wondering how to make your programs more sustainable? We can help. The Polis Institute helps people, organizations, and groups design collaborative community investment strategies that engage community residents, excite donors, and bring about long-lasting positive change.

To set up a discovery session contact us at or 866-757-1334.



Best-In-Class Training

Polis’ Dignity Serves is a paradigm-shifting, deeply impactful experience that teaches how to both serve and be served with dignity in every aspect of life. Since 2008, it has helped thousands of people serve others more effectively, using interactive exercises and real-world examples to help participants apply key principles to their personal lives and to the programs that they take part in.

The principles of the course are derived from Scripture and built on the foundation that because every person is created in the image of God, every person possesses dignity. The course is made available through host organizations and is taught by Polis-trained facilitators. Scheduled classes are posted on our website and announced in our newsletter.

Hosting a Dignity Serves Training:

  • Six 90-minute lessons taught week-to-week or over the course of a weekend
  • Taught only by Polis-Certified Facilitators
  • Cost is $1,500 per class which includes all materials (classes larger than 30 people have special pricing based on size)
  • Host organization provides space, snacks, and one meal
  • Minimum class size is 12 people
  • Maximum is limited only by available space at host organization
  • To schedule a training, please contact us at or 866-757-1334

Attending a Dignity Serves Training:

If you are a trained Dignity Serves Facilitator CLICK HERE to order training materials.

For more information visit Dignity Serves on Facebook

  1. It has completely re-wired the way I relate and look at people in every aspect of my life: family, job and particularly ministry.
  2. The very first lesson, describing the idea that Christ is Dignity and Dignity Serves, was completely eye-opening. I’m not a “new” Christian and thought I had a good grasp on why we serve others. This course really did grow my perspective and show me what service is really about: interdependence. I wish this course would be taught to EVERYONE at our church and at churches throughout the nation.
  3. I better understand Christ’s design for serving others.
  4. It under-girded my understanding of service with sound theology.
  5. It has made me much more aware that those living in urban communities need outside groups and individuals to be committed to stay and build trust over time, not just “trying to fix what’s wrong” in these communities and then leave.