By Diana Peacock
Darell Hammond founded KaBOOM! in 1996 after reading a tragic report about two children who suffocated while playing in a car because they didn’t have anywhere else to play. Recognizing that many kids lacked sufficient opportunities to play, the KaBOOM! team set out to build, improve, and open new playgrounds.
Since its founding, KaBOOM! has catalyzed over 15,000 playground builds; served more than 6.5 million kids; helped make volunteer-led builds a standard in the playground industry; and helped bring to market Imagination Playground, a play industry innovation designed by world-renown architect David Rockwell. KaBOOM! has also has been an innovator in cross-sector partnerships, bringing together communities and corporate partners to work toward a common goal of building a great place to play.
Despite their accomplishments, the organization’s leadership realized that KaBOOM! still was not solving the problem at the magnitude it exists. When KaBOOM! approached Community Wealth Partners in 2012, the organization recognized that though they had achieved success by many measures, “good was not good enough.” Helping to build 15,000 new playgrounds was good – really good – but there were still far too many kids whose lives were woefully lacking play.
America’s children are missing out on the childhood they deserve. One in three children is obese or overweight. One in five has a mental illness, with rates of depression higher than ever before. And, the U.S. ranks #31 internationally in math scores. Children are increasingly unhappy, unhealthy, and falling behind.
Active play is a solution to these problems, but it is disappearing at home, in school, and in communities. Children engage in almost eight hours of screen time every day. Almost half of all low-income students are deprived of recess. And too many children lack easy access to a playground.
Community Wealth Partners worked with KaBOOM! to set a bold, long-term goal and build a national strategy to ensure all children—particularly the 16 million kids living in poverty—get the balance of active play they need to become healthy and successful adults. Together, we reframed the problem—showing how play is connected to national imperatives such as addressing childhood obesity and preparing the next generation workforce to drive economic competitiveness. Then, we reframed the solution: it starts with a playground and expands to building societal responsibility to protect and promote play.
To support the development of a strategy aimed at the magnitude of the problem, we considered KaBOOM!’s location along the social transformation lifecycle. The lifecycle delineates four broad stages common to transformational efforts, drawing on lessons from our client work and in-depth research on efforts ranging from the anti-malaria and anti-tobacco movements to the designated driver campaign and the reduction in crime in New York City in the ‘90s. For KaBOOM!, referencing the lifecycle elevated a number of unanswered questions critical to making forward progress.
In our first phase of work, Community Wealth Partners worked with KaBOOM! to articulate answers to key questions in the “framing stage” of transformation, including:
- Vision, goals and strategy: What is our bold goal and what will success look like when we achieve it? What strategies will we use to achieve our bold goal?
- Environmental Context: What is the micro and macro context and what opportunities does it present to accelerate our ability to achieve our bold goal? How can we frame our bold goal in a way that connects to current national priorities?
- Leadership Sustainability: What is our role in achieving our bold goal and why is it important for us to play this role?
- Stakeholder Engagement: Who do we need to work with to accomplish our bold goal?
- Culture: How will we leverage our organizational culture to help achieve our goal?
This led us to outline a Strategy Roadmap: the plan and theory articulating how KaBOOM!’s strategies will realize their bold goal. Following the direction of the Roadmap, KaBOOM! is now adding new programs and initiatives to expand its focus from building, improving, and opening playgrounds to driving widespread behavior change (children getting a balance of active play every day) and norm change (society reinforcing the expectation that children get the play they need) by (1) creating and catalyzing great places to play for kids who need them most; (2) inspiring, empowering, and leading play advocates; and (3) educating and elevating the societal conversation around the importance of play in kids’ lives.
We are now focused on the implementation of these strategies to realize lasting, significant impact at the population level. Also drawing from our research on social transformation, we’ve been addressing key questions that lay the foundation for strategic implementation, including:
- Disciplined Execution
- How do the current programs and activities and their goals map to the new Strategy Roadmap and where are the gaps?
- In order to successfully implement the new strategies, what do we need to do differently, what do we need to stop doing, what will we keep doing, and what new things do we need to start doing?
- Communication and Stakeholder Engagement
- Who needs to be engaged to achieve the bold goal, and why?
- What types of partnerships should KaBOOM! consider?
- How can we design large-scale, transformative partnerships that accelerate achievement of the bold goal?
- Financial Sustainability
- How do we design and implement programs and other organizational functions in a way that is financially sustainable and manages risk?
- Outcomes Measurement
- What are the specific outcomes in the intermediate (2-3 years) and long term (10-20 years) that will define success for KaBOOM!?