KaBOOM!: Setting strategy that ensures all kids get the play they need to thrive

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KaBOOM!: Setting strategy that ensures all kids get the play they need to thrive


Despite more than 15,000 playgrounds built or improved, too many kids are still not getting the play they need for healthy growth and development


A new bold goal for greater impact and a strategy for achieving that bold goal


Since its founding in 1996, KaBOOM! made significant progress toward its vision of ensuring every kid has access to a safe place to play. By 2012, the organization helped build or improve over 15,000 playgrounds, reaching more than 6.5 million kids.

Despite these accomplishments, staff at KaBOOM! recognized that too many kids still were not getting the play they need for healthy growth and development. Active play can help curb obesity; enable the development of important social, cognitive, and creative skills; and help protect kids from the harmful effects of toxic stress. Yet, too many kids lack easy access to great, safe places to play.

Community Wealth Partners partnered with KaBOOM! to set a bold, long-term goal and build a national strategy to ensure all kids—particularly the 16 million kids living in poverty—get the active play they need to become healthy and successful adults. Together, we reframed the problem: from a focus on outputs (the number of playspaces) to outcomes (kids’ health and wellbeing). Then, we reframed the solution: linking the building of playspaces to national imperatives (such as addressing childhood obesity and preparing the next generation workforce to drive economic competitiveness) and to the need to embrace our collective responsibility to protect and promote play.

With this reframed problem and solution in mind, we worked with KaBOOM! to develop a strategy roadmap—a plan articulating how the strategy would enable KaBOOM! to realize their bold goal and how the team would implement it. We worked together to think through key questions like, How might the organization make play a priority for parents and cities across the country? From these questions, we helped KaBOOM! develop an influence strategy for moving key stakeholder groups, such as mayors and other leaders, to take action.

Following the direction of the roadmap and influence strategy, KaBOOM! added new programs and initiatives to ensure that the work it was doing to build playspaces would be effective at driving widespread behavior change (kids get active play every day) and norm change (society reinforces the expectation that kids get the play they need to thrive). KaBOOM! has long succeeded at enlisting corporate sponsors and cultivating community engagement to build neighborhood playgrounds. Now, KaBOOM! is leveraging these skills to build public-private partnerships with municipal agencies—housing, schools, parks, etc.—to meet the need for playspaces across entire public systems. To be more responsive to community partners’ needs, KaBOOM! is also expanding the types of playspaces it builds, from larger-scale innovative playgrounds to sports courts to adventure courses for older kids to “play everywhere” installations that integrate the opportunity to play into everyday spaces, from bus stops to vacant lots.

Change the norm so that all kids

get the play they need to thrive


These new approaches have enabled KaBOOM! to gain traction with a larger group of stakeholders, including city governments, community organizations, and institutional philanthropy. This has paid dividends—both in terms of impact and funding—for the organization. The new strategy enables KaBOOM! to reach more kids and helps build stronger ties in communities. We are currently partnering with KaBOOM! to develop a framework to apply the outcomes KaBOOM! measures for its community builds to its public-private initiatives—including outcomes related to how much kids are playing as well as community outcomes such as social cohesion, neighborhood safety, and a sense of pride and agency among residents.  

“The strategy led to a new mindset for organization in two key ways,” said James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM!. “First, we are aiming higher in terms of the potential impact of our work, particularly when it comes to our role in influencing large-scale municipal systems. Second, we are embracing innovation and experimentation as a key driver of our impact. We now use part of our reserves for a research and development fund, and have even attracted support from our funders, to enable us to bring the best playspaces to communities that have experienced significant disinvestment.”

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