“Community is a common enterprise. We can’t go it alone.”

 – Richard C. Harwood, President and Founder



It’s no secret that people are frustrated with politics and public life. They’re tired of the acrimony and divisiveness and nothing getting done about the problems that affect everyday people. There’s a sense that too many organizations and leaders are more focused on their own good than the common good.

People want to make a difference but don’t see what they can do that will amount to anything significant. Unfortunately there are no easy answers to these challenges. The good news, though, is that there are ways to get our communities on a different path.


The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation is a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together. The Institute has worked across the U.S. and increasingly around the world and has partnered with some of the world’s largest nonprofits, including United Way Worldwide, AARP, the American Library Association, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and others.

The people we teach and coach, called public innovators, are the leaders that move our communities forward. They come from nonprofits, businesses, government, the media, and educational and religious organizations. They are an essential ingredient to solving our most vexing challenges.

That’s why the Institute has set a bold goal to develop 5,000 public innovators by 2016.

 “When people and organizations turn outward, efforts to solve challenges have a much greater chance of having a lasting impact, generating more support and resources, and creating a community that is better equipped to sustain the change – AND tackle other challenges.”


We believe that for public innovators to be truly effective in their change efforts, they must be turned outward. This means using the community, not your conference room, as the main reference point for decisions – from the strategies you and your partners pursue, the partners you choose, how you start and then grow your efforts over time, and even how you structure and run your internal organization. If you turn outward and make more intentional judgments and choices in creating change, you will produce greater impact and relevance in your community.

We use a series of frameworks we’ve developed over the past 25 years to create this shift in people’s approach and then coach them over time to apply those frameworks to their organization, their community work, and even their own day-to-day lives as community leaders.

We develop public innovators to:

  1. 1. Identify community issues rooted in people’s shared aspirations and build public will for action.
  2. 2. Develop strategies that fit their community’s context.
  3. 3. Create the community conditions that enable change to take hold.
  4. 4. Forge relationships with the right partners to run with.
  5. 5. Build networks for innovation and learning.
  6. 6. Adopt the right metrics to gauge progress.
  7. 7. Cultivate can-do narratives in their organizations and the community.


Here are some examples of how our work is being applied in communities and with organizations:

Pikes Peak United Way – Over 12 months, we are developing public innovators at this United Way in Colorado Springs, supporting them in deepening their relationship to their community and in building new strategies to drive collective action with partners that gets at the root causes of community problems – moving beyond their traditional model of raising dollars and distributing funds to support direct human services.

AARP – we are working with AARP’s volunteers from around the country to train them as public innovators through their Volunteer Leadership Institutes so that they can be more effective advocates for change in their home communities.

American Library Association – We are working with a cohort of public libraries, both urban and rural, from across the country to help them deepen their impact and relevance and to leverage their assets to support community change.

United Ways of Indiana – With support from the Lilly Endowment and in partnership with the Association of Indiana United Ways, we are supporting a cohort of United Ways to deepen their ability to engage their communities and develop collective action with partners on education, income, and health issues. Over 18 months, these United Ways are receiving foundational training in our frameworks and coaching support to help them transform their organizations, build stronger partnerships and more effective community strategies, and improve the way they work together to improve lives.

Battle Creek, Michigan – With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Institute is working with the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region over three years to mobilize a cross-sector community team including the Chamber of Commerce, Kellogg Community College, local school and city officials, and a variety of human service agencies to develop and execute an agenda to support vulnerable children. We are developing public innovators among the community and coaching them to create strategies for action that are building new norms, relationships, networks and structures needed for the community to come together and act on public challenges.

Be A Public Innovator

your community needs you