By applying design thinking and engaging a local implementation partner, the OpenIDEO Toronto Chapter supported an intergenerational early childhood innovation rooted in human-insights with lasting impact.

Jasmine Lam
Mar 6, 2018 · 6 min read

In February, the OpenIDEO Toronto Chapter team curated a design thinking series for twenty-four participants with diverse backgrounds and partnered with Polly Hill Intergenerational Daycare, a local non-profit organization, to put together a submission to the OpenIDEO Early Childhood Innovation Prize challenge.

The Early Childhood Innovation Prize’s goal is to generate new ideas that propel children to reach and extend beyond their potential during their first three years of life. By approaching this challenge from an intergenerational persepctive, we can re-imagine how children interact and develop relationships with others and experience their child care setting and community, which together deeply influence a child’s learning and development capacity.

How might we maximize every child’s potential during their first three years of life?

Inviting a local implementation partner to the table was critical for the design thinking process, as we were able to contextualize the challenge and leverage real world insights to ideate and converge on a solution that is truly impactful and relevant. The volume of support and feedback from the OpenIDEO community to the final submission further echos this!

We knew intergenerational daycare was a big idea; but today, we’ve realized that this is a movement and now we have a community to support us on this journey. — Chryssa Koulis, Sidekicks Work

Our Design Series

Real insights start with real people. Our Chapter decided that a problem of this calibre requires a project-based approach, a two-day design series with a week of iteration in between, hosted at the Artscape Youngspace, a venue dedicated to creativity and children.

Design thinking puts human needs at the center of the problem, so it was important to ensure the relevant community voices were present throughout the series. We filled the room with parents, toddlers, teachers, designers, and anyone passionate to innovate in early childhood.

24 Participants, 4 Kids | 45% New Design Thinkers

Each team shares their idea and obtains feedback from the rest of the group.

Outcomes: What ideas were generated?

Through rapid ideation and prototyping, several ideas emerged by the end of our design series.

  • Intergenerational Travel Group to create partnered outing for seniors and children to places like farmers’ markets, museums, and hiking trails.
  • Communication Tool to support Polly Hill’s outreach efforts to develop partnerships with senior homes for an intergenerational model.
  • Community Living Pilot to expand beyond the four walls of a daycare and foster an intergenerational community for everyday living.
  • Co-Created Music Program to get children and seniors interacting through lively music.

Process: How did we get there?

Empathy is at the heart of design thinking. Participants began with a generative listening and dialogue exercise to uncover the deep motivations underlying the user they are designing for.

Then, entering the divergence phase of design thinking, participants formed into teams and went through a series of rapid ideation processes:

Building upon HMWs with a “Yes, and” attitude.
  • “How Might We” Statements: Going for quantity, teams produced as many HMWs as they can.
  • POEMS Framework (People, Objects, Environment, Messages, and Services): Applying POEMS, teams built upon HMW questions with a “Yes, and” attitude.
  • Worst Possible Idea: Splitting off into pairs, participants came up with silly, terrible, and just plain bad ideas. But, even though they’re terrible, what potentials and attributes of these ideas are worth exploring? How can these attributes be flipped into good ideas worth keeping?

It can be challenging staying in a persona with our own biases, but it is only through listening, collaborating, and accessing that child within non-judgmentally, that we were able to funnel down the noises and converge on an idea.
— Leisa Hirtz, R&D Company

Prototypes of a website, intergenerational travel group, and community living pilot.

With a week between our design jams, teams got a chance to prototype their ideas, get real insights, and refine their ideas. For instance, the community living pilot team created a process flow diagram and obtained feedback from two seniors, one of whom was a participant’s mother. By listening to potential users, it was clear that differences in age and socioeconomic backgrounds influence a senior’s interest and decision to participate in this program. These insights drove the team to analyze more deeply who they are targeting and how they can approach this with sensitivity and inclusivity.

Using physical objects, the teams journey mapped their user before and after encountering their prototype. After applying their insights to a journey map template, the teams identified how the persona felt at each stage of the journey: the good, the bad, and the opportunities. For the intergenerational travel group idea, the experience before and after a travel outing was particularly important. For instance, how can parents and seniors learn about the travel group? How can we ensure that children and seniors both feel comfortable and safe before embarking on and during the trip? And how can experiences be shared with families and friends after a trip?

At the end of the design series, the teams converged their ideas together to support Polly Hill’s final submission to the OpenIDEO.

I’ve really enjoyed the design thinking process during this event and loved that we’re working with an implementation partner who’s taking this idea into fruition. Having been involved with OpenIDEO as Chapter lead in Mumbai and Delhi for four and a half years, I’m passionate to make changes in the world and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. Loved the dance breaks too!

Jinal Sanghavi, MBA Student, Indian School of Business

About our Local Implementation Partner: Polly Hill Intergenerational Daycare

From Left to Right: Chryssa, Faye, and Diana.

Founded by Diana and Faye, Polly Hill Intergenerational Daycare is a registered non-profit in Toronto that will be a daycare for children ages 0–4, housed within a seniors’ home to offer integrated daily activities for children and seniors. The organization was named after Diana’s grandmother, who was a pioneer in children development and an Order of Canada for Early Childhood Education recipient.

Continuing Support for Polly Hill

Our journey doesn’t end with the submission. As Polly Hill continues to launch its programs, they need your support! If you or anyone you know would like to lend a hand in any of the areas below, please contact hello[at] and copying our Chapter at openideotoronto[at]

  • Partners/Stakeholder Mapping
  • Website Tool
  • Pilot Planning Task Force: Intergenerational Travel Group 🚐
  • Pilot Volunteering Task Force: Intergenerational Travel Group 🚐
  • Market Research / Real Estate Research
  • Grant Writing / Design Support

A big thank you to Polly Hill Intergenerational Daycare, participants who contributed their incredible energy, and the OpenIDEO Toronto Chapter team!

Team awesome.

OpenIDEO Toronto Chapter Stories

Designing local solutions for global problems, from Toronto to the world

Jasmine Lam

Written by

All things Social Impact, Equity, Innovation, Policy | MPP ’18, School of Public Policy & Governance | Community Manager, OpenIDEO TO Chapter | Consultant

OpenIDEO Toronto Chapter Stories

Designing local solutions for global problems, from Toronto to the world

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