why institutions?

designing institutions that are fit for the future

Civilla originated from our team’s shared belief that the best and fastest way to scale positive change in society is through our public-serving institutions. Our institutions are intended to support all of us in leading safe, productive, and healthy lives. They carry hundreds of years of investment, extensive infrastructure, and a deep foundation.

Yet, in today’s modern world, they’ve strayed far from their original intent, leaving many people to lose trust in their ability to deliver on their promise. Rather than turning our backs on institutions at the moment when they most need our support, we believe it’s possible to work alongside leaders to strengthen them and guide large-scale change from within. This starts by fortifying institutions as sites of innovation and seeing them as part of the solution.

the institutional dilemma

Public-serving institutions are supposed to help keep our communities safe and provide education for our children. They’re supposed to ensure we all have access to healthy food, warm homes, and medical care when we need it. Knit together, they provide a platform for public life.

While we have moved into the 21st century, many of our public systems are lagging behind the times. Manual processes, complex regulations, and structural inequities have caused people people to lose trust in our institutions’ ability to function effectively.

In this environment, many people have written institutions off as hopeless, bureaucratic, and lacking innovation. According to a recent study by Aarhus University and Temple University, 40% of people agree that "we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions. We need to tear them down and start over."

Everyone has their own demolition plan. Our politicians campaign to “drain the swamp.” Silicon Valley brings the promise of a new, fresh start. Social innovation pushes positive change at the edges. Technologists and designers often deliver quick fixes and overly clever workarounds.

These ideas reflect a common belief that it’s better to move around our institutions, over the top of them, or to start from scratch — rather than move with them and through them.

a renovation strategy

At Civilla, we recognize the need for our institutions to change. However, we also believe that optimism, support, and partnership are going to fuel the change we aspire to see.

Optimism involves recognizing that there are many problems our institutions face while also acknowledging that it is possible to solve them. Today, there are beautiful examples of high-impact work taking place in institutions around the country. It is important to lift up and learn from these successes.

At the same time, we aren’t experiencing as much progress as we would expect given the level of resources we’re applying to the problems. Moreover, we don’t see progress happening for all. Our social safety net, for example, represents more than 80 programs that are intended to provide access to food, medical care, and the resources to support balanced, productive lives. These programs are supported by more than $700 billion in resources — yet more than 45 million Americans continue to live below the poverty line.

When we get leaders to a quiet place, they will often admit a few things: The complexity of institutional challenges today have outgrown the capabilities of traditional tool sets. The programs, regulations, and money have become the core focus of institutions, rather than the people they’re meant to support. They struggle to create the “new” while running the “now.” And the progress they’re making isn’t enough.

a paradigm shift

Civilla is rooted in the belief that there is untapped power in our public-serving institutions to create positive social change at scale.

Despite our optimism, our team recognizes that change is hard. The reliability and accountability that we expect from our institutions make them resistant to change. As a result, the institutions that have the greatest influence on our lives are also the least likely to evolve.

While change may not be easy, it is possible. Civilla is a design studio dedicated to working alongside leaders to scale social change by transforming our institutions from the inside out. We wake up every day with the goal of positively impacting one billion people through institutions that are more compassionate, more effective, and less expensive to operate. Through focused efforts, our work is building optimism and demonstrating what’s possible when we restore faith in our institutions’ ability to change.

Systems change requires interventions from many angles, including rethinking the policy, technology, and processes that underpin institutions. By linking arms with leaders over the long term, we’re committed to improving the systems that provide all of us with a foundation for daily life – contributing to a future where our institutions are celebrated for supporting people, not seen as holding them back.

Along the way, we're using our work to uncover learnings on how to move change through institutions. Our intent is to share those learnings with others who are working to renovate and reform institutions. The end result, we hope, is that leaders arrive with a new set of tools that empower them to remove friction and restore humanity in the institutions they lead.

We hope you’ll join us.