Getting Started

Identifying Your Students

  • Which students will you engage in your project?
  • Does your team have a common group of students? 
  • Will you involve students who do not have every member of your team as a teacher?
  • Can and will you recruit teachers outside of the EFS fellowship to engage with portions of your overall process? 

Consider Your Roles

  • As you examine the EFS Logic Model, where do you see yourself situated, with regards to your content, the flexibility of your curriculum, or structural limitations? 
  • Will each teacher take on specific portions of the project, or are you able to establish continuity across content areas? 
  • If you do not have a contiguous group of students across all members of your team, how will you engage your selected group in all parts of the process?

Starting Point

Solidify a firm starting point for your process for each member of your team. Some suggestions are:

  • Building background
  • Developing/strengthening relationships with students, creating a culture of co-working and co-learning
  • Exploring identity and establishing context
  • Using Photovoice to create immediate buy-in to the research process

Building Background

What is your plan for engaging students in conversations and lessons around sustainability, climate, and environmental justice? We recommend drawing upon the Thriving Cities framework to show the connections between more “immediate” concerns, such as the social shortfalls (inside the doughnut), and ecological boundaries (outside). Consider local stories of climate/environmental justice, such as:

Consider using the Local-Social Decision Tree (in the Creating City Portraits Guide, p. 11) or other tools to examine/critique existing initiatives, such as the city’s Greenworks Plan or SDP’s Green Futures plan. Are they going far enough? Are they measuring the right things? Do the city’s or the district’s priorities align with young people’s own sense of what they need to thrive?

Introduction to Process

How you will introduce students to the project process? Will you lay it all out at once to provide some framing, or address each portion individually? The EFS logic model implies two possible sequences: problem-based or intervention-first. The components are the same, but the sequence varies slightly. Both are meant as a guide, not as a strict set of instructions.

Problem-Based Approach

Centering Students: Identity, History, Community

  • How can students explore, embody, and express their full selves, across their intersecting identities?
  • How can students explore their personal/family histories, and how those histories are situated within the larger city/national/global context? 
  • How can students connect historical and present relationships to land and/or place
  • How do student identities, positionalities, histories inform their priorities with respect to the conditions they need to thrive?

Identifying the Problem or Concern

  • What assets and challenges emerge from students’ understanding of their identities, histories, and sense of their own trajectories?
  • What methodologies can best help your students reflect and/or explore problems and concerns in their communities (with respect to place or identity)? 
  • Consider using Asset Mapping to identify active or potential assets in the community
  • Consider Photovoice to visualize and narrate a story of place
  • Within the context of “what it means to thrive”, consider how community features act as assets to be nurtured, or obstacles to be mitigated/removed

Building Consensus

  • What process will you use to determine a collective focus (shared problem/concern) for your project?
  • Consider broadening your question to make room for concerns just outside the consensus

Connecting with Community Partners

How will you choose your community partner(s)? Again consider assets, challenges, and the context of “thriving”. 

  • What organizations in the community (like Norris Square Neighborhood Project) are demonstrating strategies for thriving? 
  • What organizations (like Philly Thrive) are directly challenging harms done to community past and present? 
  • What organizations have already done — or are currently doing — important research and/or collected valuable data on your problem or concern? (See: Drexel Climate Resilience Research Agenda)
  • How can your project support, enhance, or synthesize with existing efforts in the city?

Academic Research

To start the research process, students should have an overarching question reflecting the problem/concern and/or smaller questions that might be delegated to groups or individuals. 

  • Consider variable mapping to help generate research questions.
  • Students’ have their own knowledge of their problems or concerns; have them write a hypothesis, based on their own lived experience or exploratory research done in community. 
  • What particular skills will students need to conduct their research? Where are the gaps? What will research look like in different classes?
  • What sources will students use to investigate the problem/concern?
  • How will they evaluate sources for accuracy/validity?
  • How will students review, revise, reject, or reaffirm their hypothesis?
  • How will students represent their findings?

Participatory Action Research

Go all in with participatory action research (PAR)! Using a mixed methods approach is essential to collecting rich data, and deepening understanding of the problem/concern:

  • Observations — take a trip through the community, observing through the lens of “what does it mean to thrive?”
  • Interviews — consider a variety of experts: academic, community leaders, longtime residents; teach students how to craft strong questions, how to request interviews, how to build and maintain trust with their interviewees
  • Surveys — teach students the range of survey questions; determine the demographics of a representative sample
  • Focus Groups — teach students how to facilitate a community conversation; have them practice among their peers
  • Photovoice — if you’ve used it before, it’ll be even better the second time
  • Asset Mapping — re-examine the community through the lens of the problem or concern

Consider what information students need to deepen their knowledge of the problem/concern and to start a cursory exploration of potential interventions. Which methodologies will be most accessible for students and their communities, and which will return the most relevant data?

Content + Skill Building

  • Does the problem or concern expose critical gaps in knowledge or skills?
  • How can your content areas either directly fill these gaps or guide students toward the resources they need to do so? 
  • Consider which content or skills might be useful (if not essential) to the development of an intervention

Compiling, Analyzing, and Interpreting Research

  • Gather all data by methodology
  • Within each methodology, identify key themes, based on how the data respond to the guiding question(s)
  • Identify common themes across methodologies
  • Synthesize and summarize
  • Collectively determine how the data responds to the guiding question(s)
  • Review, then reaffirm/revise/rewrite the hypothesis as a claim, using the synthesized data as supporting evidence

★ Planning an Intervention ★

Based on a fuller understanding of the problem/concern, the acquisition of new skills and content, and conversations with community partners, collectively design an intervention. Consider using the City Portraits Canvas Guide as a starting point,“downscaling” it to the community/neighborhood level. This means considering the following questions:

  • How could the intervention enhance the ability of the people in our community to thrive?
  • How could the intervention enhance the ability of the community to thrive within its natural habitat?

Thriving Outcomes

Social Dimensions

  • Healthy – with nutritious food, clean water, good health, and decent housing
  • Connected – by Internet connectivity, urban mobility, a sense of community, and access to culture
  • Enabled – with good education, decent work, sufficient income, and access to affordable energy
  • Empowered – with political voice, social equity, equality in diversity (including gender and racial equality), and peace and justice.

Ecological Dimensions

  • Managing and Maintaining Water
  • Regulating Air Quality
  • Regulating Air Temperature
  • Harvesting and Distributing Energy
  • Supporting Biodiversity
  • Protecting Against Soil Erosion
  • Sequestering Carbon

Consider interventions that are situated at the intersection of both social and ecological dimensions. For example, urban agriculture on its own provides nutritious food, good health, a sense of community, access to culture, opportunities for education, and potential income streams. If planned well, it can also manage stormwater, improve air quality, increase biodiversity, sequester carbon, protect against soil erosion, and mitigate the heat island effect. The use of permaculture design would allow the harvesting and distribution of energy, as well as more biodiversity, and a denser, year-round site of food production. If the site of such a project were also a space of community organizing, it could also effect an elevation of political voice, peace, and justice. 


Use participatory methods to evaluate the impact of your intervention. Develop new research questions that explore the correlation between the intervention (as a whole, or with respect to individual parts) and changes in conditions of the community along social and ecological dimensions. Identify stakeholders to interview, survey, or engage through focus groups. Reflect with students on your process. 

  • What lessons have been learned? 
  • What is the next phase of the work? 

How do we maintain or enhance the impact(s) of the intervention, based on our own experiences and feedback from the community?

Intervention-First Approach

The intervention-first approach has all the same components as the problem-based approach. The difference is that the focus of the initial research is on an existing community feature (asset or strategy) that responds to the two large thematic questions: 

  • What would it mean for the people of your community to thrive?
  • What would it mean for your community to thrive within its natural habitat?

Centering Identity / Establishing Context

Identify which community features most resonate with students’ identities, communities, histories, and of course, their interests. 


Use variable mapping and develop research questions that explore the relationship between the interventions and thriving outcomes along social and ecological dimensions. 

Broad examples:

  • How does a community green space make people more healthy and empowered?
  • How does a local solar energy grid make people more enabled and connected?

Or more specific:

  • How does a stormwater management system prevent soil erosion and provide fresh drinking water?

Use academic or participatory action research to identify community partners whose work potentially addresses these or related questions. Consider how your students might work to enhance their efforts, such as developing interventions across additional social and/or ecological dimensions.

  • How could incorporating a solar power array at Norris Square enhance their capacity as a community hub? 
  • How could incorporating permaculture design at North Philly Peace Park increase biodiversity and provide greater food yields? 

Both PAR and academic research could be used to make the case to various stakeholders to provide additional material or financial support for the project. 

Other things to consider:

  • How does your intervention serve to help the community mitigate, adapt to, or build resilience against the impacts of a changing climate?
  • In which of the four paradigms (extract, arrest damage, do good, regenerate) is your intervention situated? What changes can be made to move toward regeneration?

Content + Skill Building

  • How can each teacher’s expertise provide students with the knowledge or skills to execute the intervention?
  • How can an understanding of the social, historical and political contexts of the place enhance student interest, build stronger relationships with the community, and honor the land’s original inhabitants?
  • How can art be used to enhance the project aesthetically, as well as boost community awareness?

Plotting Your Trajectory

Scope and Sequence

  • How much time, ideally, would you like to spend on each component?
  • How much time do you think your students need to fully engage with each component?
  • How much time do you have for each component, based on structural/administrative limitations?
  • Be prepared to disrupt or completely break your scope and sequence


  • In which content area is each component best situated? Are there overlaps? Redundancies?
  • What are the dependencies between components? 
  • Which components are best done synchronously vs. asynchronously?

Curating Content

  • Anticipate which skills and content will be most pertinent to broad categories of exploration, whether problem-based or intervention-first. 
  • Consider using a “workshop” model, wherein the process forms the axis of your scope and sequence, with content and skills-based modules introduced in response to critical gaps in skills, to deepen knowledge, or to enhance interventions

Filling the Gaps

Plan for gaps in your own knowledge, particularly around PAR methodologies, or in the overlaps between content areas. How can teachers collaborate at these intersections, and how can gaps become opportunities for horizontal co-learning with students?