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Our Story
In 2013, Julie (a teacher-turned-administrator-turned-policy advocate) met Kari (an educator-turned-researcher-turned-improvement specialist). Together, we launched Community Design Partners in 2019 so we could more deeply collaborate with communities to make sustainable change and interrupt racist systems. We carefully chose each word in our name to embody our journey and values:



We believe that the answers to complex problems are rooted in community




We use mindsets and tools from liberatory design + continuous improvement to interrupt and redesign systems





We see each other, people we work with, and people we collaborate with as partners and value what we learn from each new partnership

Our Bios

Julie Smith

Julie Smith is a connector of educators, government leaders, and community members, with the goal of shifting mindsets around improvement that are grounded in empathy, racial equity &  focused on systemic change. Julie works with organizations to build capacity for change from the inside out and believes that organizations can realize their goals when they build them with those they aim to serve. Julie has worked as a facilitator, advisor, and coach to a diverse range of projects including helping organizations implement anti-racist frameworks, community based school solutions, educator effectiveness systems, and designing state educator networks around continuous improvement.

Kari Nelsestuen

Kari Nelsestuen is an improvement coach, researcher, and facilitator. Her favorite role is coaching and facilitating teams as they learn and practice the mindsets and tools of equity-centered continuous improvement and design thinking. Prior to founding CDP with Julie, Kari spent almost two decades researching and evaluating education initiatives aimed at improving outcomes such as K-3 literacy and college access. In the role of evaluator she learned how to ask great questions, synthesize information, and closely examine implementation. As a white, cis-gender woman, Kari has prioritized deep learning on her own path towards being an anti-racist in both her personal and professional life. Kari prides herself on being flexible, humble, and a good listener. 




Amplifying our impact and serving our partners well often means we are learning from and collaborating with others. CDP is humbled to be able to leverage the perspective and collective expertise of our network on a number of projects. Through these relationships we can remain adaptive in our work as we grow both personally and professionally.

Erin Whitlock
Be Gr8rr
NLD Strategic
Soobin Oh
Kim Feicke
Ten02 Consulting
Bahia Overton
Equity Stance

Across all of our work, we strive to be anti-racist by disrupting the root causes of inequities.  We define equity as responsive, restorative practices that connect and amplify the strengths of our communities while also eliminating systemic barriers that disproportionately impact certain people based on their complex and unique identities. We believe change processes are effective when they help organizations recognize, ally, and build on the strengths of individuals self determination.

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