The Engagement Lab @ Emerson College

It all started...

in 2007 with a project called Hub2. In collaboration with Nigel Jacob at the City of Boston, professor Eric Gordon sought to apply his background in media studies and urbanism to actually change how people deliberate within urban planning processes. Using virtual co-presence and enhanced archivability of conversation, Hub2 established a framework that would guide his work for years to come. From the reimagination of Boston’s Government Center to the collaborative production of a neighborhood park, there was much to uncover about the affordances and challenges of digital technologies in daily civic life.

Building on this work, in 2010, Gordon won a Digital Media and Learning grant from the MacArthur Foundation to work with the City of Boston, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the Asian Community Development Corporation to develop a game that could engage residents of Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood in the master planning process. The game, which coupled digital exploration with face-to-face dialogue, brought thousands of people into a planning process in an entirely new way. To provide a platform for this research, Gordon founded the Engagement Game Lab in 2011 with initial support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The Lab's first staff director, Stephen Walter, was brought on shortly afterwards and helped to shape the overall vision of the Lab and position it for rapid growth.

While the Lab’s early focus was exclusively on games and play, Gordon’s research has shifted from asking how games can impact democracy, to how new technologies -- including but not exclusively games -- can impact participation in democratic processes. In 2014, the lab changed its name to the Engagement Lab, brought on faculty directors Paul Mihailidis and Catherine D’Ignazio and initiated a faculty fellow program to expand its research to include a wide range of technologies and approaches in fostering civic cultures. It is now supported by a talented staff of artists, designers, programmers, researchers and producers that are committed to civic innovation. The Engagement Lab has designed and implemented dozens of curricula, apps, games, program evaluations, and art interventions all over the world, from American cities such as Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia, all the way to cities in Bhutan, Egypt and Ghana.

The Engagement Lab is now an interdisciplinary laboratory focused on co-inventing civic life in a networked age. In 2016, we launched our graduate program called Civic Media, Art, and Practice (CMAP), we continue to build our fellows program, and are building a network of scholars and practitioners around Boston as part of the Boston Civic Media Consortium.