The city of Boston became a pioneer in city engagement in the digital age with their creation of the Citizens Connect application. However, in 2007, the city of Boston—widely viewed as a pioneer with technological citizen engagement—found they were not connecting with the amount of citizens they thought through their app. The chief of staff of Mayor Thomas Mennino’s administration approached Nigel Jacob to find creative ways in which to engage the Boston citizens. Jacob, in turn, approached Professor Eric Gordon of Emerson College to find a solution to the lack of engagement through the Citizens Connect app. Professor Gordon and Mr. Jacob began a relationship which led to the creation of the Engagement Lab. The Engagement Lab-in conjunction with the city of Boston-began life as the Engagement Gaming Lab and developed a game to engage the residents of Boston’s Chinatown to help plan their neighborhood in 2011 with some initial funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The initial concept for the Engagement Gaming Lab was as a collaborative urban planning tool to allow the citizens to engage with city planners for a Boston that included more citizens input for development. “Using virtual co-presence and enhanced archivability of conversation…” Professor Gordon established Hub2 designed to engage citizens in the planning of their community. Hub2 helped the city of Boston re-plan their Government Center, helped in the planning of a collaborative production community park, and helped uncover challenges related to bringing technology into civic engagement.
While the initial focus of the lab was in using gaming to engage citizens, the focus shifted from how games can impact democracy to how emerging technologies can effectively engage in democratic processes. In 2014, the Engagement Gaming Lab changed its name to the Engagement Lab and now seeks ways to more fully engage the citizens of communities throughout the world to foster a civic culture. The Engagement Lab is now an interdisciplinary lab designed to “co-invent civic life in a networked age.” The Engagement Lab grew from its initial focus on Boston to help cities in the U.S., such as Detroit and Philadelphia, to cities in countries like Bhutan, Ghana, and Egypt.
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Unknown. Elab at Emerson College. n.d. https://elab.emerson.edu/about (accessed May 10, 2017).