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Engagement Lab Game to Help Boston Address Climate Change

Greater Boston residents who care about climate change will have the opportunity to weigh in on ways in which the city can confront the wages of a warming planet with the help of a game designed by Emerson College’s Engagement Lab.

Climate Smart Boston, launching Friday, March 25, at http://boston.communityplanit.org, is a partnership between the Engagement Lab, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the City of Boston’s Greenovate Boston, and The Boston Harbor Association (TBHA), and is built on the Engagement Lab’s widely used Community PlanIt platform.

“Climate change is happening in Boston, and it’s important that as many different perspectives in the city as possible come across so that resources can be invested now for the future,” said Christina Wilson, project manager at the Engagement Lab.

Funded by WWF, Climate Smart Boston will run for three weeks, March 25 to April 15, with each week focusing on a different “mission.” Mission One will focus on global climate issues, Mission Two on climate change at the city level, and the third mission will ask people to think about what they can do within their own households, Wilson said.

Players go through the game, giving their opinions and answering challenge questions, which earn them “coins” that they can donate to an environmental project of their choice. Players can even propose projects, provided they meet a set of criteria. The projects with the most coins at the end of the game will actually get a total of $1,500 in funding, courtesy of WWF.

But Wilson said she hopes participants engage with the game even further, interacting with fellow players’ responses and starting a real dialogue around addressing climate change.

“We’ve essentially created a social media platform for people to use,” Wilson said. “It feels different from doing this kind of work on Facebook or other huge social media platforms, because the people who participate are getting outside of the partisan 'knowledge bubbles' that they usually dwell inside of on other platforms. Instead, they get to talk to people  with truly different opinions, but a shared sense of community — in this case, as Bostonians.”

The platform used to build Climate Smart Boston, Community PlanIt, was developed in 2011, and has gone through a number of iterations. The current version was first used to gather public input for master planning in the city of Philadelphia,” Wilson said.

Once the game is over, all the raw data will be made public. The Engagement Lab will analyze the data and report key findings, which will be publicly available later by late May.

Kevin Taylor, senior specialist, local engagement for WWF’s Climate Program, said he was familiar with the Engagement Lab’s work with other communities through Community PlanIt, and thought an interactive game would be a great way to reach people at the municipal level.

“We know that people care about climate change, but we also know that people aren’t acting or don’t know how to take action, so it seemed like a great tool to engage people and help them feel empowered around climate impact,” Taylor said.

The WWF is hoping Climate Smart Boston is a success so they can roll it out to other cities across the country, Taylor said.

Boston was chosen as a pilot city for a number of reasons, including the fact that Emerson College is here, and the city has some familiarity with Community PlanIt–based tools.

But Boston was selected primarily because the city is a leader in addressing climate change, he said. Boston is a C40 city, a global network of large and mega metropolises committed to addressing climate change. Last year, the city won a C40 community engagement award for its Greenovate initiative, and earlier this month, Mayor Martin Walsh was elected to the C40 Steering Committee.

“Community PlanIt is a new opportunity to engage in the City’s climate preparedness planning efforts by sharing your experiences and providing feedback on your priorities,” said Boston Climate Preparedness Program Manager Mia Goldwasser. “The City is developing a long-term vision to guide comprehensive planning, and working to better understand the climate change impacts it may face. This game is a new way to engage in those processes, and an added bonus is that your engagement also helps to fund local community projects.”

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