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Engagement Lab Game Model Recognized for Innovation


Emerson Engagement Lab’s Community PlanIt online game platform has been named a semifinalist for the Innovation in American Government Awards, a national competition by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. The award recognizes novel and creative ways of improving public service.

The Engagement Lab partnered with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Institute for Community Health, which used the Community PlanIt platform to build “What Matters for Health,” a game that helped Brigham and Women’s Center for Community Health and Health Equity understand how to best invest resources in five Boston neighborhoods.

“We are delighted that the engagement work piloted…has been recognized and may now be expanded to include residents across the city of Boston in conversations about the health and resilience of their communities,” said Engagement Lab Programs Manager Christina Wilson.

Community PlanIt, “What Matters for Health” launched in September 2014, and focused on the health and wellness needs of residents of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Mattapan.

The games ask players to “compete in missions” and “tell [their] stories,” allowing them to earn prizes and support real-world causes during the course of play. The data generated from the game can be used by the sponsoring organizations to make decisions, allocate resources, and shape messages.

It was designed to bridge the gaps in traditional, live community planning meetings, which can be hamstrung by lack of diversity, incivility, and one-issue activists, according to the Ash Center.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized as a semifinalist for the Ash Award,” said Engagement Lab Executive Director Eric Gordon, an associate professor in the Department of Visual and Media Arts. “The Engagement Lab does a lot of work at the fringes of government, attempting to understand and invent civic processes that work for everyone. That our work got a nod from the Ash Award committee suggests that there is recognition that truly creative solutions are necessary to address the civic gaps in our public institutions.”

Since its creation in 2013, the platform has been used in games from Boston to Los Angeles to Sweden to Bhutan. Most recently, it was used by Boston municipal and nonprofit organizations and the World Wildlife Fund to explore ways to address climate change in the city.

Community PlanIt, “What Matters for Health” is one of 100 semifinalists selected from a pool of more than 500 applicants. Ten finalists will be selected to present to the awards committee in March, with two grand prize winners of $100,000 each announced in June.

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