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CPI Hits Detroit!

April 21, 2012

Here at Community PlanIt, we’ve been working hard to finalize our new features and design. And on May 7th, we’re going to see all the hard work finally get put to the test!

We’ve been working closely with the Detroit Works Project to create a game for their city’s planning process. Mayor Dave Bing initiated Detroit Works in 2010, in hopes to engage the citizens in decision-making, including important issues like use of abandoned space, improving the economy, and establishing a safe environment. CPI is part of their revamped long term planning strategy, and we’re polishing off our own redesign to be a part of the effort.

Detroit’s game of Community PlanIt is called Detroit 24/7 and it’s divided into three missions. The first is focused on where the people of Detroit find their community – whether it’s where they have fun, where they find support, or where they establish culture. The second asks players about living in Detroit, consisting of activities related to housing, schools, and commercial resources. The third is all about transportation, which includes the actual means of getting around as well as access to these means.  Detroit planners hope to gain a clear idea of the community’s opinions through CPI, and players will get the chance to really project their voice concerning the revitalization of their city.

Check back here for more updates, as well as our Twitter and Facebook. May 7th – the game begins!

Brittney Oswald, EGL Student Collaborator


Tech for Engagement: Making Change Through Innovation

March 2, 2012

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.”

                                                         –    Marianne Williamson, The Peace Alliance

The power to create meaningful change in our world begins with the individual. But that power reaches its fullest potential through conversation and the formation of communities and coalitions. The tools of social media have enabled citizens in ways never before dreamt of to create these transformative communities. This is one of the things Community PlanIt has set out to accomplish, and similar goals can be found in many places across the web.

Here are a few examples of tech for engagement that some of our colleagues are working on:

Do Something: Motivation

One of the most well-known engagement websites is Focusing on youth, Do Something encourages its members to start and join projects that will affect their communities in positive ways. Users can sign up and browse the site for volunteer opportunities created by other users. In addition, they can start their own project for a cause they support, and recruit other members to join in their efforts. The site also offers grant applications to help fund new projects and already existing organizations. The primary focus here is motivation – Do Something wants youth to care enough about the problems they see in their community and the world at large and actually work to make a difference.

Darfur is Dying: Foreign Aid

While Do Something is based on planning and socializing on an online platform, Darfur is Dying throws its users into a game of tough situations and harsh realities. Players can choose to be a mother, father, or one of six children of varying ages. They must then lead these characters through foraging for water, obtaining food, building shelter, and staying healthy. Along the way, the player is provided with facts about the people of Darfur and the tragedies they face every day. The website also offers ideas for making real impact as a citizen of the world, and they work to inspire players to take what they’ve learned in the game and build a strong foundation of knowledge about this specific issue.

Commons & Friends of Welcoming: Maintaining the Community

Commons is an iPhone application that users can download and use to share observations about their community. Community members can report a problem and recommend improvements, as well as simply show appreciation for aspects of their city. Users also vote for the best reports/improvements and actually go on missions in their city, completing City Tasks and gaining experience points. The game is currently designed for play in Lower Manhattan.

Friends of Welcoming is focused on making communities around the country more welcoming for immigrants. Through the website, users can play as themselves, with a team, or with an organization. They can sign a welcoming pledge and organize activities in their neighborhood that bring immigrants and non-immigrants together as one group. Members earn points and prizes through their participation. The goal is to make both immigrants and American-born citizens feel comfortable with each other and with their surroundings.

The People Speak: Finding Your Voice

 On, you can find a variety of talk-centered technologies. Services like Talkoke, which is a traveling chat show, encourage group discussion and voicing opinions. Who Wants to Be is another game they offer, where the audience asks the questions and comes up with the answers, solving problems like monetary spending and climate change. Although this isn’t an online discussion, it is a service based entirely on the technology and game atmosphere that generates great conversation. Since the motivation is simply establishing the community member’s voice, it opens the door for so many different, important topics to be brought to light.

We urge you to check out all these amazing projects and let us know if you’ve got a project you’d like us to share. As for Community PlanIt, check this space soon for some very important updates.

-Brittney Oswald, EGL Student Collaborator

Community PlanIt 2.0 Developement Officially Begins

February 23, 2012

The first 10-week phase of Community PlanIt 2.0 software development is now underway! We kicked things off at a day-long design meeting here in Boston where the entire team met for the first time. The team is comprised of:


Alex Hage and Nerissa Cooney, Graphic Designers

Yuan Ma, Front-End Developer

Philip Kalinsky, Back-End Developer

Brittney Oswald, J Chia, and Stephen Hewitt, EGL Student Employees

Stephen Walter, Project Manager

Eric Gordon, Director and Principle Investigator


Also stopping by our meeting for some valuable input were:

Nigel Jacob, Co-Chair, Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics

Carl Allen, Program Director, Data Reporting & Analytics, Boston Public Schools


The biggest topic of discussion was broadening the Community PlanIt system so that now users log on to City Pages, as opposed to individual games. The idea is that metro areas around the country will have their own Community PlanIt subdomains (i.e. and all the individual games happening in that city are contained in this page. This way Community PlanIt becomes an engagement hub for cities around the country, with features and uses that extend beyond individual Community PlanIt games.

We also discussed at length redesigning the Community PlanIt gameplay dashboard to fully immerse users in the game experience. Some additions to the dashboard include a countdown clock that reminds players of how much time they have left to complete a mission, and redesigned progress meters. In all, we hope to move Community PlanIt away from the typical “web page” aesthetic and make it more of an interactive and modularized “HUD” for engaging with community information and each other. Also central to the new UI is a revamped way of viewing and commenting on responses. We’ve already begun work on mockups and can’t wait to talk more in depth about our new ideas.

Finally, we discussed a new feature of Community PlanIt that will replace the Token Depot: the Valuescape. More on this to come, but suffice it to say that we are very excited about this idea’s potential as both an overall gameplay incentive and data visualization feature.

Over the next nine weeks, we hope to bring these new features to life and make Community PlanIt as strong of a system it can be—for in May, we plan on launching the largest implementation of Community PlanIt yet: for the long-term urban planning process for the City of Detroit. It’s an immense opportunity and responsibility, but we believe we can answer the call and provide the people of Detroit with a fun and valuable tool for engaging with each other to help inform the future of their hurting city.

Stay tuned for further information and updates on both our software development progress and on how we are working with organizations in Detroit to roll out the system in its biggest demonstration yet.

New Designers!

January 13, 2012

As of January 12th, the Engagement Game Lab and Community PlanIt have two new collaborators: Nerissa Cooney and Alex Hage. They are incredibly talented graphic designers who will be helping to develop the new Community PlanIt interface. They have a passion and clear talent for contributing innovative designs to projects focused on social justice and community engagement. Nerissa and Alex have also played keyed roles within the socially-minded collaborative artist community in Boston, as this Boston Phoenix article points out. To see some of their work, visit the site of their design cooperative, Golden Arrows.

We’re ecstatic to have such amazing people on our team and can’t wait to get down and dirty with some design work!


Community PlanIt 2.0

January 6, 2012

Hello and welcome to the new Community PlanIt development blog!

For those of you new to Community PlanIt, or for those who wouldn’t mind a refresher, here are some of the general ideas:

Community PlanIt is a project of the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College. It is an online social media game that responds to a growing concern among planners, government officials, and educators that too few voices are represented in important local planning efforts. With its focus on community learning, deliberation, and participation, the game engages a broad range of stakeholders in important decisions, allowing them to be informed participants in their communities. These are our guiding design principles:

  • “Platformizing” Engagement: Too often, digital community engagement efforts consist of expensive, one-shot design and deployment strategies. With these efforts limited to one locale, the software and corresponding best practices are not sharable or scalable. Community PlanIt resolves this issue by providing an engagement platform that is adaptable to any community planning process. A simple, intuitive content management system allows community curators to create content and deploy Community PlanIt in their neighborhood—with no programming required. The software is made available to communities at no cost.
  • Public Meeting as Learning Space: When planning a community meeting, it is often taken for granted that participants have a good understanding of the issues that brought them together. In the case of a public urban planning meeting, stakeholders must learn about complex urban systems and provide feedback—all within a two-hour period. Community PlanIt extends the community learning space by providing a context for learning and participation that begins four to six weeks before a public meeting is to occur. Target learning materials, such as videos, maps, and “briefs” are provided during the experience to help stakeholders understand fully the planning decisions at hand.
  • Archiving Community Knowledge: At most public meetings, valuable community input is lost as there is typically no mechanism for recording feedback.  Contributions within Community PlanIt represent a lasting archive that can be accessed by the community long after a public meeting is completed.
  • Playful Communities: Local politics are not typically associated with fun, but there is no reason why they can’t be. Community PlanIt is a game platform, and uses points and tokens to establish competition and recognition for participation. Additionally, the activities in the game follow a narrative structure and provide opportunities for people to “play” as characters from diverse positions in the community. Throughout this game play, we also aim to inspire the formation of new groups and alliances of community members by encouraging them to work together in advancing common values. In the end, Community PlanIt engages people in local civic matters by inviting them to participate in a structured framework of participation.
  • Augmented Deliberation: It is important that online engagement does not replace face-to-face engagement in communities. Community PlanIt is meant to augment existing platforms for learning and deliberation, such as the town hall meeting. The game is designed to lead up to a large, face-to-face meeting. Additionally, though Community PlanIt is played online, designated, physical computer stations within neighborhoods reinforce the presence of online deliberation in the local community.

So those are some of the main ideas of Community PlanIt–but where are we now in making those ideas a reality?

Well, we are now developing what might be called Community PlanIt 2.0. In 2011, we piloted Community PlanIt in two communities: the city of Lowell used it for their new sustainable city campaign, and the Boston Public School district used it to engage parents, teacher, students, and community members in discussing what makes a quality school. Both instances have resulted in much valuable feedback that we hope to manifest in our new design. And as of 2012, the development of this new design and further outreach to communities around the U.S. will be funded through a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. This year, we plan to implement Community PlanIt in the cities of Detroit, San Jose, Akron, and Philadelphia for use in engaging community stakeholders in local planning projects ranging from inner city urban planning to the building of a baseball stadium. Other exciting collaborations are also in development, so stay tuned for updates.

Which brings us to the last order of business: the point of this blog. We hope to use this space for two things. First, as you no doubt already have surmised, to update interested parties on how our development process is progressing, how our ideas and goals have evolved over time, and what we expect the future may hold. Our second hope  is to generate enough interest in what we are building so that you feel compelled to give us your own two cents–new ideas, development tips, resources, criticisms, support: in short, anything that gives rise to fruitful conversation. We are enormously excited about and fanatically devoted to ideas surrounding the use of new technology, processes, and mindsets to foster stronger communities and increase meaningful conversation–so why not start here with this simple ol’ development blog?

You’ll be hearing back from us soon, and we hope somewhere along the way we’ll be hearing from you.

We’ll end this long post with something Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler wrote recently regarding how ideas of embracing and utilizing human cooperative tendencies are perhaps unseating the long-standing myth in our society that the systems we build around us should be built on the assumption that individualistic and selfish behavior guides our every action:

“It means that our existing social and economic systems–from our hierarchical business models, to our punitive legal system, to our market-based approaches to education–are often designed with the wrong model of who we are, and why we do what we do. That we don’t need systems that see individuals solely through the lens of self-interest, possessing only desires and preferences. Using control or carrots and sticks to motivate us isn’t effective. To motivate people, we need systems that rely on engagement, communication, and a sense of common purpose and identity.”

PS: Some videos:

An informative introductory animation:

A video of the culminating meeting we held at the end of the BPS Community PlanIt trial: