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Welcome to Forward Labs

We design tools,
games, and experiences
to increase participation
in local democracy.

Does your organization struggle with a lack of diversity and youth engagement?

Hello there!

We Are Forward Labs

We work with community-based organizations and cities throughout the state of Wisconsin (and beyond) to design tools, games and experiences that bolster participation in local democracy.

Led by Neenah native Libby Falck and based on her graduate research at MIT, our approach centers user research with “disengaged citizens" right here in Wisconsin. Starting from the perspective of a potential supporter, our goal is to help organizations craft outreach and mobilization strategies that are more inclusive, improve pathways to youth participation, and help shift cultural assumptions about what it means to be civically engaged.

This user-centered approach highlights three priorities:

Local

Our projects aim to increase access to information about issues, candidates, and civic actions at the municipal and county levels.

Collaborative

We seek to introduce people to new causes by increasing awareness of the ways various issues and organiziation are interconnected.

Creative

Our initiatives emphasize people-driven, interest-based engagement by local residents and community ownership.


Workshops & Consulting

WE HELP GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATONS LEVERAGE LEARNING, GAMES, AND CREATIVE MEDIA TO MOBILIZE SUPPORTERS

Our workshops provide hands-on trainings to bring a user-centered approach to your group's outreach strategy. Workshops draw from the latest research on youth activism, digital engagement practices, and educational game design, but it's not all theory - our goal is for you to always walk away with a simple, tailored action plan or a new skill.

Follow us or join our newsletter to receive alerts on upcoming training and events. You can also schedule a workshop for your organization.


Workshop:
Building Community through Creative Engagement

In this workshop we will design inclusive and playful calls to action using a card-based brainstorming activity.

TAKEAWAY

The beginning of a custom "creative outreach playbook" for your group.

Workshop:
Learning Design for Civic Engagement

Local civics can be intimidating. In this workshop you'll explore opportunities to bring civic learning into your outreach strategy.

TAKEAWAY

A basic learning plan for your group and a map of your desired learning process.

Workshop:
Design Thinking to Understand Your Supporters

In this workshop you'll learn how design thinking can help you understand the needs of your organization's supporters.

TAKEAWAY

A series of user research methods for needfinding, brainstorming and iteration.

Workshop:
Crafting Powerful Stories & Messages

In this workshop you'll learn how to use a simple framework to develop powerful stories about your group's work.

TAKEAWAY

A method for quickly generating memorable and shareable stories about your work.

Consulting: Digital Engagement Audit

Complete our digital engagement survey and then review your results with our team to receive custom recommendations for optimizing your digital engagement strategy based on your campaign's goals.

Speaking, Project-Based Consulting, and More!

Our mission is to promote and support the work of local organizations. Is there something we can help you with that's not on this list? Please reach out and let us know how we can help.

Workshops and consulting services are currently offered on a sliding scale or limited volunteer basis as we fundraise for the Forward Education Fund. This fund will enable us to prioritize support for the small and volunteer-led groups that are leading local change.

To Learn More:
Schedule an Intro Meeting Send a Message

GAMES ARE OUR PASSION

Local Civics Games

In addition to offerering trainings, we design educational games that help players learn how local democracy works with a focus on the state of Wisconsin. Development and distribution of these games is another program run under the Forward Education Fund, which will enable our team to get playful civic education materials into the hands of more Wisconsinites.

WI Civics Board Game

We're working with high school civics teachers on a board game that teaches players how to advocate for causes within municipal and county government.

Forward Challenges

Forward Challenges use scavenger hunts, trivia, and playful teambuilding competitions to engage players with civic meetings and causes in a specific community.

Clowder: Mobile Game

Clowder is a location-based mobile game that invites players to tell a story about the desired future of their community through place-based challenges.

Our Flagship Project

The Forward App

Forward is an web that tracks civic engagement opportunities ranging from town hall meetings, to rallies, to civic art projects throughout the state of Wisconsin. The platform enables users to search "Action Alerts" by date, issue, location, cause, interest (such as “knitting” or “movies”), and more. We’re rolling out an early version of Forward this fall, starting in the Fox Cities.

About Forward Labs

Our goal is to make it easier for everyday people to take local action on the causes they care about. These causes fall into four categories:

We are a secular organization that honors the separation of church and state. Therefore, we do not support causes that are deeply religious in nature. We do, however, welcome the participation of faith-based groups in Forward’s secular causes.

Why Forward "Labs"?

Rather than a product or a consultancy, we like to think of ourselves as a lab that is dedicated to the continual improvement of local democratic engagement. The idea for Forward initially emerged from Libby Falck's graduate research at MIT on digital organizing practices in her home state of Wisconsin. Moving forward, we aim to maintain a research-based, human-centered, and iterative approach to the development of products and services in partnership with community-based organizations.

Ethics

We believe that platforms designed to function in support of democracy must be democratically owned and governed. That's why we seek to follow the principles outlined by the Design Justice Network and our ultimate vision is to sustain any technologies we develop using a safe, equitable, and sustainable model of platform cooperativism. This approach reimagines the traditional form of the cooperative as a way to govern and share value among the participating members of digital platforms (see work by Travor Scholz and Nathan Schnieder). Additionally, members should have a voice in platform governance, particularly with regard to decisions about the use of member data.

Mentors and Collaborators

Thanks to the following people and organizations for their support

  • George Penn and Jim Crist from WIUTA, Karen Harkness from the City of Appleton, Adriana McClear from the Appleton Public Library, and the representatives of dozens of other community-based organizations for their mentorship and collaboration on research.
  • The MIT Comparative Media Studies program for supporting Libby Falck's graduate research on civic engagement practices in central Wisconsin. Special thanks to Sasha Costanza-Chock and Scot Osterweil for serving as thesis advisors.
  • In addition to Sasha and Scot, thanks also to the following for their inspiring academic work: Eric Gordon, Cathy Kohen, Joseph Kahne, Jim Gee, Eric Klopfer, Ethan Zuckerman, Ehhardt Graeff, Peter Levine, Stephen Duncombe, Henry Jenkins, Benjamin Stokes, Lance Bennet, and Alexandra Segerberg.
  • Teachers and students from Neenah High School and students in the following MIT classes for testing early versions of Forward: Playful Social Interactive Design Explorations (Spring 2018 and Spring 2019), Networked Social Movements (Fall 2018), and Games for Social Change (Spring 2019).
  • Contributors from the MIT Hacking Arts team members who helped test an early Forward prototype: Justin Warren, Aparna Krishnakumar, Efua Akonor, Tiffany Shen, Tommy Mintz, Stephanie MacConnell, Krishna Gadia, and Tess.
  • The MIT Open Documentary Lab staff, fellows and community for their ongoing feedback.

Check out some of our prototypes

Recent Work

Co-Design Workshops

Workshops, January, 2019

Throughout the month of January, we co-hosted co-design workshops with Wisconsin United to Amend in Madison, Appleton, and Steven's Point to seek feedback and crowdsource ideas for a game pilot.

Youth Workshop and Game Playtest with Neenah High School students

Playtest, December 28, 2019

Neenah High School students helped playtest the Forward game and brainstorm improvements.

ArtHero Pilot, Hacking Arts Hackathon

Playtest, October 2018

We paper prototyped the initial Mission (now "Actions") structure of the Forward game and platform at the Hacking Arts Hackathon in October.

Community Futures Game

Library installation series, Summer 2018

The goal of this project was to create a playful experience that encourages players to think creatively about the distant future in a frame that ignores the traditional liberal/conservative binary. Over the course of the summer, three iterations of the game were tested at three different library in central Wisconsin.

Community Futures Board Game

Playtests, Spring 2018

The Community Futures Game is a table-top board game that enables community members to playfully co-create future-oriented visions for their town. The driving question for the project was: How might we use games and place-based experiences to help citizens co-create future-oriented narratives that bridge partisan divides and foster the inclusion of new voices.

Contact Us

Reach out to get involved or just say hello

Where to Find Us

Fox Cities, WI
Madison, WI

Email Us At

libby@forwardlabs.io