Scout Labs

From interviewing state senators to running workshops with over fifty middle school students across Boston, our Labs team spent a semester working with the City of Boston's Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics to prototype a new website to support students through their action civics projects.

About Scout Labs

About Scout Labs

Scout Labs brings together a multidisciplinary team of students with varying skill sets, ways of thinking, and academic backgrounds to solve pressing problems in our community. We believe in the power of design for social change! Through our projects, we aim to build connections and co-create solutions with the people of Boston in partnership with the Mayors Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM).

My Role

As project lead for this project I was the point of contact between MONUM and Scout Labs. I led team meetings and taught design exercises to our multidisciplinary students. I delegated work throughout the team and met with team members to work on learning goals and foster team culture and a learning environment.

The Challenge

In 2018, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a civics education bill (Senate Bill 2631: An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement), mandating that public school districts provide opportunities for students to partake in action civics projects. These projects allow young students to learn about how they can effect change in their communities and solve social issues by engaging with government and community organizations.

MONUM and the Scout Labs team saw these action civics projects as a wonderful opportunity to increase student engagement with the government. We wondered how we could help Boston Public School students work with the local government on their action civics projects and have a meaningful experience. Throughout the Fall 2019 - Spring 2020 school year, our teams conducted research and built a website and service system to help these students better engage with people in City Hall and the work that they do.

Problem Statement

How might we help 8th - 12th grade Boston Public School students work with the local government on their action civics projects and have a meaningful experience?

Research

We created a stakeholder map as a jumping off point for considering who we should engage in our research. With students at the center, we brainstormed which other stakeholders would be affected by the civics education bill and plotted them on the map based on their connection to the students.

We interviewed many of these key stakeholders to familiarize ourselves with the youth civic action landscape in Boston, including representatives of community organizations, Boston Public Schools teachers, and government officials.

Stakeholders

We talked to many key stakeholders to familiarize ourselves with the topic of our design challenge, including representatives of community organizations, Boston Public Schools teachers, and state policymakers and public servants.

Teachers

As the ones who will be implementing the action civics projects in their classrooms, teachers were a crucial stakeholder in this project. We interviewed 5 teachers from across Boston to understand their expectations for students' projects and learn what resources would be helpful to teachers in implementing action civics projects within their classrooms.

Community Organizations

Many community organizations across Boston already work with students on civics-oriented projects. We tried to sit down with as many of them as possible, such as Youth Enrichment Services, UTEC, and Hyde Square Task Force, to learn about their work and get their advice on how these projects could most effectively be brought into public school classrooms.

Policymakers

As the ones who will be implementing the action civics projects in their classrooms, teachers were a crucial stakeholder in this project. We interviewed 5 teachers from across Boston to understand their expectations for students' projects and learn what resources would be helpful to teachers in implementing action civics projects within their classrooms.

Engaging with Students

One of the most important aspects of our research phase was getting into classrooms and talking with eighth grade and high school students from schools across Boston. We went to three schools and talked to over fifty students to learn more about what they think about their community, which issues are close to them, and the avenues they would take to solve these issues.

Workshops

We held 3 student workshops at Boston Teachers Union School and Boston Latin School. We followed an organized script and flow of activities, including a brainstorming exercise, agree/ disagree activity, and a worksheet.

Surveys

With the help of teachers within the school, we conducted a survey for students at New Mission Collegiate Academy. We received 172 responses, 45% of which were in the ninth grade and 42% of which were in tenth grade.

Interviews

We visited three 9th grade classrooms at TechBoston Academy to talk with students about civics, social change-making, and the projects they were working on during STEAM week centered around issues in their communities.

Personas

Personas are fictional characters that reflect different user types. We created four personas to represent different segments of the students we were designing for. These personas were developed using observations and data collected from our interviews and workshops. A key part of human-centered design, these personas helped our team to synthesize the large amounts of data that we gathered and gauge the effectiveness of our prototypes through the eyes of BPS students.

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Ryan, 11th Grade

Everyone wants to make change, but nobody actually does anything. They all complain too much.

Serena, 8th Grade

I want to make a change in my community, but I don't know where to start. It's hard to really make a difference.

Jack, 11th Grade

I'm really unhappy with our government, but I don't know what I can do about it until I'm old enough to vote.

Alyssa, 8th Grade

I don't really trust the adults in my community because they don't seem to care about what I have to say.

Journey Map

In our current state, how would each of our personas move through an action civics project? We visualized this through our journey map, which helped to uncover opportunities for improvement by depicting where emotions are particularly negative. This allowed the team to see what points of our users' journeys our prototype should aim to enhance.

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Ideation

We used our research insights to develop a list of goals for our prototype and 10 How Might We (HMW) questions. These questions encouraged creative brainstorming for potential solutions and served as the basis for idea generation.

How Might We Ensure That...

Teachers are informed and supported?
Teachers and City Hall are supportive, and students feel empowered?
Projects feel larger than classwork?
Students have guidance?
City Hall is welcoming and approachable?
City Hall is responsive, with a quick turnaround?
Students are given space and time to work on their projects in class?
Students can build upon existing resources and projects?
Students have flexibility and autonomy in their projects?
Resources are user-friendly toward students?

Early Prototype Ideas

Interactive Guide: An engaging and relatable walk-through of an example project for students to use as a resource.

Youth Concierge: A service to answer students' inquiries and make City Hall more accessible. This service would connect students to the right departments and employees to help answer their questions.

Digital Showcase: A digital space for students to display their projects as a way to add meaning to their work. This space would also serve the role of archiving projects so future students could collaboratively build upon work that had already been completed.

Prototype

Our final prototype ended up being a combination of two prototype ideas— the Interactive Guide and the Youth Concierge. Our team designed an informative website that could guide and connect students to department ambassadors within City Hall. For a full description of the pages within this prototype, check out our report.

User Testing

Our team did user testing at Balfour Academy, a College Access Program at Northeastern University. We tested our prototypes with nine students from six different BPS Schools. During the one hour session, our team of facilitators guided students through the prototype while we asked questions such as, “What do you think would happen if you clicked on this button?” and “What was your least favorite part of this page?


Through testing, we were able to understand the website functions that worked or failed to meet our users’ needs. We were able to make modifications to our prototype from testing, including improving our content to be more user-friendly and developing an Email Guide and Frequently Asked Questions page. Our prototype will be further modified, tested, and developed into a working product in Spring 2020.

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Passoff & Documentation

If you are interested in learning more, please read our Fall 2019 Research + Discovery Report, which documents the process and products of our team's civic research + design project. Please reach out if you have any suggestions or feedback for our team, or if you are interested in collaborating with us on supporting youth civic action in Boston.