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About Us

About FORWARD LABS

We design apps, games and experiences for civic learning and community engagement.

Our mission is to help nonprofits, campaigns, cities and other civic institutions leverage game design and behavioral science to advance civic learning and participation. Our games mobilize your existing followers in new ways while also raising public awareness for your cause or organization.

 
Past Game Partners:
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Civic learning matters.

The challenge

In the wake of polarizing social media platforms, declining resources for local journalism, and 40+ years of atrophied civics curriculum in schools, most Americans lack the civic know-how necessary to take action on the issues they care about.

Unfortunately, the handful of organizations that are working to promote civic learning in America focus exclusively on K-12 classrooms. That’s critical, but it’s not enough.

When it comes to engaging, user-centered, effective civic learning for adults, America has nothing to offer. We're working to change that.

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of Americans can’t name the three branches of the federal government

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of American’s can’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment

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we spend $0.05 per student per year on civics and $50 per student per year on STEM.

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Libby Falck

Founder

We live and breath this stuff.

Our games are based on founder Libby Falck’s graduate research at MIT on game-based approaches to civic learning and engagement.

The 6 components of great civic learning games:

  1. Offer choices
  2. Scaffold Learning
  3. Create opportunities for play & expression
  4. Provide feedback
  5. Build community
  6. Crowdsource change

We've had a lot of helping getting here...

Thanks to:

  • The gAlpha Social Impact program from gener8tor and the TechConnect program from Green Bay Startup Hub for incredible support with business and pitch development.
  • 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. Thanks also to the following for their mentorship and support: Eric Gordon, Ceasar McDowell, Jim Paradis, Eric Klopfer, Ethan Zuckerman, Peter Levine, Lisa Parks, Meredith Thompson, Justin Reich, and Shannon Larkin.
  • Alison Hynd and the MIT PKG Center for Public Service for prototype funding and mentorship.
  • Karen Harkness from the City of Appleton, Adriana McClear from the Appleton Public Library, George Penn and Jim Crist from WIUTA, and the representatives of dozens of other community-based organizations for their mentorship and collaboration on research.
  • 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
our story

How it all started...

Forward Labs was founded in June 2019, but this work really began in 2014 when Libby started running youth civic hackathons and games with partners including Facing History and Ourselves and the San Francisco Public Library. The project’s focus narrowed to civic education in 2017 and to adults in 2018. We have now been developing and testing public installations, games, and tools to foster civic engagement and learning in Wisconsin for more than two years. 

Much of the foundational research for this project was published in Libby’s Master’s Thesis: Play for Change: Educational Game Design for Grassroots Organizing. Decades of research has shown that games can be optimal experiences for learning and experimentation. Forward is built on four core principles from the field of educational game design and early development was guided by MIT professors Scot Osterweil and Sasha Costanza-Chock.

More than 75 students, designers, researchers, educators and community volunteers have contributed to 37 playtests and games over the last three years.