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 in their local communities.
Civic learning matters.
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.
of Americans can’t name the three branches of the federal government
we spend $0.05 per student per year on civics and $50 per student per year on STEM.
of American’s can’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment
We make civic learning fun.
View our talk from the 2019 Unrig Summit for a summary of our research on the six components of great civic learning games here:
The 6 components of great civic learning games:
Create opportunities for play & expression
mentors & supporters
How it all started...
This work 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 2019. We have now been developing and testing public installations, games, and tools to foster civic engagement and learning in Wisconsin for four years.
Much of the foundational research for Forward 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.
Forward Labs was founded as a Wisconsin LLC in June 2019 and is fiscally sponsored by Arts Wisconsin.
Over the last three years, more than 75 students, designers, researchers, educators and community volunteers have contributed to 37 playtests and games.
- Arts Wisconsin for fiscally sponsoring several of our projects.
- The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin for their partnership.
- The gAlpha Social Impact program from gener8tor and the TechConnect program from Green Bay Startup Hub for incredible support with business and pitch development and technical recruitment.
- As Goes Wisconsin for collaboration and support
- 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 feedback