Scout Labs

Designing for social innovation 

From interviewing state senators to running workshops with over fifty middle school students across Boston, our Labs team spent this past 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. 

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This year, I am the director of the Labs team at Scout, Northeastern's student-led design studio. Labs is a multidisciplinary team of students who believe in the power of design for social change.

The Labs team works with the City of Boston to research civic issues in our city and prototype creative solutions using a human-centered design process. Through these semester-long projects, we aim to build connections and co-create solutions with the people of Boston.


  • Spearheading our brand new partnership with City Hall
  • Guiding our team of students— most of whom had no formal training in design— through an equity-centered design thinking process
  • Coordinating outreach efforts during our research phase and conducting calls and interviews with community leaders, teachers, and public servants
  • Planning and facilitating workshops and user testing sessions with Boston Public Schools students
  • Increasing the visibility of Scout Labs' work, both within and outside of Northeastern (on that note, check out our press release!)


In 2018, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts initiated Senate Bill 2631: An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, which mandates that public school districts provide opportunities for student-led action civics projects.

In accordance with this bill, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics envisioned an opportunity to help students engage with City Hall, and brought in the Scout Labs team to help. In this project, we sought to understand how the City of Boston could best support students in the development of their action civics projects, in turn encouraging students to form positive civic habits.


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?


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.


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.

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.

Policymakers & Public Servants
We met with state legislators to understand the intent behind the civics bill. We also met with a representative from the school district to discuss the curriculum roll-out plan, as well as experts from Boston University, Generation Citizen, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute to discuss the implementation strategies that would make these projects most effective.

Action civics is taking informed action that is working towards systematic change.

K-12 Director of History and Social Studies
Boston Public Schools


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 seventy 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.

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.

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.

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.

Scout Labs Workshop


We created four personas to represent the different segments of students we were designing for. These personas were developed by synthesizing the observations and data collected from our interviews and workshops. They helped our team gauge the effectiveness of our prototypes through the eyes of Boston Public Schools students.

Asset 2@3x
Asset 5@3x
Asset 4@3x
Asset 3@3x

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.

Ryan, 11th Grade
Everyone wants to make change, but nobody actually does anything. They all complain too much.

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.

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.


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.

journey map


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.


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.

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I developed the user testing script for our team to use 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.


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. 

We are very excited to be continuing this project with a new team in the Spring 2020 semester. 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.


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