Northeastern University’s Scout Labs, which is the social innovation team within Scout (both groups advised by faculty member Margarita Barrios Ponce, Assistant Teaching Professor in Art + Design), uses human-centered design methodologies to come up with solutions to the most pressing design issues in Boston. The interdisciplinary team of students, representing a wide range of expertise and skillsets, works directly with the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) to both research these problems and prototype creative responses to them. These semester-long projects take many different shapes, and it is poised to be a very exciting fall for Scout Labs as they focus on youth civic action as the broad theme to address.
This theme includes preliminary questions like: How are schools in Boston practicing civic engagement? How are the educators teaching it? How are students collaborating with local government? How can young people develop positive civic habits and become more involved in the community? These, among many others, will be what the incoming Scout Labs team will tackle and explore.
“It will be really exciting to work on these major issues and questions with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics team,” said CAMD student Tia Thomson, who is the Scout Labs Director. “It is a truly interesting and valuable partnership; the folks at MONUM are simultaneously both our clients and mentors. We have a lot to offer them, but we are also excited to learn from them as well.”
Scout Labs, being the social impact side of Scout, has always tackled large social issues, but it started partnering with MONUM as a client more recently. This felt like a natural fit, and the partnership has opened up more doors for student to try out new ways to conduct research.
“Human-centered research is definitely at the center of what we do in Scout Labs,” added Tia. “It trickles into many steps of the Scout Labs design process.”
This process starts with (1) empathize, which involves observing, engaging, and immersing in the project challenge and growing their understanding of the issues. This step is followed by (2) defining the core problem, (3) brainstorming ideas, and then (4) prototyping the solutions, which is where the ideas really take form. The last step is (5) testing the prototypes with members of the community and gaining feedback, which allows the team to refine their work to develop a final solution. The process is collaborative and allows all of the students (who have backgrounds in everything from design to industrial engineering to political science, economics, and more) to contribute and put their skillsets to work.
“We are very inclusive, experimental, and open to testing even the weirdest-sounding ideas that a team member has,” Tia concluded. “We are all design thinkers, but may approach a challenge in different ways. You really don’t know what the deliverable is going to be until you have tested various approaches and come to one that works best.”
We look forward to seeing how this semester’s partnership with MONUM unfolds!