Our Approach

We use collaborative design and storytelling, centering those most impacted by structural inequities, to inspire change through the co-creation of art, media, and communications tools. 

Five people sitting around a table brainstorming

Theory of Change

Storytelling and design have essential functions in reckoning with injustice and imagining more equitable futures. But it matters who is telling the stories and designing our futures. At the Engagement Lab, we believe that engaging in collaborative storytelling and design, with those most directly impacted by structural inequities, is transformative for students, community partners, and beyond. We refer to this work as “critical making.” 

As you look at our Theory of Change, depicted as a tree, start from the roots and work your way up the trunk into the branches and canopy of the tree. The descriptions below can help you understand what we do and what change we hope to achieve. You can also check out an interactive, zoomable version of the illustration on Prezi!

An illustration of a tree which represents the different components of the ELab's theory of change, as outlined below.

Roots (Inputs): At the Engagement Lab, we are intentional about cultivating our collaborative learning community of students, faculty, staff, and partners. None of the work we do would be possible without the investment of all of these parties. We cultivate this community through our Faculty and Student Fellowship programs, our Collaborative Leadership Teams, and in our studio courses. 

Trunk (Key Activities): This community feeds our activities of collaborative storytelling, research, and design. These activities take place primarily in our studio courses and through research and design projects facilitated through the Engagement Lab. 

Branches (Individual Outcomes): When students, faculty, and community learning partners participate directly in our activities, we seek personal growth and change. We want individuals to experience empowerment, growth in their ability to collaborate across diversity, new knowledge and skills, and an increased sense of public responsibility.  

Fruit (Outputs): Storytelling, design, and research produce various outputs that contribute to our overall goals. These outputs are depicted as individual pieces of fruit. Each output, such as a film, report, toolkit, or event, can be plucked from the tree, planted, and cultivated to produce outcomes of its own. Outputs are usually made available for the public through this website, and we support our community partners in their use or distribution of the outputs. 

Canopy (Community-Level Outcomes): Through our key activities (research, design, storytelling) and the outputs that are produced (fruit), we expect to see a variety of outcomes within the communities with whom we work directly, including Emerson, our partner organizations and institutions, and the communities that they serve. 

Oxygen (Society-Level Outcomes): Just as a healthy tree produces oxygen that benefits the world around it, we expect that our work should do the same. If successful, we are influencing the way others see and engage with the issues that we are focusing on, such that narratives, policies, and practices are transformed to advance peace, equity, and justice in Boston and beyond.

Our Methodology

Six individuals gathered around a mural which reads "HOPE"

Collaborative Storytelling

Storytelling is the art of conveying a narrative or sequence of events through spoken, written, or visual means. Collaborative storytelling is the process and outcome of doing this with others in order to gain new perspective and insight on existing stories. 

Collaborative Design

Co-design, or collaborative design, is inclusive of the range of methods that facilitate multiple and diverse stakeholders in the creation of something new in the world. It acknowledges a range of expertises and a disparity of power in any creation process, and seeks to build trust and a mutual sense of ownership in the outcome. We offer undergraduate and graduate courses on co-design methods.

Critical Making

Critical making builds upon the foundations of critical thinking, but externalizes thinking into the creation of shared artifacts. It activates multiperspectivalism, awareness of injustices, and motivation to bring about change, through the application of collaborative design within and beyond the classroom. Critical making provides opportunities for students and community partners to learn about and practice reckoning, repair, and re-creation with real-life impact.

Fellowship Opportunities

The Engagement Lab offers fellowship opportunities for both students and faculty at Emerson College.

The fellowship provides a generative space to explore the challenge and opportunities of collaborative teaching, learning, and research. Fellows meet monthly as a group, and participate in the leadership of one or both Social Impact Initiatives.

Student Fellows are appointed for one year, with an opportunity for renewal, and receive a $1500 per semester scholarship ($3000 per year). First consideration will be given to students who have taken one or more Social Impact Studios. 

To learn more about becoming a student or faculty fellow, reach out to eric_gordon@emerson.edu.

Eight individuals posing for a selfie and giving the camera peace signs

Learning Partners

All of the collaborative work at the Engagement Lab is made possible by the direct involvement of Learning Partners. Learning Partners are individuals who live, work, play, and serve in the communities with which we partner. They join Emerson students and faculty in Social Impact Studios as co-creators, bringing their passion, knowledge, ideas, and lived experiences of the issues and their impacts locally, to inform and guide projects in the classroom. 

Six panelists seated at a blue-clothed table, with one holding a microphone

Partner Organizations