Manor Labs

Manor Labs is a meta experiment in mass interpersonal persuasion.  At the Persuasive Technology Lab we examine how technology changes what people think and do.  The rapid emergence and acceleration of these technologies is changing culture and the economy at an individual level, and thus having an emergent effect on existing communities, and creating new abilities and new types of communities.  We wondered:

  • Can a town use persuasive technology frameworks and applications to alter the behaviors of large communities of people?
  • Can we change the way citizens and government behave toward each other?
  • Can we create new behaviors for citizen participation that can become community habits?

These questions were crucial to me because it had become apparent that many of the world’s big challenges were rooted in human behavior – healthcare, sustainability – and we needed to figure out ways to create new behaviors on a large scale quickly.  The Persuasive Technology Lab’s Facebook class had proved that social technologies had the ability to create mass interpersonal persuasion.

In addition, I was particularly interested in innovation challenges and how individuals and virtual teams had come up with novel solutions to difficult problems for Cisco, Netflix and other corporations.  Innovation challenges created an interesting labs-type environment where multiple hypotheses could be tested at the same time with the reward going to the most effective solution.

Manor Labs started out as a very simple idea:  could we turn a town into a laboratory where we could  run various persuasive technology experiments around behavior in the areas of health, sustainability and civic engagement?  We envisioned that we would create A/B split tests and experiment with messaging on utility bills, create hot triggers to incent specific behaviors, etc.  all delivered through social or mobile technologies where we could then measure and analyze the data just like any web 2.0 startup (click thrus, page views, forwards, retweets, etc.)

Dustin Haisler, CIO for the City of Manor, listened as I pitched this idea to him over the phone last fall.  I sent him an Institute For The Future paper on innovation and 20 minutes later he set up the domain.  Within days he persuaded Spigit to grant a free license of their innovation platform and the site had its debut as a Stanford Peace Dot partner.  The City of Manor was our only governmental Peace Dot partner carrying the flag of effective government as an antecedent for peace.

My lab members and I quickly went to the site and started seeding it with a few ideas and offering encouragement and feedback to the ideas submitted by others.  Our hope was that by modeling constructive community engagement the citizens of Manor would follow suit and build upon each others ideas.

What happened instead is that Manor Labs triggered a movement around municipal innovation.

Manor Labs has 992 registered users who have generated 80 ideas and implemented 6 from sources all over the world.  But more importantly it challenged people’s assumptions about the nature and form of innovation for small municipalities.  By definition every website is global and Manor Labs was no exception.  Manor Lab participants hail from Bangalore India to California to Russia.  Manor Labs acted as a hot trigger for other cities to consider the possibilities of citizen-generated ideas, open source, free and low cost web 2.0 solutions and the notion of a labs context to foster evidence driven experimentation.

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