The Cohort on Public Engagement

5 cities + $100,000 + 18 months to create projects that engage lower-income residents

As local government resources decline and challenges ranging from economic inequality to infrastructure arise, cities must design new and more effective responses. Cities are increasingly looking for ways to implement promising innovations that will have a significant impact in the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.

City Accelerator is an initiative of Living Cities and the Citi Foundation that explores best practices for engaging lower-income residents and creating effective city government structures. Over an 18-month period, cities outlined their short-term goals in advancing innovative practices and used several program elements to accelerate their progress. An innovation guidebook described how to concretely adapt best practices; and coaching, technical assistance, and implementation resources advanced strategies to overcome barriers. Each city came together multiple times throughout the project to share how they used these resources to advance strategy and overcome barriers.

Program Goals

Design and implement effective strategies while considering civic tech and feedback loops
Taking the time to design and implement engagement strategies for government practice that are not simply additive, but transformative, is imperative. Prioritizing this work and understanding the best ways to accomplish it is a primary goal.

Improve upon existing structures and networks for engagement
People already work within established professional and social networks. Promoting co-governance does not require building networks from scratch, but rethinking and repurposing existing networks.

Evaluate impact and process
Evaluation is the deliberate assessment of a process. When trying out a new work process, one should be guided by framing questions and have a clear means of answering them.

Build a better “back-end” for engagement
Institutional structures often do not support effective communication. Are departments communicating with each other to assure consistency and fairness of process? Are mechanisms in place for the institution to be responsive to feedback?

Tell a good story
Even when government offices do good work, they often don’t talk about it. Part of creating an effective communication infrastructure is assuring that governments remember to self-promote.

Build muscles for inclusive engagement
Government serves everyone. If communication reaches only certain residents, it is not fulfilling its mission. Inclusivity is a muscle that is built up over time as the above five steps are taken.


The Engagement Lab @ Emerson College is an applied research and design lab at Emerson College devoted to understanding and cultivating a just, participatory democracy for a digital age. We are scholars, artists, and designers, committed to understanding how new forms of data, narrative, and play impact people’s lives, foster communication across differences, and motivate meaningful practices of civic engagement.

The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world.

Living Cities harnesses the collective power of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions to build a new type of urban practice that gets dramatically better results for low-income people, faster.

Equal Measure provides evaluation and philanthropic services to major private and community foundations, national, and regional nonprofits, and government organizations.

Governing magazine provides non-partisan news, insight and analysis for state and local government leaders.


Principal Investigator
Eric Gordon

Project Manager
Becky Michelson

Product Manager
Jordan Pailthorpe

Lead Developer
Johnny Richardson

Art Director
Aidan O'Donohue

User Interface Designer
Michael Suen

Front-End Developer
Mariano Miguel

Junior Developer
Erica Sailing

Quality Assurance
Matt Benson


Interested in our public engagement workshops? Email to learn how we can help you and your organization!