Project Overview

The Challenge: Find ways to increase Austin resident participation in civic activities and change their perception of what it means to be civically engaged.

What Was Done: We performed ethnographic research followed by ideation sessions, series of experiments and piloting of an MVP (a minimum viable product). We engineered a new context in which Austin residents are able to participate civically: Stand Up, Austin - A Civic Comedy Show.

Impact: 102 people participated in the pilot version of the event and performed 43 civic actions.

Starting With Research

When you think about civic engagement you probably thinking about voting. So did we. However, most political theories agreed on the following three aspects as a base of civic engagement: voting, volunteering, and being a good neighbor.  Unfortunately, Texas is not doing well compared to the other 49 states.

Design is a powerful tool that should be used when tackling problem like this.

This is a journey we are going through every time when we need to design a solution. This exact process brought us to Stand Up, Austin! - A Civic Comedy Show.

Learn more about the research behind this project in Barriers to Civic Engagement in Austin. Here, I'll walk you through the Ideation, Prototyping and Piloting phases.

Design Principles

We began ideation by keeping in mind the key insights identified earlier and adhering to three goals that we developed during design synthesis.

Our Solution Must:

  • Civically educate people in an enjoyable manner;
  • Bring a diverse community of people together;
  • Provide opportunity to take direct action.


Having these pillars in mind we generated more than 200 ideas, got into the details of 30 of them, created storyboards and vignettes for 10 of them. After long debates and tons of dry sharpies we agreed to move forward with following idea:


We felt like we found something special, but we didn't know what exactly just yet. We wanted it to be educating, and fun, and on point with local politics. Trying to find existing projects with similar goal we immediately thought about The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live that speak to political issues by using a humorous context. But we were absolutely sure that in order to achieve our goals it should take place in real life, not online. So, we came up with the concept of having civic meetings around local topics that have to be fun, bring diversity of people together and educate on civic topics. We were playing with these three triggers in order to find the perfect recipe. As a result, we had three potential forms for the event: civic salon, civic 101, and civic comedy show. From there, we needed to test if there was any interest at all and if yes, which concept should we develop?

Experiment #1: Gathering Interest

To get feedback from people we created a landing page that gave opportunity to subscribe to learn more about the concept. Within twelve hours 25 people provided their email addresses, and at the conclusion of the seven day period we had received 77 subscriptions with very little promotion on our NextDoor accounts.

We heard from people that they love the idea, even though when we asked how they think it's going to look like people described it very differently. And this was exactly what we needed!

Experiment #2: Playing With Words

While our landing page was doing its job, we walked outside of our building to learn from people on the streets. We prepared two different prototypes of the event brochure and asked people's take on it.

We assumed that people are interested in the idea based on the  results from experiment 1 that gave us positive signals that people are interested in the concept. However, with experiment 2, there was a noticeable difference in people’s reaction. We believe that we have not yet found the appropriate language to describe the concept to lower-income people. The word “politics” conjures up negative feelings for some people, especially those who are low-income.

"Politics? I don't deal with it. I don't want to hear any more about Trump."
- Robert, Austin Resident

Experiment #3: Playing With Pictures

We facilitated co-design session with Austin residents. To do that, we prepared about 100 images to choose from to answer questions placed on the walls: how it should feel like? how it should look like? how many people should be around?

While doing this experiment we came up with the idea of a comedy show format and began to nurture that concept.

Experiment #4: Immersion

To our surprise, Austin happened to be third largest hub for comedians after Los Angeles and NYC. To immerse ourselves into comedy we visited 23 comedy shows and even enrolled in improv class in one of the most famous comedy clubs in Austin.

This experiment showed that comedy is a powerful communication tool. We witnessed how people transformed their mood, opinions, and beliefs just from being in a crowd and hearing comedian's take on familiar topics. Comedians were professionally melting barriers and opening people's minds. But we were looking for something bigger – a behavioral change.

Experiment #5: Bringing Comedians In

We were watching comedians on Austin's scenes at night and meeting them at coffee shops in the mornings. Next step was to meet some of them—the ones who were intrigued by the concept—for co-design sessions. During these meetings, we got huge support from standup community, developed the concept of a civic show in details and got ourselves great partners.


In order to see what value the concept might bring, the pilot version—the minimum risk scenario—was set up.
On April 11th, 2018 at Spider House Ballroom, we hosted the first Civic Comedy Show ever.

Although, 75 people were expected, 102 citizens showed up to participate in this new format of civic engagement.
We partnered with civic-minded organizations including well-known League of Women Voters and Open Austin. Their booths were set up with the goal of interacting with the audience and creating an opportunity for direct civic actions on spot. We invited professional comedians who prepared jokes about local issues. Also, we brought in an expert in civic life in Austin, an author of Texas Civic Health Report and postdoctoral research fellow at UT Austin, Jay Jennings. Together, we developed the speech that was the core education component for the show.

This is what participants experienced:

Interactive Concepts

We prepared multiple prototypes to be tested during our MVP show:

To learn about participants' experiences from the moment they shut their cars' doors to the moment when they left venue's door after the event we set up two contextual inquires with event attendees.
We also conducted pre-show and post-show surveys to learn more about our audience.
Finally, we were measuring laughs and applause to learn what content worked the best.

Analyzing Results

Soon after the lights on the stage were turned off we started to  get very positive feedback from our civic partners and from the participants:

"We need more culture makers in the civic space and this was a fun way to get people engaged with some good laughs."

– Open Austin Representative
"When I brought up the show with my friends, we ended up talking about politics."

– Show Attendee

The pilot version provided positive signals that the concept like this provides value to enhance civic life. We had several metrics to measure success of the event and one of them is direct civic actions. We counted a total of 43 direct civic actions, which is way more than originally anticipated!

We proved that Civic Comedy Show can be one of the ways to increase civic participation in Austin and educate people on civic topics in fun and enjoyable manner.

We also believe that there is an opportunity for other cultural arts to change people's perception of civic engagement. This is an opportunity that can and should be explored further and can lead to real results.

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