Eli MacLaren

Enabling Citizens To Co-Create The Future Of Their Communities

More About Eli MacLaren And The Citizen Experience Lab

Eli MacLaren leads the Citizen Experience Lab, which works to enable citizens to co-create the future of their communities and helps community leaders transform their communities around the needs of their citizens. We explore how entrepreneurship can be accelerated. We use participatory design to engage citizens in the co-creation of their shared spaces and services. We work with individuals to create the conditions for inclusive communities that enable everyone to reach their full potential. Throughout these projects, we explore how citizens enable self-organizing purposeful networks that can sustain ongoing innovation in communities.

Here’s how we do it:

We start with a Design Challenge.

Example: The Health and Wellness Alliance for Children asked us to work with families from Collin County, TX, to identify the major challenges families face in their community, set a vision for where the Health and Wellness Alliance for Children could make the greatest impact, and work with the Alliance to co-create strategies to tackle these key opportunity areas.

Shift: Human-Centered Research

Shifting the organization’s lens enables leaders to see transformational opportunities from the customer’s perspective, translating them into an actionable foundation for design.

Example: For the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's Marine Conservation Initiative (MCI), we conducted interviews with diverse stakeholders in the New England groundfishing network to uncover insights about the groundfishing community experience, specifically with monitoring and accountability. We also led a participatory design process with 25 key groundfish stakeholders in the region including agency managers, fishermen, environmentalists, scientists, monitoring businesses, and decision makers, to understand their different needs and perspectives.

Conceptual Design: Create, Deliver, Capture

Once a customer's job-to-be-done is identified, we can imagine a new customer experience and begin developing a next-practice or business model concept ready to be taken off the whiteboard and into the market for testing.

Example: As part of the design process that was part of our work for the Health and Wellness Alliance for Children, families brainstormed ways to address community challenges and shared the opportunity spaces and strategies they developed with their peers, members of the Alliance, and other community stakeholders in a community critique. During this event, families received feedback on their work and started a conversation on community change with a wider audience. Families’ ideas and insights were translated into actionable, testable strategies and citizen-designed working groups for the Alliance.


With a market-tested minimum viable business model, organizations are in the best position to develop a go-to-market strategy and implementation plan to successfully commercialize next practices and new business models.

Example: The StartUp Champion Network (SCN) received funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to work with us. We helped SCN leaders create a strategic roadmap to inform how the team would work together moving forward, targeting the development of the capabilities core to their desired future business model. SCN leaders presented their roadmap to the Kauffman Foundation leadership to receive feedback, and were able to use the strategic roadmap and feedback to strengthen the SCN model.

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