Series 4 | Okawville

In June 2016, CivX shifted the unit of analysis from a single organization to a whole community. We partnered with the Chamber of Commerce in Okawville, IL to help explore the future of a small town in flux.

The Challenge

Okawville (pop. 1400) reached out wanting to engage a team of graduate students to advise on the revitalization of the town. Over the past decade there have been tremendous changes driven by macro economics, the recession, real estate, and changing preferences. While this project wasn't centered on an urban space, it was driven by the forces of urbanization. After meeting with the town's Chamber of Commerce in the fall of 2015, we agreed there was an opportunity. 

Our brief focused on the question: How might we attract young professionals and families to first experience the town and then consider moving to Okawville?

The Sprint

In June of 2016, a team of PhD and MA students traveled to Okawville to conduct research and build prototypes. Following our tradition 5-day Research and Design sprint format, the team explored the existing community resources, the town's culture and heritage, and what young families today are looking for in the community they call home. We interviewed over 40 residents from high school students to senior citizens. We learned about what makes the town great and what about the town creates tensions between groups including newcomers. 

After generating dozens of ideas the team focused its prototyping on improving the welcoming experience visitors encounter. The team designed two experiments and deployed their protypes at a "farewell event" with the town on our final day. We wanted to test if a small group of committed (and trained) "welcomers" could resolve a key barrier to newcomers feeling welcomed. Additionally, we wanted to test if the youth networks with nearby towns could serve as a useful marketing tool to attract families (and most importantly parents) to explore Okawville and consider it as a place to live. As always, our prototypes were designed to test key assumptions that we and the town held.


Both our prototypes failed. But since we were testing our assumptions this was still a useful result. We learned that the barriers to creating a more welcoming vistor experience were more complex than we or the town knew. And while the youth networks were strong in reality, they weren't responsive to our particular marketing test on Facebook which may therefore explain the difficulties the town had already experienced.

As with all of our research and design sprints, this was a first step for Okawville. The CivX project was meant to accerlate their decision making and clarify their choices.  In our final report, we shared our data, our insights about the town and it's neighbors, and elaborated on what their next prototypes might include in the process of solving the challenges they face.