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Wanna come out and play? Introducing the Department of Play

Researchers with MIT's Center for Future Civic Media develop ways to use play to engage youth in their communities.

Danielle Martin, Leo Burd, and Jeffrey Warren of MIT's Center for Future Civic Media have spent their adult lives focused on the information needs of kids.

Martin has worked as a community and network organizer, receiving her master's degree from MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning in part for her work on participatory media in Lawrence, Mass.; Burd, a frequent collaborator with Martin, recently returned to MIT after a stint as a learning researcher at Microsoft; and Warren, currently making headlines with his balloon mapping of the Gulf oil spill, has worked in contested areas such as the West Bank to help kids map and talk about the structure of their neighborhoods.

So it only made sense to them to create the Department of Play (DoP), a project dedicated to the design of new technology and methodologies to support youth as active participants in their local communities.

On Monday, Martin wrote about the DoP mission for the Center for Future Civic Media's blog, as well as about her, Burd's and Warren's thinking about why "play" is sorely needed:
In a world of imagination and play, invention is without limits and most importantly fun. New half-baked technologies, like new toys, lets us be kids again. Through a collaborative process of software development, tinkering can equalize the role of inventor and user and harken us back to a space where imagination and creativity can win you the power of attention and solidarity.

You could make an argument that play is just play, but many child development researchers would argue that play is an essential part of children developing into social and productive human beings. Linking play, and the innovation it can produce, with tangible utility and action in a certain place is an exciting opportunity. So when we reviewed Kate Balug's class project proposing a new city department focused on youth mapping their own safe play spots in their own neighborhoods, the Department of Play moniker and a vision was born.
The Department of Play is looking for partners to realize that vision, both as underwriters and community test-beds. Learn how you can contribute at

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