Beta Blocks Changes How the Community Provides Feedback on Smart City Technologies through Real Life Experiments


Beta Blocks is a framework that questions how new technologies can improve the quality of life for residents of Boston.

Led by the Emerson Engagement Lab and Supernormal, the Beta Blocks team is working with the City of Boston and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics to delve deeper into challenges facing communities.  Through innovative, real life technology experiments, the Beta Blocks team engages community members directly to explore the role technology can play in solving these pressing challenges.

Soofa was selected as the first technology partner to be evaluated by the public through the Beta Blocks process. Soofa’s neighborhood news feeds are deployed in diverse neighborhoods including Chinatown, Codman Square, and Lower Allston. They are placed in locations that let the public experience them as part of their daily journeys and routines.

With Beta Blocks, Community Members are Able to Experience New Technology in a Real Way, as Part of Their Daily Routine

Beta Blocks invites community members to share their feedback on how new smart city technologies can be used to enhance their neighborhoods. This feedback is gathered via a series of walking tours in each of the three experimentation zones in Chinatown, Lower Allston, and Codman Square, as well as through a number of community meetings and the neighborhood news feed itself. 

In these on-the-ground events, community members and city leaders discuss how new tech can be used in their neighborhoods and why. This real life experimentation creates an environment where it is possible to co-develop solutions directly with the public and get up to date feedback on the product’s value to the neighborhood and community.  

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Soofa is Always Evolving the Neighborhood News Feed to Meet the Needs of Residents, Visitors, and Local Businesses

Soofa’s neighborhood news feed is an integral part of many of Boston’s most active, diverse, and visited neighborhoods, including Chinatown, Dorchester, Fenway, Allston, Downtown, and Seaport. As a collaborator in the Beta Blocks program, Soofa is able to run coordinated, organized experiments with community members. 

In Chinatown, Neighborhood News Feed Content is Created by Community Groups to Help Locals and Visitors Fully Experience the Neighborhood 

  • The Asian American Civic Association (AACA) made content to highlight professional development opportunities for immigrant and low income residents in Chinatown. In September, their content reached new audiences, being seen over 80,000 times.

  • Sampan is New England’s only bilingual Chinese English newspaper, using the Signs to share their news for all to engage with. In September, their weekly posts were seen over 120,000 times.

  • Chinatown Main Street posted about the Chinatown Lantern Festival and the Philips Park revitalization project, a community awareness campaign that was seen by nearly 15,000 people.

  • Chung Wah Academy posted class and after school program schedules, receiving over 18,000 views. 

  • The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center used the Signs to inform community members and promote events that are only a brief walk away.


By Experiencing the Neighborhood News Feed in the Real World, Residents Provide Valuable Insight into Uses for the Technology

  • When local residents are able to update the Soofa Signs in real time, public information stays relevant, factual, and up to date in their neighborhood. 

  • When there is a local event, it is promoted on Soofa’s community events calendar, minimizing the use of paper flyers while delivering information in an attractive and effective way. 

  • When warnings, emergencies, weather updates, and upcoming construction conditions need to be made known, members of the community can post these to the Signs.

  • Anyone that has an important message to share can post to their local Soofa Sign and have it seen by the community. 

Moving Forward

Through the Lower Allston, Chinatown, and Codman Square experimentation zones and the Beta Blocks process, we have learned that:

  1. Diverse voices are amplified through Soofa Signs

  2. Language is extremely important

  3. Community walkthroughs deliver a ton of value in terms of getting public feedback and product development

As smart city technology continues to expand into the neighborhoods we love to spend time in, it’s clear that community input and support is integral in the development of this technology.

We’re proud to support the City of Boston in building this new process for introducing technology in public spaces, with conversation, engagement, and education.

Sandra Richter