Dive into your world - explore, document and strengthen your community - with our 10 Commonweal labs. Now get ready to dive into your community laboratory! 


Commonweal is a series of labs for you to explore and document your community. The world is your laboratory!

What are the labs about?
Each lab focuses on a different element of your community

What do I need?
A way to document your labs
A place to post your lab results

How do I do this?
Be creative. Complete the labs by using whatever resources you have at your command: pen, paper, audio recorder, digital camera, or video camera to document your response to each lab.

Where do I start?
Complete the Community Self Evaluation then dive into the labs.

How many labs do I complete?
Your will be given an assignment telling you how many labs to complete.

What do I do after I complete my labs?
Make your own Tumblr, blog, website, or prezi to record the results of your labs. It's free & easy to do. 

How do I post my labs to Commonweal?
After you create a platform for your work, send us a link at and we'll post your lab work right on this site. 

I need some inspiration. Are there any examples to help inspire me?
Check out the Student Labs page with some of our all time favorite student work, done by students just like you.
After you've finished all your community labs, you'll make a proposal to strengthen your own community. Submit your proposal to by February 16, 2016 to 
We'll post the best proposals on this site and select an annual winner to help turn their dream into reality.

Lab time
Now get to work learning more about your community. There’s lots of cool labs waiting below!


Social Scientists have found that over the past century, social capital (a measure of the strength of our communities and of our connectedness) has dramatically declined. By many measures, Americans have become more isolated and our communities, less connected.

First of all, think about your community – the place you live, the people you live around, the space you share. Is your community healthy? Are people connected? Is there a sense of inclusion and unity?

Community Evaluation
First, let’s diagnose the level of social capital (connectivity) of your community as a whole.

Let’s start simply. On a scale of 1 to 5, five being extremely connected, 1 being extremely disconnected, how does your community score?

What was your community score?

To summarize, based on the results of the survey, how would you characterize the health and strength of your community?

Diagnose your own personal level of social capital with the following test

Community Self Evaluation
Now let’s evaluate your own level of community involvement by completing the following survey .

Let’s start simply. On a scale of 1 to 5, five being extremely connected, 1 being extremely disconnected, how connected are you to your community?

Now let’s focus a bit on the details. Evaluate the following parts of you life (categories below) and how they impact your connection to your community.
Give yourself between 1 and 5 points depending on your answer for each of the following categories

5-Greatly increases my connection to community
4-Slightly increases my connection to community
3-Has no effect on my connection to community
2-Slightly diminishes my connection to community
1-Greatly diminishes my connection to community

Points Category
_____ Transportation
_____ Technology
_____ Work/School
_____  Civic Engagement (clubs, groups, institutions)
_____  Home (neighborhood, home)
_____  Food (the way you eat)

Based on the results of the survey, how connected are you to your community?

How do you imagine the average American would score on the quiz?


Now that you've thought a little bit about yourself and your community, it's time to launch into the labs. There's 9 labs below, each one, focusing on a different element of your community.

You will be assigned a certain number of labs to complete, so take a second to browse around and find the best labs for you. Then dive into your community, document what you find, and post your results! Good luck!


Cars are great: they let us drive fast, travel far, and feel free. But in addition to their negative environmental impact they also promote sprawl and can isolate us. Social capital guru, Robert Putnam, estimates that every ten minutes of commute time spent alone diminishes social capital (your ability to build community) by ten percent. 

Does modern transportation tend to destroy or build community? Here's a simple thought experiment: Imagine a day without transportation. Would that isolate or connect you and your community? Here's where you come in. Document a typical day of transportation in your life (car, truck, walking, motorbike, Segway, school bus, streetcar, subway, etc). As you go about your day, consider how modern transportation changes your interaction with other citizens and your community. Record some of your voyages and post your commentary, thoughts, and recordings. As an exciting experiment, try a car cleanse - spending a day without motorized transportation (you can still walk, bike, or swim through your community) and explore how transportation affects your connection to your community!


Undertake A Digital Cleanse

Consider the effect of modern technology on community and society. Imagine what life would be like without cellphones, television sets, or internet technology (you couldn't be reading this!)

It's time for a digital detox. De-degitize your life for 31 hours straight and go without a cell phone, television, or any internet connectivity. Keep a journal of your experience, focusing on our dependence on technology, the consequences of our constant connectivity, the impact of technology on social capital, and a comparison of your life on-line and off-line. Share your thoughts, pictures, videos, audio, or words about the impact of technology on you and your community.


At the heart of social capital is trust.

Communities, towns, states, and countries that are rich in social capital have high levels of trust. Trust makes the world go round, and specifically it is necessary for economic, political, and social systems to function. At the heart of any healthy community is a high amount of trust. In 1970, 75% of Americans trusted each other. Today, only 30% of Americans say people can be trusted. Does it matter?

Some observers worry that with declining trust in America today it will be hard to work together to solve the vast societal problems we face.

Do you think that most people trust each other?

Take a camera, sketch pad, notebook, tape recorder, or video camera into your community to investigate trust. Here are some ideas, but you can approach this in many different ways. You could interview people, survey them about their level of trust, set up an experiment where you “drop” a dollar, scarf, notebook, or something valuable on the floor in a library and see if people return it to you (this might get expensive), or ask people at the mall if you can borrow their cell phone to call home. Do something within your own comfort level. If approaching strangers in a mall is scary, try something else. Whatever you do, try something creative to investigate trust in your community and report your results.


It's been said that Americans live to work. And it's true that, compared to much of the world, we Americans do work a lot. But sometimes our long work hours can get in the way of other good things like family and community. Here's what a typical US workday looks like:

Here's a minute by minute breakdown of a typical American workday. 
Activity                         Average time spent

Working*                                             9:12

Sleeping                                               7:39

Leisure                                                 2:52

Eating                                                  2:07

Cooking, cleaning, etc                         :52

     Grooming                                             :48      

Caring for children, elderly, etc           :34

Shopping                                              :33

Other                                                    :09

Volunteering                                         :07

Education                                             :06

      Talking to people on the phone           :05      

Obviously, for the average American, there's not a lot of time for family or community. Here's where you come in. Interview someone about how they spend their typical workday. Write down the number of minutes they spend on each of the activities listed above. Then hack their life and reschedule their typical work day in order to increase connections with family and community. Share a comparison of your interviewee's before and after workdays and your thoughts about the impact of work on you and your community.

*remember, school counts as working for students. 


Over the past half century, civic and political involvement has declined precipitously. Voting, political party membership, community organizing, attending public meetings, and almost every other indicator of political participation are at all time lows.

As you can see, most people are not very involved in the civic life of their community. Document yourself doing one or more of the civic listed above: write a letter to your congressperson, attend a school board meeting, attend an organized protest (try not to break any laws or get arrested). Make a post reflecting upon the impact of your civic action on you and your community.


The importance we place on voting says a lot about how much we value our shared community. 

Americans aren't the world's best voters, but how much do individuals value the sacred right to vote that people fought and died for? Let's find out. Get a few pieces of poster board, a big magic marker, some people (they often can be found at the mall, Wal-Mart, or Mickey Ds) and poll at least ten citizens on the following question: How much would you sell your permanent right to vote for? Do not pay them! Photograph the vote sellers holding a poster with the monetary amount they think their vote is worth and then record them explaining their statement. Share their photographs and your thoughts about how much Americans value democracy. 

*Alternate lab
Contact your local board of elections, set up a voter registration drive in your community, and document your results.


Over the last fifty years, while the size of the average American house has more than doubled, the number of people living in the average home has actually fallen from 3.67 in 1948 to 2.55, today. (Check out this great animation of expanding home size.) The most recent statistics from the National Association of Home Builders show that the average American home grew from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,434 square feet in 2005. Furthermore, in 1950, only one percent of homes built had four bedrooms or more, but by 2003, 39 percent of new homes had at least four bedrooms. Garages have become almost obligatory, with only eight percent of new homes built without a garage, as opposed to 53 percent built without one in 1950. 

Think about your own home. How many people live in it? How many bedrooms does it have? How big is it? Does it have a garage (or two)? And most of all, does it connect or separate you from the community? 

There's actually some cities that have designed building codes to increase community. In Celebration, Florida, for example, all new houses must be built with a front porch. Some towns ban garages, in other communities, all new developments must be built with sidewalks.
Go out and walk your neighborhood, interviewing neighbors, surveying the houses, apartments, and condominiums, and thinking about how your neighborhood impacts community. Document the aspects of your neighborhood (buildings, sidewalks, gardens, parks, playground, streets) that increase and those that decrease community. Draw a map of your home and your neighborhood with three tangible changes (like adding sidewalks, playgrounds, or reducing traffic speed) that would make your neighborhood more community oriented. In your post, reflect on the impact of the way we live on community connectivity.


Who are you? Not just your name. Who are you? Maybe when you identify yourself you think first of your race, or gender, or your age, or religion, or even what part of the country you come from, or maybe, before all else, you consider your socio-economic status (wealth) to be the most central core of your identity. 

Maybe you've never really thought about this before. So what are you? American? Middle Class? Hispanic? Asian? Straight? Teenager? Christian? Likely, it's a bundle of all those things. One way you can think about your identity is by considering what kinds of people you spend most of your time with. Are they all the same race as you? Are they always of the same age group as you? Or are you that rare kind of person who surrounds themselves with people of many different backgrounds? So think for a moment about who you are.

Even when we build strong communities, it is often with people who are a whole lot like us (same race, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, age, and background). Making connections with people like us is called bonding social capital, and it's good. But when we connect, engage, and learn from people different from us, it's called bridging social capital, and it's even better

So lets think about identity, and let's build some bridges. Interview a person different from you (the difference could be in age, ability/disability, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin). Your interview should be at least 5 minutes long. Ask this person who is different from you any questions you wish but be sure to ask some questions about the ways in which you are different. Then let them interview you and ask you questions. Record your interview (in writing, audio*, video, photographs) and post it along with your thoughts and insights on identity, differences, similarities, and community. 

*Voice Record Pro is a free app for audio recordings.


Americans like to eat. Who doesn't? In many cultures, food is the glue that holds community together. Unfortunately, since 1973, there's been over a 1/3 decline in the frequency of families eating together. And more and more, instead of slow food eaten at church picnics, neighborhood barbecues, or around the family table, we often find ourselves eating fast food all alone.

Your community's kitchens and dinning rooms are your laboratory. Go eat, observe, research, investigate, and document the eating habits of your community. Share your observations, videos, photographs, or words and reflections on how food connects or separates your community. In the past, students have compared and contrasted fast food and slow food, documented the difference between local and industrial food establishments, and have even hosted slow food dinners to investigate community.


Congratulations. You've completed your labs and learned a lot about community. Now let's put your thoughts into action. What could we do to build community right here and now? I'm sure that with all the time you've spent thinking about how community is impacted by food and race and technology and family and home and work, you must have some pretty good ideas of how we could make our own community stronger and more connected. Here's where you come in... Read this list of 100 Things You Can Do to Build Social Capital. Think about which of the 100 things would best build social capital in your community. Dream a little. How could you make your community even stronger?  Download these materials to propose a specific COMMONWEAL COMMUNITY CONSTRUCTION project to increase social capital in your community. Submit your proposal to by FEBRUARY 16, 2016. We'll post the best proposals on this site and select an annual winner and help turn their dream into reality!


Need a little direction? We've posted some of our all-time favorite student labs below. This is the work students just like you did to document and investigate their own communities. Click your way through a some of this wonderful student work for inspiration and enjoyment.