ideaBOOST Case Studies: Focus Group – Ghost Town Project

Focus Groups

view Author: Zan Chandler

additional resources Lead Facilitators: Ina Fichman, Eric Blais, Theresa Kowall-Shipp

read Overview:

The Ghost Town Project, Intuitive Pictures

wikipedia reference The Ghost Town Project (GTP) is a multi-platform initiative where online engagement has real world implications and influence. The project brings online communities, locals and experts together to help rebuild and restore landmark buildings in different locations. Ghost Town Project seeks to uncover the intimate story of how and why a site was abandoned, and also look to the future with the help of a restoration team of historians, architects and conservationists.

From the fall 2012 until spring 2013, The Ghost Town Project was one of seven teams to participate in the CFC Media Lab’s digital entertainment accelerator, ideaBOOST. The program employs the best practices from tech’s lean startup movement and other disciplines. The program’s goal is to help companies navigate the entertainment and technology startup market, sharpen their product vision, and refine their strategies to target audiences and generate sustainable revenues. As part of this program, the teams were exposed to a number of participatory design techniques. Each team made use of several techniques in order to further the development of their projects.

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A Focus Group was used to inform the learning and discovery phase of the Ghost Town Project. This method enabled the team to gain valuable feedback on their project, its name and possible sites for revitalization. 

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Participants in the Focus Group were members of the general public who had expressed an interest in the restoration of old or abandoned sites. Many of the participants were members of GTP’s Facebook group.

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The Ghost Town Project’s 3-hour Focus Group included the use of three other methods: Brainstorming, Survey and Make Tools. Goals:

The Ghost Town Project was in the early stages of development when this Focus Group session took place. In order to refine the core concept and proposed direction, the team needed to understand whether audiences might be interested in actively participating the revitalization and restoration of old or abandoned sites. Additionally, they wanted to understanding whether that interest extended to sites that were located outside participants’ own geographic regions. The Ghost Town Project had been a working title for the project and the team wanted to find its ultimate name.  As the project called for the revitalization of multiple sites, the team needed to determine the best ways of choosing future sites and then choose the first official site for The Ghost Town Project.

Process summary:

Members of the public were invited to participate in a 3-hour Focus Group in which they would explore the development of a show centred around revitalizing and restoring old and abandoned sites. Over the course of the Focus Group, the GTP team made use of three other participatory design methods: Brainstorming, Survey and Make Tools.

After being introduced to the Ghost Town Project team members, the Focus Group participants were shown a video trailer and given an overview of the history of the project, how it had evolved and what the team was trying to achieve. Next, the team led the participants through an exercise to name the project. Ghost Town Project had been the working title and the team was prepared to rename it if another name proved more attractive to the Focus Group participants. They were provided with a list of the top names from a previous Facebook poll. The team moderated a discussion of the names on the list and then participants were asked to indicate how they felt about each name on the list. They then ranked the names in order of attractiveness.

A Brainstorming session followed where participants suggested potential sites for revitalization. These were added to a list of sites that had already been identified by the team. For each site, the group discussed levels of interest in the site, its history, and interest in participating in the revitalization process. The team and participants then selected the first site to be revitalized.

The final segment of the Focus Group was dedicated to the Make Tools session. For this session, the group was divided into two groups and seated at two large tables. Facilitated by team members, each group worked with copies of architectural drawings of the Heidelberg Inn in Keansburg, New Jersey and contributed design ideas for its revitalization.

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Introduction to Ghost Town Project

Focus Group participants watch on while team members describe the Ghost Town Project.

Make Tools

During the Make Tools session, participants work together to imagine redesigns for the Heidelberg Inn, in Keansburg, New Jersey.

A participant fills out the name survey

A participant fills out the name survey


A participant fills in the name survey

Introduction video to the Heidelbery Inn at Keansburg Amusement Park in New Jersey.

Booster Day Agenda

GTP sites survey 

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The feedback the GTP team received during the Focus Group played an important role furthering the conceptualization and design of the project. By the end of the Focus Group, participants confirmed that as long as potential sites had a significant history, fostered compelling storytelling and already had an actively engaged local community, distributed audiences would be willing to invest time and effort in supporting the revitalization of that site. The opportunity to collaborate with experts on the redesign of sites  also proved to be an important factor in establishing a sense of connection with the site for distributed audiences.


During the Focus Group, in addition to identifying a number of potential sites for future restoration projects, the participants created clear criteria for choosing future sites. Participants also declared that the team’s working title – The Ghost Town Project – was the best name to go forward with for this project. The Heidelberg Inn at the Keansburg Amusement Park in New Jersey, USA, was chosen as the first revitalization site for the Ghost Town Project.


ideaBOOST is the CFC Media Lab’s accelerator that emphasizes Audience Engagement for entertainment platform development. This case study was prepared for the ASTOUND initiative, a partnership between the CFC, HotDocs, and OCAD University.