The “Big Society” is one initiative that could really benefit from gamification - increasing adoption and engagement.
I am a fan of “the Big Society” – a British political phrase that broadly covers our volunteer time.
A while before the phrase was coined I found myself living out its principles in inner city London. My social CV covers my journey from elected (and partially paid) borough councillor in Wandsworth, to chair of Governors of a struggling community primary, secretary of the crime prevention panel, secretary of the residents association, youth worker (and soccer coach) and even secretary of a local Rotary club.
In time, I saw some fruit of my labors in my community: one of the lads I played football with successfully went on to University, the school got a new headteacher (and a new chair of Governors) who remain in place 8 years on and have taken the school to be one of the top 5 “value added” schools in the country. As a local resident I also saw fewer mopeds and cars being exploded at the end of my street and while the drug dealers are still there, they are now less in evidence.
None of this activity though has gone recorded, it is hidden from public view. I don’t particularly mind personally, but I can’t help but wonder what if it had been visible, more rewarded, more gamified? Would my local area have seen not just one person “with an overdeveloped sense of community” as I was once described, but many?
As a Generation X’er, I am prepared to put up with a social CV that vanishes with the memories of those I worked with, but will Gen Y, the Facebook generation, the new millennials feel the same? For them, everything from a drink at a pub to a friend’s wedding is recorded on a timeline for all to see and comment on.
Surely gamification has something to offer the Big Society, particularly when it comes to engaging younger people.
So, how would I gamify civic engagement?
I would do the following:
1. Create a social and gamification platform for each community group and a profile for each individual
An online web system would allow each community group to customize to its own unique situation. Most importantly they would give it their own name and branding. It would function as a sub section of their own web site or intranet (or on a standalone site if they don’t have one). Each individual would have their own profile, much like their Facebook profile which .
2. Agree goals and desired behaviors
Each group would identify the shared goals they wanted to achieve. “A safer, friendlier neighborhood” for example. They would then agree what work counted towards that goal. (“exploding mopeds bad, playing football with hoodies good“) – (Animal farm reference notwithstanding).
3. Award points
Since we know that points are best awarded not for output but for value we would encourage points for community volunteers based on thanks from others (a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the participants would do).
4. Maintain leaderboards and award badges
While volunteers might want to compete to outdo each other in good works, it is more likely that they would like to see the whole group’s progress towards a specific goal. The group could set goals (“1000 thumbs-up’s from local kids in a week”) that, once agreed, could be awarded as a permanent digital badge to all the volunteers who helped hit the target that week.
5. Ratify badges against big society objectives
While local community badges are all well and good, the reality is that most volunteers in the big society are linked to more than one community (that’s probably why it’s called big). I helped out not just at the youth club but at the school and residents association too.
Local community defined badges could be ratified at a local and central government level. This would ensure that status within the big society is transferable - my London badges, earned over 13 years of big society work, would be viewed and valued in my new Surrey community when they saw my profile.
Is this all really new?
No, we do this already, but only for the negative case: in the shape of the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check, we transfer the status of a volunteer from group to group. But this is one dimensional, binary and ultimately rather depressing – are you or are you not a criminal…
Gamification of the Big Society in the way described above though, would allow us to transfer the many positive badges (“helped 100 children with their homework, pretty good at painting soccer pitch lines, organiser of a best garden competition”) alongside it.
Is this the right way to implement it?
There are other ways to implement it top-down (as envisaged last year by Wessel van Rensburg’s Actionista) where government services give out badges for use (“50 rides of the Boris bike”) but I prefer a bottom-up approach where the community groups choose their own badges.
I spent 6 years working on an community web software system for these very same groups (from residents associations to orphanages around the world) and I know that only the bottom-up approach has the ability to achieve traction, scale and longevity. I also know it’s a tricky “sell” that will take time but with wider support we can create enough momentum.
Is it expensive?
Relative to the budget of most government initiatives, not really. It’s just a question of good software and smart marketing coupled with the right leadership at a social and political level.
So, what’s stopping us?
Support! If you like this idea then make some noise please – tweet about it, forward this post to your MP, share a link to it with your friends on Facebook. If you don’t then feel free to stay silent.
And, if I get enough phone calls, I might even help.