Gaming

Gaming the future of government

Connected Citizens

On January 22-23, the Institute for the Future will host Connected Citizens, a 24-hour collective forecasting game to “to rethink and reprogram government services for a complex and connected world.”

IFTF Research Director Jake Dunagan shares the vision behind it and how you can participate.

What’s the objective behind Connected Citizens?

The goal of Connected Citizens is to bring together people from around the world to rapidly generate as many forecasts, ideas and comments about civic technology and citizen engagement as possible in a 24-hour period.

How will it work?

Using our Foresight Engine, a platform we’ve developed to facilitate collective forecasting, players can come to www.connected-citizens.org at noon pacific time on January 22, watch a scenario video we created to spark conversation and begin playing forecasting cards. Cards are limited to 140 characters, but the conversations are threaded together, and can grow to dozens of cards. Game mechanisms allow players to accrue points based on number of responses and special awards given by our game guides.

What are its longer-term goals?

The long term goals of Connected Citizens are associated with ongoing initiative at IFTF called the Governance Futures Lab. The Lab will explore new governance structures and processes, and bring together a community of social inventors to tackle the biggest challenges of governance in the 21st century. Also, all the data from Connected Citizens will be available, and we encourage others to use, analyze, or visualize it as they see fit.

How can people connect with you to learn more?

People can visit www.connected-citizens.org and register now for the game, and follow our blog at www.blog.connected-citizens.org for more information and updates.

The 411 on the 311: Q&A with Commons founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick

Suzanne KirkpatrickWe asked new 311 iPhone app Commons co-founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick to share her thoughts on the new venture, 311 and trends in open government and Gov 2.0.

What inspired you to create Commons?

Sometimes moving to a new place gives you a fresh perspective on routine activities. When I moved to NYC two years ago, I was surprised to see so many opportunities for neighborhood improvements near my home and school, and I was fascinated by NYC’s highly utilized 311 citizen reporting system. It was clear to me that NYC citizens care about improving their city, and that our City government is committed to listening to its citizens.

But one thing that struck me about these analog and digital methods of reporting was that people were not reporting as a community — they were reporting as individuals — many people reporting in parallel without any shared awareness of one another’s activities. I then thought about designing a virtual social system that mimics the town hall meeting, where one person reports a problem or suggests an improvement, and 49 people “vote it up” (or in today’s terms, “like” it). In today’s super connected world, we need a civic engagement system designed to support conversation among many people at once – and that is how I came up with the initial idea for Commons.

Then I started thinking about the ways that I could connect to my new neighbors on the issues that I care about in our neighborhood, while on the go and in short bursts of focused time and energy, kind of like playing a game that is on-going over time and is something that you keep coming back to check and make a move. Citizens are now used to having a digital presence that is de-coupled from our traditional notions of time and space.

We have apps for citizen reporting of problems and complaints, like 311, SeeClickFix, FixMyStreet, and we have apps for sharing ideas for improvement, like Give A Minute (Local Projects), but I have this notion that these two worlds should be united in one as they seem like two sides of the same coin to me. I believe these two methods complement each other for a more complete civic engagement experience, and Commons aims to fulfill this vision.

I’m a graduate student at ITP in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where I study interaction design, social software, and creative technology, a graduate researcher at the NYU Polytechnic Social Game Lab, spring intern at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Digital Coordination, and summer intern at Apple doing mobile user experience design, so I spend a lot of my time these days thinking about the intersection of these things.

Aren’t there enough 311 apps out there? How is Commons different?

We think Commons is one of the first in a new genre of “civic gaming”, a new approach to take citizen reporting social. It’s a mobile, location-aware civic media app for urban communities that merges methods from traditional citizen reporting tools, with gaming mechanics and social voting.

We hope that Commons will challenge the ways in which people think about their role in their communities, and in civic life in general. We hope it will transform the way that we as citizens engage with one another about the issues and places we share in common, and how we approach solving many of our own problems before government even gets involved.

Commons provides a fun and constructive outlet for what is usually a frustrating experience of complaining about how broken your city is. And it goes way beyond reporting a pothole — in fact, if you report a pothole in the game, you most likely won’t win very many votes or kudos from your fellow neighbors because the game is designed to reward creative solutions and collaborative problem-solving. We already have apps and websites for reporting potholes, like SeeClickFix and FixMyStreet in the UK, and like the NYC Daily Pothole, so we’re not aiming to create another one.

In our 3 playtests and on actual game day, players said they really liked the positive social mechanics and voting aspect of the game, and how ‘community leaders’ seem to naturally emerge from the streams of activity.

I don’t think people need attractive game mechanics to want to get involved in community service or town hall meetings, or any other sort of activity. On the other hand, elements of fun and competitive play introduce opportunities for serendipitous social interactions and competing to do good, which I love. Doing activities with a thematic approach, or mission-centered perspective, helps keep people focused on the objective while having fun and making each individual’s input count.

How do you hope to officially integrate Commons with municipality 311 centers?

Commons is a social platform that leverages crowdsourcing and location-based reporting techniques to improve city services and standards of living. This civic engagement game is a way to connect citizens through the places they share in common, and to enable the government to fix the right problems, faster. Through Commons, local government can 1) receive accurate and timely information, 2) identify priority areas, 3) efficiently allocate resources, and, ultimately, 4) demonstrate accountability to its citizens.

Our goal is to build the next version of Commons as a cross-platform app on iOS, Android, (and possibly RIM in cities where it makes sense), with SMS integration and interoperability with Open311 technologies and read/write APIs for each city, so that 311 teams can integrate with Commons on the backend to pull its incoming data into their current operating centers and visualize trends from the data in realt-time.

It is our hope that the data gathered from Commons will be valuable to city governments and municipality 311 centers, whose mission it is to enable citizen-centric, collaborative government and to expand civic engagement through new digital tools and real-time information services.

What trends do you see occurring in open government / Gov 2.0 that you’re most excited about?

Commons is definitely Gov 2.1+, combining the powers of serendipitous social interactions, mobile crowdsourcing, and game mechanics.

Some of the rad trends in Gov 2.0 that I’m digging right now are: 1) cities supporting open data initiatives with read/write APIs, 2) mobile and location-based services, e.g. mobile banking, m-health, and m4d (mobile for development), 3) open standards for 311 services, like Open311, 4) citywide grassroots innovation contests, like NYCBigApps and DataSF App Contest, 5) open sharing of dev tools and code so we don’t all re-invent the same apps over again for each city, e.g. Code for America. I am also a huge supporter of bottom-up projects like Open Street Map, where citizens can collaboratively edit geographical data about their cities and neighborhoods and build useful and relevant maps from scratch.

Download Commons on iTunes.

Video:

Does gaming have a place in government?

Part of our research focus at Manor Labs is to discover new ways of communicating and engaging the public. The following two concepts came out of that research.

The new form of social network-based online gaming has become all the rage on popular social networking sites. From a government standpoint, we have determined that these platforms are distractions and subsequently block them from use by our employees. However, let’s propose a new thought; what if we used these tools to educate and engage our public?

Here are two concepts for using game mechanics proactively within government:

CityVille

The first concept takes Zynga’s FarmVille game model to an entirely new level—the government. We could create an online game with the simplicity of FarmVille, but the mechanics of a real city. There’s currently a social network game called MyTown that is similar to this model, however, it doesn’t accurately encompass concepts like taxation and cost of service within the game model (but it’s a great start). If the government built on their example, we could create a more empowered and educated citizen base.

Let’s say we built an online game that was as engaging as FarmVille, but incorporated real governmental concepts in the process. Which concepts are important to start with?

  • Taxation: Have the gamer adjust taxes but also have it tied to public opinion (similar to Sim City, but less complex).
  • Cost of Service: Have responding to police calls, water line breaks, etc., demonstrate a cost of service for government.

After you establish a sizable base of game players, you could increase the difficulty of the game by incorporating “real” crowdsourced governmental elements within the game model.

For example, Manor Labs is always looking for new ways to get people to review ideas using very simple metric that takes less than 30 seconds to complete. Incorporating this element as a challenge within an online game would allow participants to not only advance within the game, but also help our agency out in the process.

This game concept could be expanded as not only as a new way to teach individuals about government, but as a new way to learn from them.

Foursquare.gov

The second idea I had was to use the Foursquare model of mobile engagement and apply it to government.

About Foursquare:

“Foursquare aims to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods and then reward people for doing so. We do this by combining our friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics – our users earn points, win mayorships and unlock badges for trying new places and revisiting old favorites.”

Building on that model, each agency could allow citizens to “check-in” at various city spots (Library, Fire Station, etc.) and learn more about their community in a fun and engaging format. This could also help open up the door for their participating in other crowdsourced programs like SeeClickFix.

Conclusion

In our ever changing society, civic participation and engagement are becoming more and more difficult to achieve. I believe these elements are more obtainable by incorporating certain elements of game mechanics in the process. These ideas are just two examples of how such mechanics can be utilized to create a more empowered and educated citizen-base.