Blueprint 2020 seeks to modernize the public service by placing it into “an open and networked environment that engages citizens and partners for the public good.” Penn State University professor Kevin Werbach defines gamification as “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts” to enrich our experience of and increase our participation in real life. Is there a gamified approach to citizen engagement by the public service?
One extremely successful example of gamification is Idea Street in the U.K. Idea Street is a platform internal to the U.K. government, but the problems it is set in place to solve are similar to those in Canada.
The platform was instituted by the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP). It introduced a points system where employees could “contribute their ideas, develop the ideas of others and even use their DWPeas (points) to invest in the ideas they found the most promising.” Points are awarded at all stages of development and can be gained or lost on the basis of ideas being selected by higher-ups for implementation (or not) – essentially a stock market for ideas. “Innovation management teams” work with the initial staff teams that form around popular ideas and provide “templates, tools and encouragement” to aid in the process of development.
Points for participation
The federal public service must take up the role of online facilitator. The idea is similar to that of the innovation teams employed by Idea Street. Citizen/users in a gamified policy environment require expert policy advice to guide them in the development of their policy suggestions.
Citizen/users could earn points in an online system similar to the U.K. Idea Street example, giving citizen/users the ability to craft and vote on their favorite policies and gain or lose points as the policy passes each decision point up to actual inclusion in draft legislation. Points could be awarded on the basis of two separate evaluations: those made by citizen/users and those made by online policy analysts (PAs). These two sets of evaluations, weighted differently, would allow PAs to nudge citizen/users toward more useable contributions and encourage learning of the policy process.
However, a well-designed game does not simply award uniform blocks of points for a single activity. It also awards a smaller number of points for smaller accomplishments in order to encourage increased participation. Less active citizen/users could still help develop submitted proposals through the use of wikis or even by simply voting for other submissions they like best. The points system should allow citizen/users who create a new policy submission to stipulate a buy-in price for other users wishing to contribute to refining their proposal, allowing more superficial users a venue for meaningful participation and more committed users another chance to rack up points.
Citizen/users could also be awarded badges that correspond to ministerial positions and MPs in the House of Commons. Real ministers and MPs would thus gain an Internet counterpart – essentially an online buddy system. Ministers could be encouraged to communicate with their online badge counterparts. Their attention would add incentive to the game. Ministerial and MP badges would be markers of major accomplishment. As the badges would be limited in number, they would gain in value as the number of citizen/users increases.
Finally, citizen/users could have user profile pages showcasing past contributions, points and badges. Badges would be displayed not only on the government platform but also on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The ability to develop a reputation online would encourage citizen/users to play and help identify talented players, who may then be sought by PAs or other citizen/users for special missions. It would encourage collaboration, a key requirement of building a sustainable web community.
Expanded policy capacity
Following in the steps of the government’s own Web Experience Toolkit, a gamified online platform would allow access to its own site architecture so that citizen/users could create their own parallel sites, wikis, chat groups, etc., that would further expand the policy capacity that the government could draw on, as well as the official site’s appeal.
This evolutionary process would be the best way to the drawbacks of the “status quo” approach: “no single public website can easily meet as many needs as well as a range of privately provided options can.” A truly successful web portal would function as the central hub (or at least one of the central hubs) for a larger community of websites that would facilitate citizen engagement.
This article is extracted from a longer paper that was a finalist in the Blueprint 2020 National Student Paper Competition. For full the paper, see Carleton Perspectives on Public Policy ( www.carletonpopp.com).