Gaming the system

By Robert Hickson 18/03/2012 4


In an earlier post I noted the emergence of game playing to solve real world problems. As you may expect, Silicon Valley is establishing companies to do this. One is Innovation Games. They are already working with some large multinational companies to help improve strategy and determine which products to focus on, as well as using games for more mundane things like figure out how to prioritise. But what caught my eye was how they are also using some of their games to get communities more involved in helping identify budget priorities for local governments. They have blogged about one initiative in San Jose, CA.

The most surprising result was that participants voted to increase taxes (to help, among other things, fix the footpaths), contradicting a widespread belief. They were also restrained in their spending (meaning that didn’t blow the budget). Only a small number of people (87) played, and these were already motivated and engaged community leaders and citizens. I’d expect you’d get something messier if you  dragged enticed people in off the street. The San Jose council has indicated that they’ll take note of the games results in their Budget deliberations.

Gaming to entice public participation isn’t new, it’s just getting more sophisticated. Last year Landcare Research, in association with the Institute for the Future and a friend of mine, tried out the Foresight Engine to generate ideas for a future for Christchurch.

What interests me about Innovation Games is the effort they invest in facilitating some of their games. They aren’t just gimmicks.  The San Jose game included council experts who could answer questions about the impact of decisions. So the decisions weren’t uninformed, and game players had to negotiate with each other to agree on priorities and budgets.

It would be worthwhile trying out similar approaches here. It is often lamented that we don’t have good discussions about important issues and that decisions can be influenced too much by perceptions or myths. Games of the type employed by Innovation Games and others may help us break through to that level.

What say we use gaming to have a more productive discussion about whether and what state assets to sell, and if sold what to use the sale proceeds for?

Or as a way to get more New Zealander’s interested and engaged with the Constitutional Review?

Or something perhaps closer to SciBlogs readers hearts, and timely with the creation of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – How much and how should we invest taxpayers money in research for economic, environmental and social good. (I’m taking as a starting position that tax dollars should be invested in what used to be called research, science and technology).

The point isn’t to let “the public” decide, but to get us all more informed and engaged in big national decisions. Crowd sourcing sites like iPredict don’t have that function.


4 Responses to “Gaming the system”

  • […] Gaming the system | Ariadne Or as a way to get more New Zealander’s interested and engaged with the Constitutional Review ? Or something perhaps closer to SciBlogs readers hearts, and timely with the creation of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – How much and how should we invest taxpayers money in research for economic, environmental and social good. (I’m taking as a starting position that tax dollars should be invested in what used to be called research, science and technology). What say we use gaming to have a more productive discussion about whether and what state assets to sell, and if sold what to use the sale proceeds for? The point isn’t to let “the public” decide, but to get us all more informed and engaged in big national decisions. […]

  • Provided always that you ask people only those questions which they are reasonably competent to answer.
    Footpaths yes, but fracking? global warming? immigration policy? free trade agreements?
    How many citizens would have a rational answer to the question: how much should NZ spend on social research?

    • That’s where the use of “subject experts” comes in. It certainly won’t work if people make uninformed decisions – we have enough of that in talk back radio already. A well designed game should stimulate rather than be a survey of views. A mistake in science, politics, and many other areas in the past is assuming that the “general public” (for want of a better term) are not competent to discuss issues in these areas. A range of initiatives here and elsewhere using citizen juries, dialogue events, etc show that good questions and proposals do come out from them. So long as you put effort into designing and planning them.

      Asking how many millions should we invest in [social] research isn’t the best question. But the question could be reasonably asked “should we invest more than we currently do is that research”, and if so “what are the priorities within that?” part of the discussion would also need to be what is the size of the investment pot and the balance between different priorities.

  • Robert, I think a lot also depends on how well the game is structured to reflect the real life situation. When this is done well, the result would be meaningful. It doesn’t matter how complex the subject is as long as its complexities are captured in the game definition.

    We use structured games in training and find that people’s attitude towards what they do in games is a true reflection of what they do at work.

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