Gaming in the name of social good

I have previously noted the emergence of game playing to solve real world problems. And 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 Zealanders interested and engaged with the Constitutional Review?

Or something perhaps closer to 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.

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).