Applying the principles of gamification to government makes it agile and efficient.
Why is government so uninspiring?
The problem is not the “who.” Governments employ some of the most prepared people. Actually, many of the smartest people I know work in government. They go into those jobs on a mission to use their talents for the greater good. They like to innovate and are as creative as my friends in startups. They have amazingly good people skills (better than my startup friends, for sure!) and they work really hard. Yet, they feel disempowered and unhappy with their job.
The problem is the “how.” Unlike companies, governments are not subject to the market forces that provide the incentives that keep the private sector on its toes. From the monetary rewards that come to successful business, to feedback markers such as market share and profits, companies have a highly dynamic structure of rewards, punishments and market feedback. Even tactical elements in their offerings, such as pricing, special offers, coupons, and loyalty programs give their customers this same dynamic structure, which makes their products and services engaging and keep them coming back for more.
Gamification. The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity.
Last week, The Economist ran an article teasingly titled “The perilous politics of parking” which is all about why parking is, as they put it, “wrong on so many levels.” Interestingly, their article is all about gamification and they’re the first ones to miss it: they do not even mention the word once, even though, in their print edition, the article opens with a parking story related to tech giant Apple.
The article goes on with examples of how different cities regulate parking and the effect these regulations have on traffic. They cite one study in Washington DC, which “found that the availability of free parking is associated with a 97% chance somebody will drive to work alone.” If you go back up and read the caption under the dominos photo, this is exactly what gamification is about: point scoring, competition with others, rules of play. Free parking = everybody takes their car; pay-for-parking = people start shifting to public transport depending on price. Even competition for parking spaces plays a big role on whether you take your car into the city or use public transportation.
To take this transport analogy further, Copenhagen did not become the city where there are more bikes than cars by chance: carefully designed and fine-tuned gamification techniques drove this transformation. In their case, it was incentives, availability of bike lanes and price for parking that made the difference. The rewards of biking – even in bad weather – were so superior than the punishments for driving and parking that the choice became clear for residents.
Mindful gamification is the name of the game
As you can see by now, contrary to popular belief, gamification is not a concept Silicon Valley companies invented. Gamification is as old as society. We were raised on gamification. School grades are just a form of gamifying education – they have all 3 elements of the definition: point scoring, competition with others, rules of play. Anytime we enter a negotiation, be it with our partners, kids or in business, the same elements come into play. Which takes us back to the market: it provides the perfectly fine-tuned gamification structure for companies and consumers to engage.
Which is exactly the problem with government: either it uses the wrong type of gamification – the one that produces the worst outcomes, or it has no gamification at all, so people – internally and externally – don’t care about engaging. Why would you work harder or be more creative if nobody will promote you or increase your pay?
Wrong gamification, or the lack of it, makes for unengaged, apathetic citizens that either waste or abuse the services governments provide. Paradoxically, these are exactly the same people that, as consumers, get hooked to mobile apps, obsessively played Pokemon Go last year, and love to find deals on stuff they like buying.
Learn valuable gamification techniques
You can do better. Help is on its way. At Innovation Lab, we’ve designed an engaging workshop on how you can apply the principles of gamification to make government innovative, agile and responsive – both internally and externally. This is a class to give you tips on how to make your public sector job more fun and impactful. You don’t want to miss how easy it is to innovate once you see your government job through the lens of gamification.