On 12-15 July 2017 the Lisbon School of Economics and Management held an international conference titled “Democracy & Participation in the XXI Century”. The conference hosted more than 100 sessions, organized into 6 Streams.
One of the sessions of the first stream (titled ‘Innovation, Digitalization and Participation’) focused on gamification and civil society advocacy. In the non-profit sector, clarified the session’s poster, “gamification for advocacy” may be described as the use of digital applications or websites designed for the purpose of gaining attention, raising awareness, asking for donations and ultimately increasing participation of civil society actors worldwide.
The panel aimed at expounding the promises as well as the challenges of the use of gamified strategies for non-profit advocacy. On the one hand, gamification carries the promise of an easy path to engage citizens, and to foster creative collaboration for charitable causes. On the other hand, gamification raises a number of challenges concerned with technology, perception from the public, and the extreme variation of the audiences that could be attracted by gamified advocacy.
The session – convened and chaired by Gianluca Sgueo (NYU Florence) – had three paper-givers. Francesco Berti presented a paper titled ‘More than a game: gamification goes institutional’. Mechanisms and dynamics of gamified structures, explained Berti, have been studied in many contexts, but none of them linked them to economic science, specifically with mechanism design theory and neo-institutional economics. Hence, the focus of Berti’s paper: by using concept as motivation, regulation and incentives he developed a preliminary lexicon to analyse non-profit gamified activities.
Alessandro El Khoury (co-author Alberto Quintavalla) presented a paper aimed at identifying common patterns and best practices in the development and successful application of gamified strategies for non-profits. El Khoury’s paper discussed two cases. The first, El Oumuma, is a mobile application developed to bring together Lebanese mothers; the second, GamingForGood, is a Belgian web platform aimed at fundraising donations via famous gamers.
The third paper, presented by Marco Meloni (co-author Sofia Antunes) moved from the following questions: under what conditions game like dynamics enhance public participation? What are the risks of gamification? The paper explored the advantages and disadvantages of gamification applied to public participation using a large multi-site simulation based on the Empaville platform. The activity involved around 200 students from 10 to 18 years old in five different Portoguese schools and consisted in a role play-game that simulated a gamified participatory budgeting process integrating in person deliberation with digital voting.
Three crucial points emerged from the debate. First, gamified advocacy is still in its infancy. More efforts, from different disciplines, are needed to understand the scopes and the boundaries of gamified practices from non-profits. Second, the examples reported by the paper-givers shown that gamified advocacy has a short/mid-term rather than a long-term impact. Gamification does not necessarily engage broader audience, nor it guarantees that players remain engaged for a long time. In short, points, badges and scoreboards have proven ineffective in fostering durable civic engagement. GamingForGood is a case in point. In spite of several successful initiatives, the platform has struggled to constantly re-invent the gaming experience, in order to attract new audiences and keep those who were already using it engaged. Third, and relatedly, gamification only works when it is carefully strategized and tailored to the needs of the target. Exemplary is the case of Empaville. As reported by Marco Meloni, organizers of Empaville sessions had to adopt a flexible approach in order to secure meaningful feedbacks from players.
To conclude, some good news: gamification is increasingly becoming a topic of scholarly discussion. The next international conference that will host a debate on this fascinating topic will be in Vienna, at the end of September. Gianluca Sgueo will present a paper titled ‘Gamification, Participatory Democracy and Engaged Public(s)’.