Agencies not playing around with gamification

"Gamification" is what it sounds like: Turning processes and procedures intended to accomplish serious goals into fun and challenging efforts using elements of gaming.

The idea has been around for a while in the private sector, and now government agencies are catching on. They find gamification caters to the tech savvy Millennials, and also gives all employees a more engaging workplace.

The idea is that awarding virtual badges and points as employees complete assignments will result in a more engaged, productive and happier workforce.

Despite its name, gamification doesn’t always mean strictly gaming. The rise of mobile devices and the proliferation social media have both increased the use of game mechanics. What many of us do on an everyday basis with our smart phones oftentimes constitutes as gamification, said Dante Ricci, director of SAP Federal Innovation.

“With social media, people can share experiences, check into places like Foursquare – that’s all gamification,” Ricci said. “Gamification is a trend, but it’s been here forever.”

Researchers say it’s a concept that’s quickly picking up steam. An April 12 report by Gartner forecasts that by 2015, more than half of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes. By 2014, more than 70 percent of the top 2,000 public organizations will have at least one gamified application.

The federal government might not be moving as fast, but experts like Ricci say it’s coming along. The General Services Administration, for example, just began using the online collaboration tool Chatter to enhance information and idea sharing among its employees. The idea is that its leaderboards will incentivize more employees to share useful information.

“There is an informal sense of status accorded to the employees who have the most followers, because it’s implied that those with more followers are communicating valuable information,” Casey Coleman, GSA CIO, wrote April 4 on the Around the Corner blog.

However, the scope of gamification reaches well beyond the simpler business processes. NASA, for example, used a gamified platform called Planet Hunters to discover new planets. The space agency also turned to gamification to unveil Space Race Blastoff, a game on its Facebook page, to educate citizens on its history and research. By answering a wide array of questions related to technology, pop culture and NASA history, players earn virtual badges depicting NASA astronauts, spacecraft and astronomical objects. Players also earn points they then use to get additional badges to complete sets that earn premium badges.

Still, a common concern is that gamification isn’t a serious enough business tool. The reality is that the complexities of the analytics that come with gamification can confuse those wishing to implement it.

Misconceptions about gamification also make it a challenge to leverage the concept of behavioral social analytics, said Aaron Patton, a GovLab Research and Innovation fellow at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

“You hear about agile development oftentimes in government and other organizations, and those same principles apply quite well to gamification because evolution and iteration is part of improving a system,” he said.

Gamification could sometimes be as simple as enhancing user experience or user design of an IT interface to make it colorful and more fun, Patton said. “There’s some kind of basic human psychology that’s often not met with more sterile systems,” he added.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Tue, May 29, 2012

The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry. It's only a tool to help develop a framework. If we ignore that fact, than game theory will prove as useful as it did during the finanical crisis of 2008.

Wed, May 2, 2012 OccupyIT

I swear if someone Tweeted that balloon animals were the latest craze, and you could charge for it, Casey Coleman or someone else at GSA would appear at a conference saying GSA had been doing it for years, should be acknowledged as the only federal service for them, and then charge the agencies a fee for not using them. Balloon Animals First!

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