Engagement game

Summary

The engagement game is designed for situations where one group wishes to involve a wider range of interests in something that they are planning to do. This might be, for example, a programme of neighbourhood improvements, a policy discussion, or development of an organisation. We have tried to make the game as flexible as possible.

The organisers - who we have called the programme team - might be open to a wide range of ideas for the start, or they might only be prepared to offer some limited opportunities for people to provide suggestions. They may offer involvement though a range of methods: surveys, events, online discussions.

The game is played in a workshop setting, with groups of 4-7 spending at least an hour with a set of cards and other "props". They first explore the situation, and the purpose of engagement, then use the cards to generate ideas for involvement and action, and finally move to generating stories about what may happen.

The game can be played "for real" to help design an engagement programme, or as a simulation at a seminar or conference with a larger number of people. It's a good way for people to start exploring the wider issues of participation and engagement.

Development of the game during 2006 was funded by the UK Department for Constitution Affairs - now the Ministry of Justice - as part of their democratic engagement programme. We built on this game development with further funding from what is now the Department for Communities and Local Government as part of the Digital Challenge programme. That led to the Digital Challenge game, which you can find out about and use here.

Playing the game

These pages provide specific instructions for the engagement game, and more general information about our games.

Read about participation and engagement

Communications and engagement game

who and why matrixThe other day I ran a workshop for PR and communications staff who are working in housing associations, and I've put the presentation and game that I used on the social media wiki.

The cards are much the same as those used in other games, but after groups had invented the scenario (a housing organisation wanting to improve communications) I asked them to think about two dimensions. First, who was the main focus for improved communications (Board, staff, residents, others) and then what benefits were they looking for: improved consuming of information, better communication, and/or collaboration. After that the groups considered what communication methods would be most appropriate.

Overall the game sequence was:

  • People break into groups of 6-8 and invent scenarios around local housing organisations and their residents
  • They then present the scenarios as challenges to a pair group
  • Groups use a matrix to think of who they are trying to engage and why: consume information, communicate, collaborate
  • They then choose communication methods from a set of cards. Each card has 1, 2, 3 points - budget is 15.
  • The develop a plan and present this back to the "client" group
  • Group split into sub-groups and tell the stories of how this works for different characters, and the project

... although we didn't get time for the storytelling.

I think that it should be possible to develop this game for The Membership Project, where as I reported earlier we need some ways to help organiaations explore the implication of social media, and how to use it. Meanwhile you can download everything from the wiki.

Engagement game instructions - real situations

Playing the engagement game for real

You can use the engagement game "for real" to plan how to engage a range of interests in any project or programme of activity. More here on the background and general description of the game,  here for questions and answers about our games, and here for using the game for simulations

The engagement game described here is a strategy tool, rather than a way of involving people in a specific project. It might be used , for example, by a public agency to plan how to involve residents, businesses and other interests in a local economic, social or environmental programme. Other games might then be run around specific areas of interest. ideally some of these interests might also be involved in engagement game sessions - because they will know best how to engage others.

A session of the game will take at least an hour and a half - and ideally should run over two or three hours if you want to use it for real-situation planning. During the session you should:

1. Bring together the key interests involved on the project or programme. You can do this with the core team planning the programme - or with a wider range of interests.

2. Use a room where people can split into groups of 4-7 and work around small tables or flip charts.

3. Start by asking those involved to describe the current situation so they develop a shared understanding of who is involved, what you are trying to achieve, what is the history, when things have to be done.

4. When people are in groups of 4-7, provide them with a set of cards with ideas for engagement. Use the set provided here, or produce your own using a template.

5. Ask groups is to choose a sub-set of cards to address the engagement issues described earlier by the group. Each
card has a resource cost of 1,2, or 3 points. Give the groups a budget
- say 15-20 points so they can't choose all the cards. Ask them arrange the cards to produce an engagement plan. They can draw
links, alter cards, add their own ideas.

6. Once groups have a plan, they change mode and start storytelling. This can best be done by breaking into smaller groups of two or three. Each group takes a character representing a programme participant, and describes how they will be involved over a period of months or years.

7. Facilitators may throw in crisis or opportunity cards, representing events that may impacy on the engagement programme.

8. Groups then report back on their plans and stories, and discuss next steps

Games materials

(to follow - except cards files at bottom of page)

Checklist for planning the game.

Briefing notes for facilitators

Engagement methods cards (download from bottom of the page or click here)

Template (Word) for creating cards

Character examples

Planning sheets

Story sheets

Download all materials (zip file)

Additional guidance

Bringing together key interests

You can use the game "for real" in at least two ways. You can either just play it through with "insiders" - the programme team who are planning and managing the engagement process. Or you can involve some of the wider interests - the potential participants - in the planning the process. That way you bring in greater understanding of how people are likely to respond, and grant people some early ownership of the programme. The challenge is that bringing participants into the planning process means the "insiders" giving up some control. Our advice: play the game with the programme team first, then run it a second time with the wider group if the team agrees to this.

In order to decide on who to involve beyond the team, you will need to do some research into who's who in the programme area, perhaps mapping connections so you understand who might influence who.

Appointing a facilitator

One or two people, respected by participants, should act as facilator(s). They should ensure that participants are briefed; organise the room; manage the flow of the game without being directive; and make sure that any report back and final discussion relates to the purpose of the exercise. They should check that people are clear about the purpose of the workshop, and help them reach useful conclusions.

Choosing the room

Choose a room with flexible seating so that people can work in groups of about 4-7. They can do this around a small table, or just by grouping chairs together. It helps for each group to have a flip chart on an easel, but
if necessary they can work on the table or even on the floor. What doesn't work (at all) is theatre style seating. Big tables (like those used for banqueting) can be a problem because people are too far apart
for easy conversation.

Describing the current situation

You can either do this on the spot, as a first stage of the game, or do some preliminary research into who's who, challenges and opportunities, past history. Even if you do some research - which could be circulated beforehand - disuss this on the day so that everyone has a shared understanding.

Agreeing purpose and stance

One of the main reasons for engagement programmes going wrong is lack of agreement on why people are being involved, and how much say they should have. Why do you want people to be involved? Is it for their expertise, because they will be dissatisifed if they are not involved, or because without their involvement the programme cannot function? What "stance" are you taking to involvement on a spectrum from consultation (here's some options) through to co-design and co-creation? The reading materials listed on this page have more on this.

Using the cards

The set of pre-prepared cards we offer cover some activities early in development of the programme (interviews and mapping for example), and a range of face-to-face, online, and other methods. To use the cards:

  • first review whether the range we offer is appropriate. Discard some, add others if necessary
  • on the day, organise people into groups of about 4-7 around a small table or flip chart
  • after describing the situation, agreeing purpose and stance, the facilitator gives people a set of cards. Explain that they should choose activities and methods to address the challenges previously discussed. Each card has a budget of 1,2, or 3 resource points. Groups should be given a budget of, say, 15-20 so they cannot choose all the cards. Groups can amend cards and add their own, though if they do that they should check with the facilitator what resource points (1,2, or 3) to add to their card.
  • some of the cards describe optional approaches. These should form part of the plan, with an indication of what direction the group has decided on.
  • after groups have chosen their set of cards they should organise them into a plan, drawing links and adding other points.

Telling the story of what happens

In our experience the richest discussion about engagement occur when we ask groups to move from project planning, with cards, into creating stories of what may happen to different interests during the engagement process. In order to get started, ask groups to identify and describe some key "characters" - a range of people who may be at the core of the programme, or less involved. Then split into smaller groups of two or three people and describe over a period of weeks or months what happens if the programme develops as described in the card-based plan.

If some of the characters are core to the programme - perhaps working for agencies or organisations - while others are initially less involved, you can get different perspectives on how things may develop.

Introducing some challenges

If discussion would benefit from some stimulus, the game facilitators can introduce some challenges by giving groups cards with a word or two describing a crisis or opportunity, which they then have to weave into the story.

Report back and next steps

By the end of the session groups should have a plan and set of stories to share with others. Issues to address are likely to include:

  • were groups clear about the purpose of the engagement programme, who should be involved, and how much influence they are prepared to offer to participants
  • have groups chosen methods that reflect the purpose and degree of influence
  • in what sequence should the methods be used, and do some methods depend on others
  • what skills and resources will be needed to put the programme into operation\
  • what are the risks likely to emerge

Engagement game instructions - simulation

Playing the engagement game as a simulation

You can play the engagement game "for real" - as described here - or as a simulation at a conference, or training session, for example. It's a good way to help people understand what may be involved in participation and engagement programmes.

You can run a simulation session in about 45 minutes, but you will get more value from the game if you can allow about an hour and a half. During the session you should:

1. Use a room where people can split into groups of 4-7 and work around small tables or flip charts. You can play with any number of people - but may need more than one facilitator if you have a lot of groups.

2. Start by inventing a situation - the context for the game. We find it is better to invent something on the spot rather than use pre-prepared situations, so people feel involved. It can be done group by group, or as a whole. More below on this.

3. When people are in groups, with an understanding of the situation they are planning for, provide them with a
set of cards with ideas for engagement. Use the set provided here, or
produce your own using a template.

4. Ask the groups is to choose a sub-set of cards
to address the engagement issues described earlier in the invented situation. Each
card has a resource cost of 1,2, or 3 points. Give the groups a budget
- say 15-20 points so they can't choose all the cards. Ask them arrange the cards to produce an engagement plan. They can draw
links, alter cards, add their own ideas.

5. Once groups have a plan, they change mode and start
storytelling. This can best be done by breaking into smaller groups of
two or three. Each group takes a character representing a programme
participant, and describes how they will be involved over a period of
months or years.

6. Facilitators may throw in crisis or opportunity cards, representing events that may impacy on the engagement programme.

7. Groups then report back on their plans and stories, and discuss next steps.

If you are short of time, you can do the report back after 4 ... but we find a lot of insights come when groups move from the project planning mode into storytelling.

Games materials

(to follow - except cards )

Checklist for planning the game.

Briefing notes for facilitators

Engagement methods cards for download  click here

Template (Word) for creating cards

Character examples

Planning sheets

Story sheets

Download all materials (zip file)

Additional guidance

Organising the event

Before the event, check the room to make sure you have a flexible space where people can break into groups of 4-7 around tables or flip charts. We find it is best to keep people in the same room if possible - that generates more buzz, and is easier to manage. Peoiple can work in groups around a small table, or just by
grouping chairs together. It helps for each group to have a flip chart
on an easel, but
if necessary they can work on the table or even on the floor. What
doesn't work (at all) is theatre style seating. Big tables (like those
used for banqueting) can be a problem because people are too far apart
for easy conversation.

You then need:

  • A presentation or script to explain the game to participants
  • A set of cards and other materials: character examples, planning sheets, story sheets.
  • Flip charts, pens, sticky putty to attach cards to charts

Acting as a facilitator

The role of facilitator is to ensure that participants are briefed;
organise the room; manage the flow of the game without being directive;
and make sure that any report back and final discussion relates to the
purpose of the exercise. The facilitator should check that people are clear about
the purpose of the workshop, and help them reach useful conclusions.

Inventing the situation

We use two methods for this:

  1. Spend about 10 minutes inventing a situation with the whole room, which everyone then plays through. Use this if time is tight. Use the check list below to ask people to offer up suggestions.
  2. Ask each group to invent a situation which they then pass on to another group as a challenge - "make it as tough as you like, you won't be solving the problems". Of course, each group gets someone else's challenging situation! This is more fun, and you can suggest each group invents a different situation, by giving them a headline about the locality, organisation, group.

In either case, cover:

  • Where is this - locality, organisation, network?
  • Who is involved - the key interests you wish to engage.
  • What is the history?
  • Why are you doing this?
  • What is the timescale - when does this have to be completed?
  • What are the main challenges?

The rest of the game then addresses the "how". 

Agreeing purpose and stance

One of the main reasons for engagement programmes going wrong is
lack of agreement on why people are being involved, and how much say
they should have. Why do you want people to be involved? Is it for
their expertise, because they will be dissatisifed if they are not
involved, or because without their involvement the programme cannot
function? What "stance" are you taking to involvement on a spectrum
from consultation (here's some options) through to co-design and
co-creation? The reading materials listed on this page have more on this.

Using the cards

The set of pre-prepared cards we offer cover some activities early in
development of the programme (interviews and mapping for example), and
a range of face-to-face, online, and other methods. To use the cards:

  • first review whether the range we offer is appropriate. Discard some, add others if necessary
  • on the day, organise people into groups of about 4-7 around a small table or flip chart
  • after
    describing the situation, agreeing purpose and stance, the facilitator
    gives people a set of cards. Explain that they should choose activities
    and methods to address the challenges previously discussed. Each card
    has a budget of 1,2, or 3 resource points. Groups should be given a
    budget of, say, 15-20 so they cannot choose all the cards. Groups can
    amend cards and add their own, though if they do that they should check
    with the facilitator what resource points (1,2, or 3) to add to their
    card.
  • some of the cards describe optional approaches. These
    should form part of the plan, with an indication of what direction the
    group has decided on.
  • after groups have chosen their set of cards they should organise them into a plan, drawing links and adding other points.

Telling the story of what happens

In our experience the richest discussion about engagement occur when we
ask groups to move from project planning, with cards, into creating
stories of what may happen to different interests during the engagement
process. In order to get started, ask groups to identify and describe
some key "characters" - a range of people who may be at the core of the
programme, or less involved. Then split into smaller groups of two or
three people and describe over a period of weeks or months what happens
if the programme develops as described in the card-based plan.

If some of the characters are core to the programme - perhaps
working for agencies or organisations - while others are initially less
involved, you can get different perspectives on how things may develop.

Introducing some challenges

If discussion would benefit from some stimulus, the game
facilitators can introduce some challenges by giving groups cards with
a word or two describing a crisis or opportunity, which they then have
to weave into the story.

Report back and next steps

By the end of the session groups should have a plan and set of
stories to share with others. Issues to address are likely to include:

  • were groups clear about the purpose of the engagement
    programme, who should be involved, and how much influence they are
    prepared to offer to participants
  • have groups chosen methods that reflect the purpose and degree of influence
  • in what sequence should the methods be used, and do some methods depend on others
  • what skills and resources will be needed to put the programme into operation\
  • what are the risks likely to emerge

 

Engagement game reports

Below are links to blog items about the engagement game

Designing mixed media engagement, with Government

Dcagame1-1

Drew Mackie and I have been funded over the past year to developed a game for designing engagement, by what is now the Department of Justice, previously Department for Constitutional Affairs. The other day we went back with a version that aims to meet current Government interest in using a mix of social media and other methods.

The first version of the game focussed on face-to-face engagement methods, and had quite a complicated board - as you can see from this report of an earlier session.

This time we added in blogs, online forums, MySpace, wikis, social bookmarking and other goodies from the world of Web 2.0, to complement workshops, exhibitions and deliberative processes. We also made the sequence of play simpler, and were able to bring in elements from the Digital Challenge game developed for the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Ian Johnson and members of his team took 90 minutes out of their busy departmental reorganisation schedule to develop a scenario around energy policy, and then set-to choosing appropriate methods to engage a wide range of interests, Drew livened things up by throwing some challenges into the emerging storyline ( new climate change study produces gloomier results).

Dcagame2We felt it all went rather well, and were delighted to get confirmation of that on the new blog started by one of the players, Jeremy Gould, who runs the websites for the department:

I can see how the game would have real application within government, as well as outside, in helping policy teams to understand the importance of designing engagement programmes strategically and considering all possible options before they go diving in.

In particular, the inclusion of many social media methods into the game was instructive - not least because it teaches participants that none of this is an add on and that all activity requires resource, commitment and time.

Since Jeremy is also helping Cabinet Office assess the opportunities for government communications of social media we were doubly pleased.

Our next step is to tidy up the various versions of the game, and make them available on this site. Meanwhile you can download, as pdfs, the game cards and the game instructions.

Our experience is that effective engagement is as much about attitude as method. Too often consultants are hired to run programmes with the client at arms length ... with the result that when the results come in the response is inadequate. That's even more likely when new media is part of the mix. OK ... I know they are paying us ... but it is heartening that DCA/Department of Justice officials are prepared to try the techniques that we and others are developing, and that through Jeremy they are out there actually using some of the new ways of engaging.

Gaming at Together We Can

Together we can

Drew Mackie and I ran two sessions of the Engagement Game yesterday at the Together We Can conference organised by the Home Office - and generally felt that it went pretty well with about 15 people in one workshop and 20 in the other.

The format was similar to the first session we ran with Civil Servants back in February. We first invented a scenario - a goal for the engagement process. In one case it was illegal use of motorbikes on open space and in another "youth nuisance". The task was then to plan a process by which a whole range of different interests - from government departments through to local groups - might be involved in tackling the issue.

As before, we split into four team, each dealing with different phases of the engagement process - inception, preparation, involvement and delivery/evaluation. However we improved the run of play by tailoring instructions for each group, and controlling the rate at which we handed out cards so people were not too overwhelmed by bits of paper.

One of the first tasks for groups was to decide on purpose cards, which indicated how much or how little involvement people were going to be offered in their phase of the process ... information, consultation, involvement in decision making, collaboration, empower,

They then went on to work out which groups should be involved and finally what methods to use, governed by a budget set by the preparation group.I've uploaded the game instructions and cards, with links below. I should emphasise, however, that the game is still very much under construction. Drew and I will be tidying things up into a more comprehensive package, and looking for more opportunities to pilot. If you are interested, do contact us. We can spend some time on this, because game development is supported by the Innovation Fund of the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

DeanthugginsAt one of the sessions I was delighted to meet Dean T. Huggins, a trainer and consultant specialising in community engagement, who is a co-author of the excellent course being run by the Home Office. You can download the materials here. One of our ideas with the game has always been that it can be a '"front end" to other material, with links from the cards to other resources, so I was really pleased Dean thought that could work well.

DrewmackieI also persuaded Drew to give his view on camera on how things went, and what changes are needed. We only had about an hour today to run the session, and we would really like to thank those who participated for compressing some rather complex tasks into a tight timetable. But then that's usually the case with real engagement processes too.... Thanks also to Justin Merry of the Home Office who helped us with facilitation, and to Charles Woodd and the rest of the team there for inviting us along to the conference. Click the photos for video - which needs Quicktime (download free). Comments below welcome from anyone who participated - and indeed anyone else.

Engame3006-2.zip Engagement game instructions and cards (zipped folder of pdfs)
More photos
Guide to Effective Participation
Earlier session