Technology planning games

Technology planning games

Designing for social action

I recently ran a game at theĀ  first workshop of a new UK programme on Technology and Social Action which was a development of other early games. I wrote on the programme blog:

The game aims to help people design a programme ... which might include regeneration projects, participation activities, or technology development. In this case we'll be looking at how groups or organisations might use social media, and other activities for ... well, whatever they want to achieve.

I ran something similar at the Circuit Rider conference back in January, as you can see here, and it went pretty well. This time I've done more work, talked it through with Ann Light, know there will be some really buzzy people taking part, so I know it's going to be fun.

Put simply we'll start by inventing a scenario, and some characters, then look at a set of methods on cards , choose those that could be useful, put them into some sort of order, and tell the story of what happens to the programme and the characters. I'll be throwing in a few challenges to liven things up.

I've uploaded the full instructions here (zipped pdfs 2M), and you can see other similar games on our usefulgames site, including one developed for the Digital Challenge programme.

I think it went pretty well on the day: we tackled two scenarios ... one about conflict over water rights in Spain, and one on climate change.

Local tech planning with a pack of cards

We recently ran another session of our Digital Challenge workshop game, used to help plan area-wide technology programmes. Last time it was Bristol - this time we were at the Manchester Digital Development Agency, which is one of the most experienced outfits in this field. Could our simple set of project cards, used to prompt discussion about how technology might benefit local people, bring anything to the techie toolkit?

MangameDrew Mackie and I were delighted to find that they could, not least because of the enthusiastic way in which Dave Carter (with Gary Copitch in the picture) led his colleagues in stories about Jack, lone-parent with twin daughters, and the Malis, recently arrived from Somalia.

As before, we asked participants to work in groups and follow this sequence:

  • Describe an area - who lives there, and its characteristics
  • Invent a local character or characters
  • Choose from a set cards those projects you think will benefit them
  • Tell the story of how they use the technology ... while we throw in a few life crises and opportunities along the way.

This led to:

Jack has severe health problems and no computer skills, but with local support ends up in a self-help online health group, and running an E-bay trading setup with his daughters.
Mr Mali becomes a local councillor running online services for his constituents, while Mrs Mali uses the Internet extensively to further her career as a health care professional.

You can download the game kit we used, and the stories that resulted, from the links at the end.
The stories will help Manchester in developing storyboards for its Digital Challenge bid, and once that is out of the way I think that Manchester, Bristol and others may be interested in how these workshop techniques could be used to help local organisations and residents explore what digital development programmes will mean in practice.
We received a further boost when Gary Copitch, director of the Manchester Community Information Network, used the game himself for a workshop. He reported back:

We got six people from different Black and Minority Ethnic groups and I split them into 2 groups. I did a bit of a brief on the bid itself as people were interested in what it was. But it also gave a concept on what was possible within Manchester.
I then asked participants to come up with an identity. This they did with not too much trouble. One group developed a profile for a Somali women with 2 children who was an asylum seeker and the other group came up with a single Polish worker who was a migrant. They then filled in the year 1 and the impact of the technology on people's lives. I then gave them a number of scenarios. These included: where asylum status was approved, problem with a child in school, computer was stolen, the situation in Somali got worse, the Polish worker decided to bring his family over, there was a backlash against migrant workers in the press.
They all responded to this and changed their use of ICT. Overall the game worked really well in helping them define their problems and thinking about how ICT could be used in each case. What was interesting was that all the cards came into play. Once the infrastructure was in, and training given, both groups quickly went towards the social media type work and producing content. I would definitely use the game again.

Gary also gave us some valuable feedback on how to improve the mechanics of the game, including changes in the timeline, and different ways of handling scenarios.
From our experience so far it seems to me that the game offers particular benefits in a situation where the aim is to benefit excluded groups, and involve a wide range of people and organisations in planning and delivery of technologies that few people understand:

  • The format creates a level space in which the simple cards and instructions (we hope) make it easy for everyone to join in
  • Working in groups means those with more understanding of technology can explain to others.
  • The range of cards means it is easy to describe what may be planned "for real" in an area, while also enabling people to ask "why can't we do that too".
  • Moving into storytelling about local characters means the language and discussion is more likely to be in terms anyone can relate to - or challenge.
  • The game sessions are not intended to lead to any firm decisions, but rather to trigger conversations that can continue afterwards. That allows time for reflection and evolution.

You can download the game kit, and stories developed in Manchester as pdfs:
Instructions (1.2M)
Project cards (1M)
Characters (22K)
Stories (120K)
All these as zip file (1.2 M)
See also: Running the social media game

Running a planning game workshop

dchamp.jpgFor an good example of how our our technology planning game can be used, take a look at the web pages we developed after a day with Digital Champions on the west coast of Scotland. They were helping other residents take advantage of Scottish Executive funding that provided 2000 homes with free computers.

Running the social media game

Beth Kanter and I had a couple of great workshop sessions at the UK Circuit riders conference yesterday, talking about social media and nonprofits - and I think the participants enjoyed it too. We tried to make it as interactive as possible. Beth live-blogged the opening session.

For our workshops, Beth had slimmed down her 81-slide Powerpoint presentation (it is a real work of art) to a "Wikitation", which is slides on the wiki organised so it is easy to jump to examples. That way Beth was able to run through the main social media tools and explore how people were trying these in practice. You can see both see both here.

MarcostenWe then ran our newly-develop social media game, in which groups invented an organisation or network and then each took one of three challenges:

  • Improving internal communications
  • Improving external communications and engagement
  • Using social media as an individual - maybe a circuit rider, for example

Many of those present had experience of social media, and were able to offer explanations and tips to others during groups discussions. The different scenarios offered some fresh ideas and insights too, I think. You can see another US presenter at the conference, Marc Osten of Summit Collaborative, getting into the gaming sipirt.

FlipchartWe had a wifi connection, and by the end of each session Beth had taken and posted pictures and results of discussions to the wiki. Nothing like showing what's possible on the spot. You'll see those on the wiki too.

There's so much blah-blah-hype around social media is was wonderful to work with someone who has so many of the tools at their finger-tips - and is prepared to share. Beth and I had not met face-to-face before the event, but were able to work online to develop the presentation and game. Beth's use of the wiki during the event (subject to some dropped connections) was amazing. OK, we need to clean it up a bit, but that will be done with the energy and insights generated on the day. I'll reflect further later on the scope for integrating workshop activities and online tools ... and will be looking for other opportunities to experiment.
The other delight at the event was a chance to meet up with fellow UK enthusiasts for social media including Steve Bridger, Miles Maier, Paul Henderson and Nick Booth. We can't rival Beth's US fellow social media bloggers yet, but I think a little blog community is emerging here around social media and social network where the focus is nonprofits and civil society. Drop a comment in here if you are interested in linking up - we hope to have a get together fairly soon. Beth suggested we start tagging social media posts with nptechuk ... the standard US tag is nptech.
If you want to try the game for yourself, all materials are available here, free to use with attribution under a share alike license. Do get in touch if you are interested in discussing
Next game - demystifying Web 2.0