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