The World of GovCraft

Dave says: Carl is a local government blogging legend, who works at Devon County Council as an Enterprise Architect. This post originally appeared on his blog, but he graciously allowed it to be published here, too.

Inspired by the excellent Joanne Jacobs at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter to think more about the role of games and game play in solving problems and creating solutions.

I started to think about how Government in general could be seen as a game so that we could not only engage people in the problems and challenges we all face but actually inspire them to be part of the solution and help make changes happen.  In the lunchtime session that Joanne facilitated she spoke very passionately about the role of games and how we all play games all the time but just don’t realise it.

I kind of hit a blank wall as the big picture of Government is pretty boring, but the individual components that make it are actually interesting. So how do you start to get to a level of engagement and participation that inspires the average person on the street to want to get involved.

I then came across this excellent TED video of Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. Surely this is the stuff that Government innovators should be thinking about.

In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds

So what is the chance of Government creating a meaningful game that inspires people to get involved, help change the world around them and contribute positively to the social fabric around them – Hold on a minute, haven’t we got something that is supposed to do this = Democracy? The challenge we have to make engagement and participation more engaging not just to young people but to people in general is to start inviting people into the game and make the game more interesting to start with.

So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth watching.

Bookmarks for March 13th through March 15th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Technologies for participation

I had the pleasure of bumping into Fraser Henderson at the recent Digital Inclusion Conference, where he mentioned an event he was helping to organise with the Consultation Institute, called Technologies for participation. It’s on 21st May at the Holiday Inn near Kings Cross.

Sadly I can’t attend as I will be taking a much needed break up in Edinburgh. However it looks like a really interesting day:

This seminar offers both IT specialists and those responsible for public engagement the opportunity to consider what’s possible , what’s new, and what’s best. Hear from solution suppliers as well as experienced analysts, and consider how to overcome some of the known barriers to their successful implementation.

The Local Democracy Bill will require councils to offer ePetition systems ‐ and other public bodies will follow suit. Social Networking applications are also having a major impact upon our ways of interfacing with citizens.

The event will be suitable for staff from all public service agencies – central and local; it may also be of interest to elected members committed to innovative engagement methods.

Visit the event site to find out more and book yourself a place!

My hopes for 2009

I wouldn’t be so foolish as to try and make some prediction for 2009, as they would be bound to turn out to be hideously wrong within a very short space of time. However, I feel a little safer writing a bit about what I hope will happen in the world of govweb / digital participation:

1. We start to get the most out of communities

I want to see everyone making better use of their networks, and creating new, better ones where they are needed. This can be on or offline, or even better a blend of the two. I’d like to see some real appreciation of the role of the manager, or facilitator of communities and more done to bring together the people that get how it can be done. More talking and more sharing would be very nice!

2. Better risk awareness

Believe it or not, in a previous life I was once the risk management officer for a county council. I think a lot of the talk about risk when it comes to the social web is actually just an excuse not to do things that people might find a little bit frightening. This is most true when it comes to the blocking of social websites on office networks, but it can be applied to a number of areas, whether getting involved in online conversations or becoming properly collaborative organisations. The mature approach to risk is to assess them and manage them – but also to take them. Running away leaves you just as exposed as blundering blindly in.

3. Social reporting as learning

I’m still buzzing about the stuff I wrote about here, inspired by David Wilcox. Like many, I have caught the social reporting bug, and now the connection with networked learning has been made, it makes even more sense to me. I hope we see more and more events, workshops, training sessions and conferences incorporate the creation of online learning spaces to make the sharing of stories and knowledge so much easier.

4. Netbooks for all

I’m really excited by the sudden growth in popularity of these small but (usually) beautiful machines. I now have two: an Asus Eee and a Samsung NC10 – the latter more useful than the former thanks to its bigger screen and keyboard. The small price and size of these computers make them ideal for people who might not otherwise buy a PC, and the fact that they come wireless enabled means more people will be able to access the wonders of the web than would otherwise be possible – especially with all these deals around mobile broadband and the like.

5. Digital mentors for government

I like the idea of digital mentors, obviously, as my involvement with and Voicebox has shown over the last few months. However, I keep going back in my mind to this comment from Tom Watson, which mentioned having folk fulfilling the role of digital mentor for government – in other words, providing the coaching and resources needed to let public servants decide for themselves the tools they want to use. I think a simple mixture of awareness-raising and some practical demonstrations, and perhaps an online peer support community, is all that would be needed to get this off the ground. Maybe something to discuss at January’s barcamp?

So that’s some of the things I am hoping for. What about you?

Digital dialogues third report

Am very late in writing about this, but am only just getting round to reading the third report produced by the Digital Dialogues project. This bit, from the Guidance and Recommendations section, is very nicely put:

From our research we have identified four conditions that lead to a higher probability of success with online engagement:

  1. Engagement is embedded within the processes and culture of the organisation, it does not just happen as an afterthought or on the periphery.
  2. The choice of engagement tool is driven by the need, not by the technology.
  3. Engagement works when organisations are prepared to listen – risk aversion and a fear of exposing the organisation to the outside are the biggest inhibitors of good listening and, therefore, of successful online engagement.
  4. Reflexivity is vital to success and organisations that are adaptable – able to listen, reflect, learn, respond and change – prove better at engagement.

Civil Servants and the Social Web

There has been quite a discussion in recent times about the guidance for civil servants on how they should interract with the social web: see Emma and Nick for some of what has been said.

Well, now, as Jeremy announces, we have the guidance. We knew this was coming, because eGovernment minister Tom Watson told us it was imminent on Twitter.

The guidance itself is up on the Civil Service website, while over on the Power of Information taskforce’s blog, comments are being sought. The guidance is nice and short, being made up of 5 bullet points, followed by a bit of text about how the Civil Service Code affects how civil servants operate on the web. The five key points are:

  1. Be credible
  2. Be consistent
  3. Be responsive
  4. Be integrated
  5. Be a civil servant

There is still room for some slightly more detailed guidance, which I understand will soon be on its way. For example there is a difference between a civil servant commenting on a post on (say) this blog; commenting in a post on their own departmental blog; or writing on a personal blog of their own. This stuff needs exploring, and hopefully it will be done so in a social, collaborative way.

My hope is that even this short guidance will find its way to a wiki, where is can be grown and expanded as people see is appropriate. A more important thing to do is to try and make what is a pretty limited document in terms of scope (ie, it’s just for civil servants) applicable to the much wider audience of all public sector workers in the UK – including local government, for example.

Here’s some of the feedback so far from others, firstly from Steve Dale:

The initiative is to be applauded, and I particularly like the succinctness of the guidelines, which is most un-civil service-like, but in keeping with the overall concept of agility and flexibility that one associates with the brave new world of Web 2.0.


I think they are brilliant in their simplicity – not entirely sure why they have taken so long to be published, but am not mud-slinging. Now I want to see civil service engagement all over the place!


I’m not sure this will lead to an explosion of government bloggers but it does provide some sense of security for those already blogging. It will be interesting to see where this leads – the public sector digital community seems to be responding positively: some can already see potential in the announcement, whilst for others there is a general sense of relief.


This is a big step indeed. And it shows the benefit of having a blog-literate Minister for e-Government. I’m just glad I registered earlier in the week… for purposes which will soon become apparent.


A recent sense check around Whitehall, with support from the egovernment minister has resulted in a much slimmed down set of principles for participation. They’re not perfect, they’re not comprehensive – but its a jolly good start and much welcome.