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Can gamification help environmental decision making?

07.04.2013
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Making good decisions is something we all want to do more of.  In a complex world however, it’s not always easy, and nowhere is this more so than in environmental decision making.  From my time running The Environment Site, the one thing that quickly became clear was that things are seldom black or white.

A new tool aims to make environmental decision making better by applying a gamification layer to the whole affair. Bioscore, which was funded by the EU, looks at the impact of policies on our biodiversity.  It uses a simple ‘else if’ type structure by asking what will happen to species X if policy Y is installed in region Z.  The answer is then provided in the form of maps, graphics and hard core data.

As with any tool, it’s far from perfect, but the developers are always striving to make it more effective.  A major area for development is in how the data is displayed to users.  Whilst there’s a lot of valuable information in the tool, the output to users and policy makers is not always the easiest on the eye, and full understanding of the implications often requires a level of knowledge lacking in policy makers.  This is where gamification could come in.

A couple of French developers are hoping to add some gamification to the tool to make it easier to understand.  They believe it will make the answers that much clearer and allow users to get a quicker grasp of the implications.  What’s more, if the tool can be made fun to use, it will encourage them to return to it frequently.  Of course the game approach may be enough to convince serious policy folks that the tool is too trivial for their serious needs, so a careful approach to it would be required.

Wharton professor, and gamification expert, Kevin Werbach may have some tips to help them.  In his gamification course on Coursera recently, he outlined 8 key components for any successful gamification effort.  They may help to guide developers in the successful addition of games to what is a serious and erstwhile project.

8 keys to workplace gamification

  1. Problem solving. We’re hard-wired to enjoy a challenge, and it is often the routine and un-challenging nature of work that makes it dull.  Stretching yourself however can be incredibly rewarding.
  2. Exploration.  This desire to solve problems often leads us to attempt new things and requires us to learn new skills in order to solve each problem.  This sense of exploration is an inherently rewarding experience.
  3. Teamwork. The massive multiplayer environments of modern games should show managers how much people like working together to crack a problem.  We are often natural collaborators, so you should use all the tools at your disposal to encourage this.
  4. Recognition. Research a few years ago showed that people value recognition and appreciation more than sex.  A simple thank you can raise employee engagement by as much as 30%.
  5. Success. Back in 2011 Harvard academic Teresa Amabile released The Progress Principle.  The book charts the importance of achieving success, or at least making progress, and its impact on our happiness in life and at work.
  6. Surprise and novelty.  Relationship gurus the world over trumpet the virtue of keeping things fresh in a relationship.  Novelty is kinda taken for granted in the social world because it moves so quickly, but introducing fresh things should be a key part of your working life.
  7. Creativity. How often do you get to come up with great ideas at work?  I suspect when you think of those times, it was generally accompanied by a happy feeling.  Just as challenging work is exciting, so is trying new ways of succeeding at work.
  8. Knowledge sharing. If you’re regarded as an expert in your field, it does wonders for your ego.  The culture of hoarding knowledge and using that power to climb the greasy pole is hopefully slowly fading out, so get out there and show off your knowledge internally.  There are lots of collaboration tools available now that encourage internal knowledge sharing.  The chances are your organisation has one in place, so get out there and make use of it.