Experts Predict Public Sector Will Embrace Gamification

The notion that managers should think more like game designers isn’t new, but experts in the gamification field now predict that game theory principles will catch on best among managers in Federal, state and local government, as well as non-profits.

According to professors Dan Hunter and Kevin Werbach, authors of the bestselling book “For The Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business,” gamification is a concept managers should heed if they want to revolutionize their operations, particularly within Federal and state government programs. In an interview, the authors say government entities should break out of their current way of doing business and use gamification in real life situations.

“In the public sector, money is less of a motivator than in private industry, so gamification can step in,” said Hunter, an associate professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and an expert in Internet law, intellectual property and the application of games to public policy arenas. “Gamification has more power to transform in this environment because the public service environment just can’t rely on greater monetary rewards to make people do things.”

Co-author Werbach, who also teaches at Wharton, said public sector employees are mission-oriented, and the same should apply to their workplace goals. “There’s no fundamental reason gamification can’t be as widespread in the public sector as in the private sector … in fact, adoption could be greater there,” says Werbach. “Gamification taps into motivations other than money or tangible rewards. People play games because they find them enjoyable and they care about the outcomes. Workers in public service organizations are likely to respond to gamified systems that are effectively connected to the organization’s mission.”

Points, badges and leaderboards play a part in a well-designed game structure, say the authors, who are “World of Warcraft” enthusiasts themselves. “The point we emphasize in the book is that gamification isn’t a quick fix,” Werbach said. “A successful implementation is most likely to emerge from a solid design process.” They advocate a six-step design process incorporating “marketing, productivity enhancement, innovation, employee motivation and customer engagement.”

Examples of Successful Gamification

  • The Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom used a virtual stock market to solicit ideas from employees for innovations and process improvements. Using a gamified virtual currency to stimulate participation, 1,400 ideas were produced in the first 18 months, of which 63 were implemented.
  • A California-based company boosted website readership time by 25 percent using badges for readers who recommended stories to friends.
  • Call-center outsourcer LiveOps used gamification techniques with its customer service agents, resulting in a 15 percent reduction in average call time, while average service levels rose 10 percent, according to the company.

There are common pitfalls, says Hunter, who is also a professor at New York Law School and the Director of the school’s Institute for Information Law & Policy. The assumption that rewards always motivate people is a common misconception.
Nevertheless, “hundreds of millions of people in every corner of the globe spend hundreds of billions of minutes every month playing console, PC, online, and mobile games” say the authors.

Gamification is particularly relevant, they say, to the people now entering the workforce. Indeed, their highly sought-after course at Wharton led to an online Coursera Gamification course. The courses have attracted “80,000 students from 151 countries in less than a year,” according to the authors.

Private sector firms such as Nike, American Express, Microsoft, and Samsung already use gamification in their business strategies, the authors say. While gamification is spreading fast in the academic and private sectors, it’s most fertile ground may be in the public sector.

“Well-designed games are problem-solving exercises that engage players to progress toward mastery,” Werbach said. “And game thinking – what we call approaching problems like a game designer – is a robust management technique based on engagement, rather than financial motivations.”

By Michael Sean Comerford (Contributing Writer)


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