Friday, January 27, 2012

When will we see gamification in government?

Gamification refers to the practice of making non-game activities more like games by incorporating achievement-based reward systems.

Under gamification, using government examples, when your project or mission is complete you might receive a 'completion badge' (such as a letter from the Secretary, an Australia Day Award, or a medal). Or when you attain a higher level of proficiency in a particular skill you'd receive an 'achievement' or rise on the 'leaderboard' (such as a bonus or a promotion).

From the examples above, there's clearly already aspects of gamification at work. Rewarding achievement, success and skills acquisition is a standard part of business and forms the basis of merit-based advancement systems - not just games.

However the gamification process involves a much greater level of achievement-based recognition, than has commonly been used in organisations.

Rather than six-monthly and annual reviews and awards, gamification is based on rapid, but less valuable rewards for achievements as they occur.

This is an effective behaviour modification approach, as both the gaming and game industries would testify to. Rapid gratification means that patterns of behaviour are reinforced at a deeper level, resulting in a greater likelihood of the desired behaviour being repeated.

Gamification has begun to have a significant impact on a number of businesses. Online badges and achievements are the basis for the success of services like FourSquare and contribute indirectly to the success of services such as Facebook and Twitter (through the size of your friends list and the frequency that people respond to your posts).

They are also widely used by airlines (frequent flier miles) and supermarkets (shopper dockets and petrol discounts) and have promotional uses in many other industries (scratch and win tickets and similar).

To-date these gamification tools have been primarily deliberately used for marketing purposes - to influence customer behaviour (although mostly for commercial purposes and extremely rarely in government communication campaigns).

However with the announcement of the addition of achievements, badges and a leaderboard to Microsoft's Visual Studio coding community, it is clear that the shift to using gamification for training and employee management is already beginning.

Where will this go in the future in government and in business I wonder.

Will employees begin receiving achievements for completing specific courses and mastering skills their employers wish them to master? Perhaps even one for joining the company, and one for each year's service?

Will there be leaderboards based on standardised performance on specific tasks (brief writing or timeliness of ministerial responses - using an algorithm that compensates for frequency and complexity of briefs)?

Will these achievements, badges and leaderboards begin to influence promotional prospects or pay rates - even holidays (turn in five badges for an extra week of leave)?

Will organisations take on the example of armed forces, who already issue achievements and badges to motivate and recognise achievements and where leaderboards do influence access into elite units and specific roles.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how far gamification will go in government, and in business. However the experimentation has already begun.


  1. A presentation given by Stephen P Anderson at Web Directions South last year addresses this phenomenon more acutely by examining the psychological motivations behind what makes gamification successful.

    By identifying and harnessing what the underlying factors are that keep humans passionate throughout a task, we can then introduce rewarding challenges without the use of badges and achievements per se.

    This was a particularly interesting presentation and is available at