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Who said all pop-ups need to be blocked?

It is said that bite sized chunks of information make learning easier. This was the thinking behind DailyLits books which are delivered in bite sized portions and Popling, a new online educational tool.

By subscribing to Poplings your desktop will display popup flash cards on your computer throughout the day according to the frequency you choose.

This is a photo of a real popup - many thanks to
This is a type of ‘snack culture’ which caters to consumers who seek gratification in smaller, easier to handle bites.

This trend is now being applied to education through new technological means. This could present a new area for training staff in small bite sized chunks. Users are able to create their own pop-ups on the site and very specific topics can be created.
Please see here for more details (image by Popling) and to create your own!!

If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around virtual training, see here. Contact us if you have an idea!

Kirsty Russell Who said all pop-ups need to be blocked?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Can simulation lead to negotiation?

In our latest installment on gaming, let's focus on how we can make the best use of the skills developed through gaming and get people to share their experiences and achievements.

It may sound superficial but actually it is important to make the best use of the skills developed through gaming: entrepreneurial games are often more effective than providing guides to set up a business, negotiation games enable people to engage in artificial conflict and confront them with conflicting interests, while cognitive games encourage people around prevention and rehabilitation from poor health.


With the impact of the recession, a game which teaches important tips on being self employed in a no risk environment can be more effective than providing guides to doing businesses for people with no experience of it. Likewise a game that spreads awareness of the financial crisis to young people through encouraging them to submit ideas to tackle this in their lives is a way of linking personal experiences and current affairs – humanising the recession. Other examples enable you to manage your own energy production company or design an offshore wind farm. This could potentially take existing games that have been created by the public services a step further, especially games for literacy and numeracy and children.

These types of games need to link up to other tools used to improve entrepreneurial skills. With that in mind, you could explore the potential of using scenario-based game to develop an on-line tool to help small businesses assess their innovation performance.


With the growing contradictory demands that individuals face, not just citizens but staff working in more multi agency settings than before, negotiating skills are key and yet undervalued. Games which get people to engage in negotiating, especially in artificial conflict and confront them with conflicting interests could be adapted for this.

When negotiation involves legal expertise, especially when simulating scenarios in court (such as in social services), you need to think very carefully about whether a game is the best tool for this.
Why not instead test the viability of using gaming with negotiation training?


With the tension between the cost of social care for the elderly and growing life expectancy, encouraging older people to improve their cognitive skills is essential, both for prevention and rehabilitation, especially where the social impact can be evidenced . Learning from current practice in the council shows that focusing on gaming software is much more practical than producing new hardware that may only be useful for the group of people it was designed for.

Evaluate impact

It’s not enough just assuming that the techniques will work, using analytics to understand how people behave in the game is also necessary, especially with the lack of evaluations of the social impact of gaming in general, with this (where KCC was involved as a partner) as a rare exception.

However, we can build on innovative use of analytics in this area, such as through using background analysis to inform broad scenarios, monitoring people’s journeys through geo-coordinates, via SMS texts or simulating real time data to mimic actual life conditions.

The risk is that given assumptions about lack of social impact of gaming, it is crucial to develop metrics to measure this. Why not explore opportunities to join up testing tools with research on knowledge management or the semantic web?

It’s also particularly important to enable the players themselves to use analytics to monitor their own performance – whether that’s tracking your acts with other players or calculating your carbon footprint.

For more advanced use, focusing on researchers or analysts as users, you can link up to datasets which can be simulated within the game. This requires technical expertise that can enable both the gaming program and the databases to interact and this skillset is most commonly found within universities and ICT R&D labs, such as Sony’s collaboration with Stanford University or Imperial College’s links with IBM and EON Reality.

Get people to share their experiences and achievements

People will feel far more engaged in an activity if they feel ownership over it and valued for their contribution. Using tools which enable people to write their experiences (or even take photos) and chronicling their own scenarios provides feedback and would build on existing online engagement.

Without engaging prior to this exercise, it is difficult to develop trust with users through the game. Why not use the
game as a form of engagement on the issue covered in its own right?

If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around simulation & gaming, see here. Contact us if you have an idea.
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The death of the book?

What if you could carry 200 books around everywhere with you, which were lighter and more compact than your laptop?

It sounds too good to be true but the e-book promises exactly that. E-readers deliver several hundred books to your eyes through a light, wireless, resilient device, which is able to function even in poor network connection areas and endure longer battery lives than regular laptops.

Quality of screens has improved vastly over the years and E-readers boast an almost paper like display with no glaring backlight.
The European commission are currently running a pilot investigating the limits and uses of the technology and are keen to welcome the change if it makes EU information and publications more easily available. Similarly other organisations may wish to exploit this technology in order to infiltrate a new market.

Photo of a miniature book by
Other uses could include making up-to-date text books more widely accessible to schools and colleges or helping disabled students carry their books to classes more easily. There are also issues concerning the way libraries operate with regards to e-readers which have the ability to easily download books. Commuters, holiday makers and workers from home may be some of the first to jump on the e-reader bandwagon.

Although ‘real’ books have withstood the test of time there is no reason to view e-readers as a threat to the traditional, just a complementary reading medium for those who it may suit the needs of.

If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around virtual training, see here. Contact us if you have an idea!

Kirsty Russell
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Psychology is all around us, are there positive outcomes to gaming?

Following on from my last blogpost on gaming, I want to focus on how we can involve users in designing the game, use psychological techniques to influence behaviours and adapt to different learning styles.

Let's start off by breaking some assumptions. As well as young people, games are now popular too with women, families and older people. Although it has a less profound impact on disadvantaged groups, gaming tends to benefit a wider range of them. Games technology can be used with other tools and content, used as platforms and excel at involving users to refine the games themselves. Through agile techniques, developers can design games much cheaper than virtual worlds.

Now that many more groups of people use gaming and that the technology can be integrated with other tools and content, you can involve users in designing them and bring down the costs of development, not needing to rely on expensive games engines or virtual worlds.

Gaming helps teach people without them noticing they’re changing their behaviour. It also provides the flexibility to impact different learning styles – allowing players to temporarily re-organise the tasks they need to complete amongst themselves.

Involve users in designing the game

Gaming developers are very effective at involving users in refining the design of their games, from suggesting their own mission cards to designing their own characters.

Providing players with incentives and rewards through giving them higher status and the ability to customise their involvement in the game engages them to ask themselves what they can do with their points (and the wider issue the game wants to influence them on, like recycling) and what their points can do for them.

By developing a framework for people to take part, you can enable a mixture of people playing the game (i.e. solving puzzles in treasure hunt) and people helping redesign the game (i.e. curating and annotating it). For example, Perplex City crowdsourced the community of players, who were then asked to submit a story they’d written and they would get published by an independent publisher.

It can also lead to collecting social points for online transactions, similar to the way eBay gets people to collect ratings by others to improve the likelihood buyers will want to purchase from sellers or similar to the way young people get redeemable points from taking part in positive activities, otherwise known as “positive ticketing”.

The risk is that you involve users for the sake for it - like throwing “spaghetti at a wall”, just focusing on a particular way of getting users involved can exclude others.

Why not
adapt an approach to gaming similar to that tested in Swale where money vouchers are distributed by police community support officers to young people to reward good behaviour. Use this online embedded into the game.

Use psychological techniques to influence behaviours

Everyone knows they need to adapt to changes in lifestyles or ways of working, but it is difficult to actually make those changes. Since it uses techniques which get people fully immersed and provides actions for them to do continuously (see graph), gaming helps teach people without them noticing they’re changing their behaviour.

For example, geocaching brings much more feedback about country parks – not through asking for it, but at the point of people recording their caches in a logbook which in theory only requires them to tick a box, but in practice they describe their experience of the park in a much more open and honest way. Budget Simulator attracted far more residents to decide how their council tax is spent, than they would have done in a consultation, even though it got them to make difficult choices. It also taught them about the budget making process works, which many of us would never think to cover. Cyberdam3D and Delft Quest asks players similar “tough choices” by getting them to re-organise the neighbourhood after their railway station needs restructuring in a way that meets the community’s needs not just those living next to the station.

The risk here is assuming that games make these tough choices easier than in real life. They don't!

Why not
recommend your council or organisation uses gaming as a technique - amongst others - when needing staff or the public to make decisions which involve “tough choices” (such as budget consultations, planning, or even assessing candidates for jobs)?

Provide flexibility to adapt to different learning styles

The most effective gaming allows players to temporarily re-organise the tasks they need to complete amongst themselves, either when the team dynamics aren’t working so well or they’re feeling under pressure. This acknowledges that competition needs to be productive for everyone and not stunt people’s desire to play in the first place.

For example, our Libraries & Archive training use scenario-based games as part of their induction session for new staff and for customer service seminars. To design the scenarios, they work with area managers to design scenarios – this is what you do if you did it this way or that way – to make sure their staff can play these to better take responsibilities and communicate with the people. For the session itself, they are split into groups, given a sum of money and different scenarios and asked to plan how they will use the money. They then collectively vote on the best idea. As the judging panel is represented by heads of service, it is likely they will individually take the idea forward from their own funds. In any case, all the ideas are fed into the department’s “ideas boards”.

If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around simulation & gaming, see here. Contact us if you have an idea.

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Can coffee and notes on paper tablecloths liven up meetings?

A world café is a method of conducting a meeting in a very informal, relaxed format. Participants are invited to a café style setting (either an actual café or a room set up to resemble one). More relaxed and open conversations are able to take place in these types of settings. Sometimes participants are invited to draw their thoughts and conversations on the paper tablecloths to capture the free flow of ideas.

Meeting members move from table to table to discuss the issue in hand, whilst the host of each table remains behind. Conversations are cross-fertilised by this method and at the end the main ideas are summarised to all and follow up possibilities are discussed.

This follows on from the our research on how technologies disrupt the way we work and what we can do about it.

For more information please see People and Participation or The World Cafe.

Kirsty Russell

Sketch of an example of a "world cafe" from World Cafe) Can coffee and notes on paper tablecloths liven up meetings?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Do they love bees?

In my last blogpost, I started a conversation about the use of gaming techniques that simulate real life to train people, influence behaviours and improve the capacity for self help – areas which are all crucial in the future shape of local government. Now, I want to talk about how you work, who you want to use the game and what for, how you attract people to join it, how you can mix online and face to face gaming, and how you can train people to make the best use of the game.

The 60/20 principle - work out who you want to use the game and what for

It’s vital to understand which audience you are targeting when developing the game, not just in terms of who uses gaming but how they will benefit from using it and how they will be able to play it.

Focusing on specific issues which impact on a particular group of people in their everyday lives is the most effective way of achieving this, as when you simulate the impacts of their actions, they can identify with them more easily. However, don't make it sound condescending or inappropriate – if people are reporting a child protection issue they’re likely to get upset at having to use gaming tools to do that.

Making each sequence of the game time-limited and changing the visuals when they take an action are also important design principles, as time lag and repetition lead people to become distracted.

Like in any learning environment, games need to be designed for 60% of the target audience, 20% of the learners will keep asking questions and 20% want to try and beat the game.

Equally important is to start the game off with simple instructions and make it more complex as it develops, so users are confident in playing, but stay interested as you add extra dimensions to the tasks.

I’m aware making sure the game development is agile and adaptable can mean needing more specialist skills than procuring “off the shelf” software that may be cheaper but not too flexible.
How about investing more in developing the skills than in the technology in this area?

Do they love bees?

Attract people to join the game

Using hooks to get people signed up to games and sending a clear message about its purpose or social benefit is vital given the assumptions about gaming not being “serious”.
The “I love bees” game sent the most active players they knew jars of honey to provoke a reaction and get them on board.

This example may not seem serious, but drawing lateral parallels with the real world can be a subliminal way of training people, in a similar way that
Pet Society can help children learn to look after themselves.

Although the conventional approach for councils is to target the general public, we could mobilise groups who may be strongly involved in a very niche area – like geocaching. They may be a smaller target audience, but more likely to take part. In this instance, it makes sense to promote the game through their existing channels first – as that is where they are.

There is a possibility people may not take the purpose of the game seriously if they don’t understand what it’s objective is.

Why not then promote the game through viral channels, such as payslips for staff, email signatures for stakeholders, geocaches in country parks or forward to a friend tools for the public?

Make them play - mix up real world and virtual gaming

Using the real world as a platform for gaming developed online not only makes the game relevant and customisable to its players, it tackles the challenge of digital inclusion and gets people to have to actually change their behaviours to be able to complete the tasks.

For example, in “World Without Oil”, people have to grow food in their gardens to complete the online game or in WiiJog you have to run 7500 steps yourself.

There are many different ways of mixing offline and online within a game – from
getting people to play as if the scenario was really happening rather than just role playing or organising gaming meet-ups to improve a service or product.

Pervasive gaming, is probably a technique that would fit in very well with the blended learning and engagement that councils need to work with (given the digital divide).

For example, “And I Saw” encourages people to notice the environment around them by placing stickers on locations with codes that you can text in. It reduces the distance between seeing what you can do and how can you do something about it. This could be used to report potholes or recruit apprentices.

playmakers video 02 : capture the flag and public space from thinkpublic on Vimeo.

The broader value behind this is giving developers or gaming enthusiasts the tools to customise games for other groups in the community or even businesses who don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves but may have the money to pay for it.

How to?

Train people to make the best use of the game

Given that gaming is not widely used within local government, training people up in how to make the best of these techniques is crucial and there is already good practice in KCC schools of walking through how to use the technology with teachers as well as “how to” guides used elsewhere.

If people have never used “serious games” they may require training on using games in general, before learning how to play a specific one. How about using guides or screencasts to walk through people on how to play the game?

Choose whether to develop single or multiplayer games
If you have multiple players, some people will become more influential than others. If you’re training care managers for example, other people may need to play the user, which isn’t being trained. If you have single player games, the computer automates the other roles and stakeholders that you’re not training.

There is a risk that broadening the scope of stakeholders can lead to too many variables needing to be included in the game.

How about mapping the stakeholders involved in the environment you want to simulate and decide which should be “featured” or even need to play the game concurrently?

My next blogpost in this series will talk about what groups use games, how you can involve them in designing them, how you can use psychological techniques in gaming design to influence behaviours, how you provide flexibility to impact different learning styles and make the best use of the skills people develop through gaming.

If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around simulation & gaming, see here. Contact us if you have an idea. Do they love bees?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Pic and mix your information

Woolies may have gone but you can still pick and mix. We recently gave you a flavour of the possibilities of Pic and Mix – an exciting project which could transform the way the public access, customise and share information. The idea is that, rather than make assumptions about the information people want, we put publicly available information in one place – www.picandmix.org.uk – and give people the tools to be able to ‘mash’ and personalise information.

We’re working with a pilot group if SME’s who are giving us valuable insight into the sort of data that would be useful to the business community.

Over the coming weeks we will continue to add new data feeds and mashup examples. Through a programme of work with schools we hope to engage young people in the project. Their feedback will help shape the project and propose ways in which Pic and Mix can benefit the Kent community.

You can follow the project on Twitter.

(picture of the Pic and Mix website)

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Random acts of kindness

A new online game has been developed that aims to promote social change. Akoha challenges players to carry out missions that involve performing small acts of kindness for others, for example, donate an hour of your time or giving someone a book. Each time a player performs a mission, he hands his card to the beneficiary.

The beneficiary can then log on with the card ID and write his/her experience of the act of kindness with the option of adding photos and videos. The original player earns points and enters his/her own description and advances in the game. The great feature of this is that you can track your acts of kindness around the globe.

Soon players will be able to suggest their own mission cards and custom design their own decks. This is another example of online/offline becoming blurred and is a clear trend for the future along with more ethical ways of living and supporting the community.

There are endless possibilities if KCC could make their own cards and support players around Kent. Missions could be specific to the Kent area, having a real positive effect on the county. Collaboration with volunteer organisations, colleges, schools, events organisers, local cafes (the list goes on) could help some really exciting and beneficial activities to take place. KCC could offer prizes to the best players as a way of incentive as well as gaining higher status in the game.

A spin off game could involve activities designed to help eco-friendly lifestyles e.g. a card could say buy a re-useable bag for someone or donate something to a local charity shop.

Go here to play and buy your cards!

(picture of an Akoha card on Akoha)
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Stop playing and go green

There is no doubt that there is increasing emphasis on sustainable living, Climate Culture has created a virtual world to help consumers reduce their energy consumption. Climate Culture has a patent-pending on a carbon footprint calculator which helps users make lifestyle choices and informed daily actions.

The site has a personal advisor tool which uses local datasets to reflect types of energy generated, temperatures, incoming solar radiation, energy prices and other factors to power its personalised calculations. For every reduction players make they earn points that give them a higher social status in the community along with access to more features for customization.

Users can also earn points by helping friends green their lifestyles and by challenging others in real- life carbon-reduction contests. If those weren’t enough reasons for playing, Climate Cultures corporate sponsors donate money to offset 10 pounds of CO2 each time a user plays or wins. Climate culture currently only supports users in U.S but this is definitely a space to watch or get in early on.

Visit www.climateculture.com to play. If you want to see other innovations around gaming and what we're researching, click here.

(Pictures of the National Conversation on Climate Action taken from www.climateculture.com)
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