Earlier this month, Knight Foundation, as part of its Technology for Engagement Initiative, gathered thought leaders to talk about the best ways to use new tools and platforms to bring communities together around important issues. Here, author Charles Tsai and Dave Timko talk with Games for Change co-founder Benjamin Stokes and others on design principles for engagement. A full report is forthcoming.
At Knight’s recent Technology for Engagement Summit, innovators, academics and funders took time to examine some of the recent successes in civic engagement and what we can learn from them. Do they hint at design principles for the tools we develop for engagement?
Recent bright spots point to increased uses of narratives and gaming. This is no surprise. If engagement is about sustaining action and involvement beyond one-off events, then engagement will naturally take the form of stories or games. They provide meaningful structures for sustained actions.
They can motivate action better than facts and figures. Just witness the challenge in getting people to exercise, eat healthfully and recycle. Compare that to how immersed children are in gaming: the average American will have played 10,000 hours of games by the time he or she reaches age 21.
Each one relies on an unfolding narrative to hook people. You’re not just told a good story, you’re part of one. You don’t just donate or sign petitions, you’re writing the next or last chapter of a powerful story.
The Harry Potter Alliance asks fans who grew up with the books to imagine the young wizard in this world. What evil would he fight and how can you raise your own “Dumbledore’s Army” to help him? This simple reframing, a practice dubbed “cultural acupuncture,” helped mobilize hundreds of thousands of youth to action. Together, they’ve sent five cargo planes of aid to Haiti and donated more than 88,000 books around the world.
The alliance’s success gave founder Andrew Slack this epiphany: “Fantasy is not an escape from the soul of our world but an invitation to go deeper into it.”