gamification of civic engagement with Pokemon Go

Pokemon Gov: Gamifying Civic Engagement

Since we all live in the future now, we’ve had time to get used to the sight of clusters of people gathered in our public squares, all silently staring down into a mobile device. Regardless of your idea of what constitutes community, plenty of brands figured out quickly that they could tap into the newly launched Pokemon Go craze, an augmented reality mobile game that turns neighborhoods into Pokemon-trapping ranges. Given the frequent overlap between Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms with community spaces like parks, landmarks and buildings, some government entities are tapping into the potential opportunity by aspiring to gamify civic engagement with the help of Pokemon Go.

gamifying civic engagement

Gamification in the Public Sector

As someone who has been a long-time believer in the city as a platform for community improvement, this modest Level 9 trainer (at time of writing) is finding it hard not to salivate at the success of adoption here — with visions of civic engagement dancing in my head. In my work with the City of Boston, I tried to find ways to use social media to gamify some of our everyday online interactions and bring us together digitally  to improve things in the real world.

The SpotHoles campaign is one example that turned ordinary issue report tweets into a citywide game — a scavenger hunt to report potholes across the city at the hole-iest time of year, just between snow melt and spring. After creating a branded campaign with associated digital assets, SpotHoles netted more than 300% higher citizen-reported potholes than the same period in the previous year, assisted by a mobile reporting app that geolocates issues, snapping a picture and sending a note to the city. It’s not a stretch to imagine a Pokemon Go that sends citizens on a hunt for potholes, broken streetlights, and other related issues.

How public spaces are making the most of Pokemon Go

Within the Pokemon Go universe, public locations including library, municipal buildings and parks host “gyms,” where players up their prestige by battling a boss. In some cases, public agencies wisely noticed this user behavior, and coopted the theme. I love this example of the National Park Service inviting Pokemasters to play the game inside their public spaces.

The City of Las Vegas sent its social media team out into the city to create their own official Pokemon Go guide of the downtown area.

Gamification with Pokemon Go in Vegas
source: City of Las Vegas

What if Pokestops were also voting booths?

On the campaign trail, we’re seeing meetups planned deliberately to overlap with Pokestops — checkpoints set to note a point of interest and also pick up supplies.

And this sentiment resonates. See the below tweet from Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu:

Federal government joins Pokemon Go

Not every public space is the right place to catch ‘em all. After discovering too many trainers traversing the grounds of the hallowed military resting place, Arlington National Cemetery issued a statement to please refrain from playing Pokemon Go on cemetery grounds.

Justin Herman leads digital for the federal government, and was quick to announce he was already brainstorming.

Here’s his wrap up of how digital teams at the federal level are getting jigglypuff with Pokemon Go.

The future of Government and Gamification

Where do we go from here? Besides the pokegym.

It will be telling to see how long this widespread adoption continues, if and when our collective obsession with the game wanes. Pokemon Go’s creator, Niantic, closed a pretty gaping security hole which accessed far more of a user’s Google data than most would prefer or see necessary, but many potential users may never jump on board as a result.

What does Level 1 Pokemon Gov look like?

It’s using the tried-and-true strategy of following your users where they want to go, and being available and adaptive on the platforms they choose — to go where they are. That’s what we’re seeing when agencies get creative and flexible, designing their own campaigns to fit. It’s a great way for government to stay relevant to the public conversation, connect with constituents in a fun way, and potentially increase foot traffic and good will in our public spaces.

But what is a Level 10 Pokemon Gov master?

I’m dreaming of the passion — and obsession — of our neighborhood Pokemasters, engrossed in an easy-to-use platform like today’s Pokemon Go, applied to community-building functions: cleaning up neighborhoods, supporting neighbors, maybe even driving voter turnout.

How are you envisioning the future of gamification in the public sector? What does your Pokemon Gov look like?


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