Gaming dynamics takes our intrinsic competitive nature and uses it to entertain, inform or compel the target audience to take action.  And by using gaming mechanics – badges, points, challenges – the organization relies less on altruistic motivations (a worthy cause, a rational argument). 

Political campaigns provide a natural environment to incorporate gamification techniques.  For starters, the end goals are always well defined: to win that election, to elect that person, to raise this amount of money, to raise awareness on a particular issue. 

In fact, it could be argued that the political world – which doesn’t offer a tangible product or service – needs gamification more than the world of business.    Gamification creates concrete and more immediate rewards for campaign volunteers, who would otherwise be engaged for generally altruistic (although not completely selfless) reasons.

 And given campaigns are often a series of tasks that can be easily quantified (posting a comment, installing X number of signs, donating X amount of money), gamification is a natural fit.  My own recent experience with gamification proves this is indeed the case.

In the recent Ontario election, I was responsible for online activism for the Ontario PC Party.  One of the concepts our team developed was a Facebook application where users could earn points and badges for campaigning both online (posting a pre-written, election related status update to their Facebook or Twitter profile) and offline (earning points for participating in a canvassing blitz). 

The idea was to encourage supporters – especially new ones – to become engaged in the campaign at the most basic level.  We weren’t asking them to come down to the campaign office for five hours, we were asking them to watch a video or like a candidate’s Facebook Page.   As they took more actions, they had more opportunities to increase the depth of their participation.  

The numbers alone show the potential of such a concept: over approximately five months, over 2,600 individuals used the application to earn a total of 400,000 points.  It was a fierce competition on the app leaderboard, where the users occupying the top spots changed often.   

And the badges were a valued commodity.  One colleague relayed a direct quote to me from an older relative who was using the application: “I don’t know what it is about those badges, but I want them!”   The support team would hear about any technical glitches that resulted in a user not getting their badge almost immediately.

As campaigns struggle to find volunteers committed to assisting the campaign on a regular basis, it is incumbent on them to find new ways to engage supporters in a manner that reflects current societal trends.  At the same time, a strong online presence is becoming an important element to a successful political movement. 

Gamification can satisfy both these realities.  Gaming is everywhere you look online.  A round of Angry Birds is available merely by reaching for your phone. At the same time, with so much competition for people’s time, campaigns need every incentive they can muster to get someone involved.

The best campaigns know that it is crucial to “feed and water” volunteers.  It is important to show them you appreciate all that they do and all that they give – money and time.  Actively employing game dynamics provides the opportunity to not only engage volunteers in a fun and interesting way, but to also provide rewards for taking that action; which in turn allows your message to be spread widely. 

Winston Churchill once said: “Politics is not a game.  It is an earnest business.” 

Now it can be both. 

Brett Bell is the Principal of Grassroots Online (www.grassrootsonline.ca).  With over 15 years of real campaigning experience, he was one of the early Canadian advocates for the powerful potential of social media and online engagement in the world of politics and advocacy campaigning.  He can be reached at brett@grassrootsonline.ca

Tags: Badges, Badgeville, Election gaming, Game dynamics, Gamification, Meleno Park, Ontario PC, Political gaming