New gamification approach to capture public opinion

Otter power

HOW DO you capture the true opinion of the public?

A team of four academics and researchers from Centre for Logistics and Sustainability and Gamification Lab at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh believe they have answered this question by using advanced ‘gamification’. 

Gamification is a well-established engagement technique. It takes real-life scenarios and applies game-like activities by adding fun elements, rewards, and challenges to keep people engaged and motivated.

They have developed a new game called ‘Otter Power’ designed to inject true democracy into the public consultation process. At present, policy makers such as local authorities, can be heavily influenced by platforms like social media, that give a loud voice to a potentially small group.

Otter Power has been carefully designed to get round this problem. Using a cross section of a targeted group, it splits them into teams of five and then assigns each player with a specific task, for example a ‘decision maker’. 

Participants then discuss various scenarios where each plays out their respective role. This not only ensures that every person contributes to the discussions but also boils down the various options until teams are left with just one. 

Dr Agnessa Spanellis, Director of Gamification Lab for Sustainability at Heriot-Watt University and the academic lead for this project, said: “What makes this different is that there is a very structured approach and methodology behind how to analyse the data collected. We combine thematic analysis of the discussions with the choice modelling of the choices of specific policies made by individual players, which is a well-established statistical method in economics and marketing. This provides policymakers the evidence of what the public thinks about specific policies.

“We believe this to be a first. I’ve seen games developed that engage public in some sort of discussion about a broader issue but I haven’t seen something that is well structured and can be deployed to the policymakers so they can gather meaningful evidence about what people think about concrete proposals.”

Otter Power has just been used for the first time by the Lake District National Park to help address local transportation issues.

Each year, the National Park welcomes almost 19 million visitors, placing enormous pressures on the transport infrastructure. The National Park wanted to capture the opinions of those who live, work and commute to the area and find out what new policies they would support.

Over separate workshops held in Windermere and Keswick, academics from Centre for Logistics and Sustainability and Gamification Lab at Heriot-Watt University found most of those surveyed regard the busier spots of the National Park to be unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.

They also discovered a widely held view that public transport fares in the area are ‘overpriced’ and more expensive than car travel costs. Almost all identified issues with existing public transport services citing long waiting times for bus travel, a general lack of services, and limited to no network connectivity to rural areas being a major hindrance.

Among the recommendations identified by the group was a reduction in the number of parking spaces in favour of ‘gateway parking’. This would allow visitors to leave their cars on the periphery of the National Park from where they would use shuttle busses to gain access. They also supported calls for more public transport to be made available and at a cheaper cost.

It is hoped the report, entitled: Eliciting Attitudes to Sustainable Transportation With Gamification will be used by the National Park to inform on future transport decisions.

Dr Agnessa continued: “Normally, this kind of survey is done in a very simple way. You might give a group of people a question with several options to choose from. That is not always going to work. 

“With the recent National Park project, we have successfully collated a wide range of views and options that can then be analysed and the outcome is a selection of hard evidence that the authority can use to make informed decisions that better reflect the needs of the community.”

To download the report in full visit the Heriot-Watt website. 

The latest stories