“Gamification” and GSA

Two FEMA Officers and a mobile deviceGames are serious business.  And becoming serious for business.

Believe it or not, they may help you work better.

It’s called “gamification,” and Computerworld recently described it as “the process of using game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems.”  A growing field of research shows that incorporating gaming techniques into basic business processes — such as awarding virtual badges and points, moving employees to higher levels, or posting their status on a leader board — can increase engagement, participation, and even sales.

According to the IT consulting firm Gartner, “an estimated 70 percent of the top 2,000 public companies in the world will have at least one gamified application by 2014.”

So, what does this mean for the Federal marketplace and GSA?  It’s clear this is a strategy we can be utilizing more.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House has offered challenges and prizes for innovation in areas such as energy, defense, science and technology.  Sometimes the prize is cash, but often it’s recognition, publicity, prestige and validation.

The US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using a gaming program called Ground Truth, developed by Sandia National Laboratories, to assist in securing the border.  Originally designed to prepare decision makers and first responders for attacks from weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass attacks in metropolitan areas, Ground Truth has been adapted into a game surface simulating a virtual environment where users can play through various border crossing scenarios.  They can immediately see the impact of their decisions.

“Players can watch people run across the border, and they’re seeing terrain, they’re seeing Border Patrol agents respond and drive around on horses or helicopters or other vehicles, and they’re actually ‘driving in’ a Command & Conquer-style response,” says Jason Reinhardt, a project manager with Sandia.  “You might choose to go get this guy, respond to an alarm, adjudicate this apprehension, and so on.  Then, at the end, you can evaluate how everything worked.”

GSA is beginning to consider how gamification can increase engagement and collaboration. We have deployed an agency-wide collaboration platform, a solution from Salesforce called Chatter. The Chatter environment allows everyone within GSA to discuss issues, solve problems, find subject matter experts on various topics, and form groups for more specialized conversations. A prominent feature is a “leader board,” showing which GSA employees have the greatest number of “followers.” There is an informal sense of status accorded to the employees who have the most followers, because it’s implied that those with more followers are communicating valuable information.

As we continue to look for innovative methods to better fulfill the GSA mission, gamification techniques may play an interesting and useful role.