IDC suggests a fun, more playful way for cities to influence citizen behaviour

Smart cities of the future will apply gamification techniques to better engage the public, the research firm says. In fact, it’s happening already

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Let the games begin! Mobility and the omni-channel are driving new opportunities for cities to become “smarter” — everything from smart metering for energy management to intelligent transportation management.

The omni-channel can help engage citizens with government at a local level. But gamification, as part of an overall omni-channel strategy, offers a novel way to encourage (rather than force) changes in behaviour.

Gamification refers to any strategy that encourages its audience to perform certain behaviours. For the private sector, this is usually about driving customer engagement and loyalty. For governments, this could help to encourage “good” citizen behaviours, rather than legislating them (or, at least, reducing the need to enforce legislation).

There’s some hesitation around gamification — after all, there’s often a perception that “fun” is not synchronous with “productivity” or “efficiency.” But just as some managers were hesitant (well, some still are) about IM or social media in the workplace, others have learned that this can increase collaboration and morale, leading to increased productivity, even competitive advantage.

Gamification holds the same potential. Indeed, IDC predicts leading-edge cities will experiment with gamification as a first step to nudge citizen behaviour change, as part of its top 10 predictions for smart cities in 2014.

“Nudge” is the key word here, according to Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, research director of the global smart cities strategies program at IDC. The gaming industry has already figured out how to make products super-sticky, she said during a recent webinar. So sticky, in fact, that people log into them day after day.

“Why not create some city programs that do the same?” she said. “There is no limit to the fun that could be had here, with real, measurable results.”

“Fun” combined with “real, measureable results” is what will make this work. Take Sweden’s speed camera lottery: The government ran a pilot in Stockholm where photo radar snapped pictures of more than 25,000 license plates. If you were speeding, you got a speeding ticket. If you obeyed the speed limit, you were entered into a lottery — with a prize funded by the speeding tickets.

The result? There was a 22 per cent reduction in speeding.

Clearly, people still speed, even if they risk being fined or even losing their license — but “nudging” behaviour change rather than forcing it appears to be far more effective in reducing speeding than simply handing out tickets, at least in this pilot. “Indirect positive reinforcement affects behaviour change more than legislated or forced compliance,” said Yesner Clarke.

Investing in smart technology includes fiber optic networks that can deliver enough bandwidth to citizens to make these types of projects possible. Networks may not be as sexy as gamification, but they’re essential to making this work seamlessly behind the scenes.

Yesner Clarke says this is her “maverick” prediction for 2014 and it will likely take longer than 12 to 18 months to come to fruition. But some cities, like Stockholm, will start experimenting with gamification this year, and it’s a good time for cities to start at least looking at the possibilities — and making sure their networks are up to snuff.

After all, it could be a powerful tool to make, manage or encourage change. Oh, and have fun, too. “If they can spend hours stuck to Candy Crush Saga on their smartphones,” said Yesner Clarke, “why can’t cities get a few minutes of interaction every week with their citizens in a meaningful way with some sort of similar medium?”


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