How I learned to gameference

Warren Mara

You've been asked to design a new solution, product, website, eLearning course or similar. You have many stakeholders to consult and not much time. Sound familiar? Oh, and the last 'brainstorming' sessions have been drab, poorly attended… and the subject area at hand? Well, let's say it's Master Data.

Essentially, as the name suggests, 'Gameference' combines gamification principles in a conference or workshop context to produce outcomes that are innovative, collaborative and expansive in their exploration of the goal being sought. Simultaneously, you're scoring big points in stakeholder engagement early on, all in a non-hierarchical format, and are avoiding the usual delays and approval discussions that occur in big organisations.

Here's how (and why) it works: First, your stakeholders/participants are split into teams to address the objective of the workshop, such as "Identify the key purpose, components and design for the new Master Data website". Ideally, these teams are a mixture of roles and experience, deliberately assembled to unlock as much creative, uninhibited thought as possible. All teams are then assigned a challenge (which they will all eventually complete) and a leaderboard is established.

Each challenge can be done simultaneously, or through a 'station' based approach, with teams rotating around each challenge as per the time allowed. There will be voting at the end of each challenge, with appointed judges and the audience voting on presentations, effectively choosing a 'winner' for each round. 'How to win' expectations can be set up front, but may not be necessary if you've explained that the format and the voting is subjective. Remember, this isn't the final product you're designing, it's a rapid, investigative design to further refine and justify the project at hand.

This approach works because it combines play, meaningful action and reflection to produce solid business outcomes. It develops the stakeholders in the process of product design, and enables you to explore the extent of the product's dimensions. You may even reveal some surprising aspects of the product.

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Key tips:
The leaderboard enables competitiveness, but only in the name of achieving the objective of the session. Be sure to clarify this. It will reward challenges with the good opinion of both the judges and the audience vote. A weighting system could also be established to give more authority to the judges.

Presenting the team's responses as each challenge is completed is a fun way to focus attention and bring energy to the session. This will require more time in the agenda, but will make for better workshop products and a more entertaining and memorable session.

Other dimensions you can play with per round include: changing the weighting of each challenge to increase the pressure / intensity; limiting the number of questions teams can ask by allocating question 'tokens' at the start; allowing player trading between rounds; allowing use of tablets / phones for some exercises; limiting participants by removing speech; allowing multiple entries if your team is fast enough etc.

Lastly, using professional-looking workshop materials raises the output of participants. Combine this with creative and colourful stationery and you're onto a winner.

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