06/08/2012 10:50 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2012

Is A Game-Based Approach Key to Civic Engagement?

Two years ago a simple website was launched in Poland. Its goal -- to break data released by Polish Parliament into atoms and reassemble in easy-to-understand, simple and informative way. Today we can say that mission was accomplished succesfully. We've seen people getting excited and shocked while digging through Parliament's and MPs work. Noone would ever get so emotional on official government website cause back then it used be super unfriendly for average citizens who simply wanted to understand more how their legislature works. This is how Sejmometr was born and its success led to the founding of EP Foundation, which now leads the Parliamentary observation in Poland.

For a long time we believed that key to our success was this informative character. No comments. No views. No politics. People felt calm when they could browse through vast amount of data not feeling pressured to feel any way but their way. And then ACTA (anti-counterfeiting trade agreement) happened -- Polish young people went to the streets to protest against it. Our mailbox for voluntary developers exploded with mails like "I don't know how, but I want to help you guys". We could feel energy in the air and we started to think how we can take and reuse it for public good.

A while ago I heard this word -- gamification. I head no deeper idea what it means just the general knowledge but it was enough to grab my attention. It lead to fascinating books about game-based marketing and techniques which made me realise that this is what we were looking for. Until this discovery we felt like Don Kichot's -- asking ourselves -- how do you make an app about daily life of Parliament interesting enough so people install it in between FIFA12 and Safari? And use regularly?!

Yes, it does sound impossible -- but it's all about channeling energy and converting it into visible actions. Imagine people walking their dogs on the beatiful green lawn -- I'm pretty sure that when one of them puts the dog's poop in the bag others will immediately follow. It takes one to start the positive competition. And this is how change is made -- by (using geeky terminology) -- powerusers.

So where do we look for those game-changers, or -- actually game-starters? We steal from the tables, not the database tables, but the normal wooded ones. This is where politics is one of the main topics discussed. Great ideas and many more frustrations are shared over a coffee, lunch, or family dinner. We argue, compete and fight over very important topics. We will be happy to grab 1 percent of that energy and initiate public dialogue online.

We set out on a quest to engage citizens with those scary amount of data and try to gamify it a little a bit. Should game be dull? No, it touches serious matters. Should it be easy? It shouldn't be hard. Winning is the key to game approach -- it's in our geners. Noone likes to loose. It starts with chasing a morning bus but it carries much more potential. Imagine starting with following tasks:

Quest #1 - Personalize. Choose the topics and people you want to follow -- your MP, your field of work.
Quest #2 - Build your team -- bring the people you think could either benefit from following too or because they have important and valid opinion which should be shared.
Quest #3 - Engage other communities. Then those small communities should care about very niche aspects and see how others too in respective fields
Quest #4 - Take ad-hoc tasks -- from commenting to editing some bad quality PDF with important (to you) law and make machine readable
Quest ...

We don't wake up with the thought -- so what did my representative do yesterday. But we do like to win something everyday. I believe that combining law, politics, data and citizens is key to boosting civic engagement. If one has three minutes to spare on Foursqure check-in, they have a couple more minutes to perfom more actions somewhere else. We would like to be this place.

We want comments and ideas, we want views -- we want change. Are you in?