ZWERM

client

iMinds (imec), Alcatel Bell Labs, City of Ghent

role

Product Design, Prototyping

year

2014

Challenge

The aim of the project was to explore new opportunities for a dynamic co-production process between governance and citizens resulting in more inclusive, higher quality and efficient public services. It was part of EU research project SmartIP, or Smart Metropolitan Areas Realised Through Innovation People, benefited from collaboration with iMinds (Living Lab methodology, now imec), Alcatel Bell Labs (smart city and Internet of Things technology, now Nokia Bell Labs) and the City of Ghent.  I joined the consortium to specifically research & design playful and gamified urban installations.

Problem Definition

In the spirit of co-production and Living Lab methodology, the team chose to crowdsource ideas from local citizens at the start of the project. This allowed us to broadly sense what kind of smart city solutions the citizens wished for. Throughout co-design sessions with representatives of the City of Ghent as well as local neighborhood actors, we defined as a hypothesis that citizen engagement, social cohesion and government-citizen interactions can be generated through gamified systems. 

Ideation & Validation

The hypothesis lead to concept sketches, which we presented to local neighbourhood stakeholders for feedback. These interviews resulted in an improved concept design with a new system component, as well as the local neighbourhood actors’ support for the deployment of the project.  Next, we prototyped and user-tested the core game design dynamics internally at one of the partner sites with approximately 50 participants. As the results were highly promising, we proceeded with the development of the project. This led to a concrete UI design as well as the design and production of physical components. The result was a gamified participation network of urban components featuring a large interactive Tree where citizens could check-in with their neighbours, an online platform where to answer questions from the government and geo-locate urban issues, as well as where creative and community assignments were shared. A set of playful LED sparrows lit up when someone whistled in the vicinity. I coordinated the product design and production of the physical objects as well the UI interface. 

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Conclusion

Rigorous user observations (both on-site and online), a survey and interviews with stakeholders such as player, local community actors and the city government validated our hypothesis that gamification indeed has the potential for creating engagement and setting in motion spontaneous collaboration among groups of citizens, at least for short-time projects (one month). After a slow start, a fierce competition had emerged among two neighbourhoods as soon as one neighbourhood had lost.  The players displayed a high ingenuity in their gameplay to ‘hack’ and adapt the game dynamics with novel approaches and even extensions to the game. These creative and innovative gameplay types inspired me to develop a design lens focusing on community appropriation of urban interventions in my PhD thesis. The lens suggests (UX) designers to consider openness in their designs, to enable urban projects to be highly adaptable to (local) needs and emerging social dynamics. 

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