UK Parliament uses online gaming to build citizenship

08/09/2011

By: Danny Meadows-Klue

It’s a smart use of digital from an increasingly cutting edge team: UK Parliament’s latest online game invites young people to put themselves in the Prime Ministerial hot-seat and find out if they have what it takes to run the country. Danny Meadows-Klue reckons it’s a perfect example of right media channel, right content, driven from the right communications objectives. Here’s why…

In the UK, Parliament’s Education Service this week launches MyUK (www.createmyuk.org), a free online learning activity that encourages young people to take charge of a fictional Britain, appointing Cabinet Ministers, and making decisions on the laws which shape their country. MyUK gives players a five-year term to lead their government as they decide which laws to pass, on issues such as transport and the environment. Using gaming as part of a learning strategy is a smart way to create behaviour change, and the nature of the material lends itself to informal class tournaments and natural extensions of the school curriculum. By adding in Facebook and Twitter plug-ins, they’ve let older players recruit their friends into the game (players can invite friends to become members of their Cabinet), broadcast news of the laws they’ve passed, and view their friends’ versions of the UK they’re each creating.

Commenting on the initiative, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, is clear that Parliament is no laggard when it comes to social education: “Engaging young people in Parliament, government and politics is a challenge which Parliament takes very seriously. Through new media initiatives such as MyUK we can inform young people in an entertaining way about how government and Parliament make the laws that shape their lives.”

Like all good games there are extra layers and phases. MyUK’s playful approach to politics invites its players to decide on proposals - such as an Adrenalin Junkie Bill, which offers hair-raising modes of public transport to thrill-seeking citizens, and the National Sing-along Bill, which seeks to raise community spirits by funding massive UK-wide sing-songs. As players progress, they unlock opportunities to customise their country, giving them the chance to design a national monument, re-imagining the Union Flag or re-locating Parliament. And as part of the learning activity, it links to Parliament’s growing education website (www.parliament.uk/education) where complementary resources support young people to learn more about law-making in the real world.

Commenting on the launch, the project’s producer Peter Stidwill told us that this is part of a wider plan: “You have to be smart and subtle with how to deliver complex educational messages about the political process. Last year we set out to beef up the gaming side of our education tools and that led to the multi award-winning educational game “MP For A Week” (www.parliament.uk/mpforaweek). MyUK is our next phase in the development.” Stidwill is clear that this online gaming can deliver messages that traditional online content can’t: “With an online game we take the players on a journey. You give them choices to make and they feel the effects, seeing what happens quickly. This creates a learning experience far more powerful than simply delivering the information to the young person, so the knowledge and behaviour change become more deeply embedded.”

With the recent civil unrest fresh in everyone’s memory, the timing could not be more appropriate. But MyUK is likely to pick up a significant international audience. Few countries have anything like this, and the pioneering nature of the UK online and gaming industries make it a perfect laboratory for other governments looking to achieve similar high levels of citizen engagement in a fractured generation that is tuning out of politics and society. What the UK Parliament team have created could be equally at home in Greece, Spain, Germany – or, with a little EU cooperation, maybe even Brussels.

Danny has been coaching firms in digital marketing for over 15 years. More than 45,000 people have attended his talks and courses in over 30 countries. He set up and ran the UK and European IAB trade associations for almost 10 years, was the pioneering publisher of Telegraph.co.uk, held the Vice Presidency of NBC’s European internet business, and has been a government policy advisor in the UK. He is chairman of the Digital Training Academy that coaches marketing teams to improve their ROI and founder of the Digital Strategy Consulting practice that creates internet marketing strategies for brands. He is a Commissioner at the digital marketing regulator in the UK, and the publisher of Netimperative and Digital Intelligence. He now coaches management teams, helping them accelerate their businesses and transform their organizations. Contact him on Danny@DigitalStrategyConsulting.com or http://uk.linkedin.com/in/dannymeadowsklue


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