Community PlanIt (CPI) is an online, social game that engages communities in local planning. Its goals are to increase the number and diversity of participants in the planning process, cultivate civic learning among players, and provide better data to planners about stakeholder views.
The basic structure of a CPI game is a series of time-limited missions, where players are prompted to complete a series of challenge questions. Players receive coins (in-game currency) for most game actions, and certain actions such as commenting, liking, and sharing are reinforced through badges. Coins function to rank players’ performance in the game, and also serve as a currency that can be spent on “causes” which are local projects that benefit the communities playing, such as college application assistance for low-income youth or funding a neighborhood bike program. Players with more coins accumulated have a greater impact on which causes win. While competition is key to players’ motivation, cooperation and sense of community are fostered through easy comment filtering tools and weekly emails to players that summarize game activity. At the end of the game, the distribution of coins to causes is meant to represent the community’s general sentiment.
CPI is more than an online game. Each implementation is part of a process that involves community outreach and content creation prior to game play, and is followed by a face-to-face community meeting that also serves as the game finale. There, players and non-players are invited to debrief on game results and plan for next steps.
CPI offers a refreshing contrast to traditional means of civic engagement, which typically focus on official transactions, such as voting in an online poll. CPI’s interactive web design fosters reflection, learning, and the development of trust among players, while accumulating high quality data about community sentiment. Civic learning happens because the participants trust that there is power in their opinions and that someone is paying attention.
Community PlanIt aims to augment existing offline engagement efforts by stepping up where face-to-face meetings often fall flat. All too often planning meetings are hampered by a lack of diversity, learning, and trust and a surplus of one-issue activists, incivility, and misunderstandings. Community PlanIt provides a framing that allows planners to guide citizens through the narrative of the planning process, creating opportunities along the way for learning, civil conversation, and meaningful input. Community PlanIt not only builds trust between citizens and planners, but is itself a powerful data collection tool that allows you to meaningfully analyze citizen input and truly incorporate it into the planning.
Once the game is complete, the data is available to planners and community organizations via an interactive data visualization tool as well as spreadsheets. Most simply, this data can verify the relevance and urgency of previously identified issues. The “thick” responses elicited by CPI’s unique design can also help reframe these issues, and even highlight new or emerging issues that had escaped prior notice. Lastly, CPI’s accessibility can help clarify the relative weight or magnitude of public opinion about particular issues.
Community PlanIt was originally designed to address the problem of inclusivity in city-wide planning, particularly real estate development and master planning. The Detroit project was called Detroit 24/7 and was designed in collaboration with Detroit Works Project Long Term Planning. It lasted 21 days, and consisted of three weeklong missions. In that time, 1,033 players registered and created over 8,400 comments about their experience with the city as it is now and where they think it should go in the future. After the missions ended, there was a Game Finale meeting at the Central branch of the Detroit Public Library, where over 120 people showed up to celebrate players’ accomplishments and to plan for next steps. Since it’s initial uses in the Cities of Detroit and Philadelphia to engage the public in needs assessment and visioning for master planning, the game platform has been used in a much wider array of planning contexts – both in terms of geography and content.
In 2014, the United Nations Development Program in Moldova partnered with the Engagement Lab to use Community PlanIt in the context of engaging citizens of Moldova on the issue of youth unemployment, while facilitating a cross-cultural dialogue between Romanian and Russian-speakers in the country, where tensions between the two cultures were running high. That instance of Community PlanIt was able to draw in about 1,300 registered users who entered 7,931 comments (data points) in the game. Players submitted proposals for 29 different Causes that focused on creating solutions to youth unemployment. The top three won real world funding from the UNDP.
On the success of that game, the UNDP Bhutan partnered with the Engagement Lab to produce their own version of the [email protected]
to address the specific issues facing youth, particularly in the capital city, Thimphu, and other urban centers. In the fall of 2014, [email protected]
Bhutan had nearly 2,000 registered users, who played the game in English, and generated over 14,000 comments and responses to challenge questions about the issues surround youth unemployment in that country. The top three of the 58 Causes submitted received real world funding for their projects.