Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

I’ve been thinking about EVOKE, where it’s heading, how things have gone so far etc. I’ve also been thinking about some of the things Jane McGonigal has said and written, about applying game thinking and skills to real world problems. I then started thinking about the reverse, about what EVOKE would look like in terms of more classical computer games. If EVOKE was a fantasy role playing game (RPG), for example, where would we be right now?

Well, in a classic fantasy RPG, your character starts out with very few skills and abilities. You start following the storyline and doing missions and quests where you gain experience points. You choose to develop certain characteristics along the way, often depending on the character archetype (fighter, wizard, rogue etc) you picked before you started. You then do more missions which get progressively harder, but the rewards are greater. You meet others and form a group or alliance to better combat the problems you find. You gain better equipment and experience along the way, and so do the others in your group. The storyline progresses further, with sub plots and side quests, until eventually you have to face the big bad at the end, like a dragon that’s been preying on the local villagers. Is this sounding somewhat familiar so far?

If EVOKE were an RPG, we would currently be lacking some key skills and knowledge, and most importantly, we would be missing a key group member who could really make a difference. We would be heading out into the wilderness to fight the Dragon, but we wouldn’t have a local guide or someone who knows the ways of the wilderness. We might still succeed, but it would likely be through brute force.

In a closed game system, we might just hope for the best and just see what happens, keep on playing and trying over and over until we succeed. We would trust that the game would, one way or another, provide us with the necessary tools and abilities to beat that dragon.

With EVOKE, it’s not a closed game system. If we are to succeed, we need to address the lack of local insight and knowledge. The game may or may not provide us with this – I don’t think we can count on it. The majority of players are from the ‘developed’ world, with loads of enthusiasm, skills and resources. Like highly trained wizards or warriors, we can have a good go at beating that dragon, but what if we don’t know about something really key that the locals know – like how the dragon can only be defeated using a combination of things that we might have, but never think to try together at the same time? And then there’s the really thorny issue – what if another dragon comes back next year? What if it’s something even worse? Are we going to charge in each time to help? It would surely be better to work with the villagers to solve the problem together and leave them well equipped to deal with other issues in the future.

OK, enough of the RPG analogy. If we are going to have a real impact we need to keep on trying to address the ongoing lack of local involvement. There are several general approaches already underway that I’m aware of:

Try to attract players from Africa and other parts of the world where the problems are actually real and present. Encourage and empower them to help themselves through mentoring and collaboration with others on the EVOKE network. This has had some success, but as far as I can see, it has a fair way to go yet. The recent Treasure Hunt to find hidden gems in blog posts is an attempt to drive this approach forward and will hopefully improve things further. My guess is that there are some fundamental issues here which are preventing greater uptake – e.g. ability to connect, lack of bandwidth, time or money etc etc. Other posts have tried to address this, notably Jen Shaffer’s ‘What happened to the African Players?’

Try to fill this gap ourselves by learning more, by talking to experts, by getting directly involved where possible. All good, but we’ll still be guessing to a certain extent. This approach is also a bit of a surrogate to cover the shortfall in active players with local insight.

So where next? Well, what other things could we try in addition to those above? Maybe we should focus our considerable talents and resources on this one issue for a few days and see what we come up with? If you’re up for this, then read the ‘brief’ below and get stuck in – post any ideas and include DRAGON in the title, plus a link back to this page in your post somewhere :)


ISSUE: How could we get significantly more engagement and real insight from the people who actually have to deal with the problems EVOKE is targetting?

BACKGROUND: (see the rest of this post above)

SCOPE & CONSTRAINTS: Keep it simple. It must be something which can interface with EVOKE in some way. It could be low tech. It must be quick to implement (days or weeks at the most – EVOKE does not have months). It must be easy to implement. It should be cheap to implement.

OUTPUT: Ideas for how we can address the issue above. Try to make these more than just one-liners. An idea needs to be something someone can actually DO, otherwise it’s just a thought (“I’m hungry” is a thought but “lets order in some pizza from that new place down the road right now” is an idea)

Good luck! :)

Views: 58

Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 29, 2010 at 12:24pm
+1 Courage. This is a real issue - how do we get greater participation from people who are internet "poor" if the medium we are using is the internet? Even those Africans like me who have regular access to the internet may not necesarilly be the true voice for the individual / community who has no voice, no access to water, internet, sanitation, power, food, etc.. Mhhh... I am contributing more to the problem than to the solution. Let me chew on this.
Comment by Raymond M. Kristiansen on March 30, 2010 at 7:02am

Sometimes, I wish those of us who are IN the game, were better at reaching out to some of those who are outside. The ones with local knowledge.

This means that we would need to go out of our comfort zone. I tried this, but admittedly only once, with my "Meet Kenny" post.

It's that simple: Go out, interview someone. Put it on video maybe, to show the full context, in colour.

If Shakwei who is a priviliged Kenyan (you at least have internet access and know English well) went out and talked with some of those in dire need in her local community, and reported back here, that would be something that creates bridges. Bridges, using locals who already ARE on this network.

This is my first idea for now - that we become better at outreach. And that we encourage each other to be better at it. "Local Insight" is the power that is most close to it, but it doesnt quite say the same.

Outreach. A key to many of the challenges Alex talks about here.
Comment by Raymond M. Kristiansen on March 30, 2010 at 7:15am
Too bad that I can't edit my post. Anyway: I suggest that we establish 10 special agents. The ones who name them would be us, we don't need to wait for Alchemy or someone else to 'like the idea' and act accordingly.

These 10 Field Agents are then to have a video camera each. If they have one themselves, that's best. Otherwise, we will try that they can borrow a camera from a friend. You do NOT need something fancy. Just a picture camera with video function and a 1 gig memory card is enough. If there is NO such local availability for a camera to be borrowed, then the network around these Field Agents is supposed to provide them with the tools. The field agent first goes to an electronics store and scouts the price tag for the cheapest photo camera around with a video function, as well as a memory card. Then we pool the funds for the camera and find a way to transfer it to there. But again, this should be the Last option.

Given that the Field Agent has access to a computer with internet, and a camera, that agent can start doing field trips.

I could publish a detailed plan for how this would work, including training etc. if you guys are interested. But that's just one idea. One way to listen to the local insight, and sharing that with the world.
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 30, 2010 at 8:10am
@AV. I have read your comprehensive response - wow, where do I begin? My parents were both dirt poor. One was educated by missionaries and the other by his village. This education give them a chance for a better life. They in turn ensured their children (i.e the children from our village) had an education which has given us a chance to better ourselves (and our village). So although I am not the man who lives on less than US$1.25 he is my mother, my brother, my child.

@Alex, I have thought about increasing involvement from developing countries. @Raymonds idea is certainly viable. But I also thought that many of the challenges experienced in developing coutries are exercebated by global trade/migration/grant policy set by the global north. How will Agents from the North know what these policies are and the impact they have on the South if it were not for networks like Evoke?

I work in the health space in Africa. Health challenges present arguably the most significant barrier to sustainable global development. In Kenya, an agreement signed between our government and donor agencies in the 80s means that we cannot increase the number of health workers in the public sector. Our population has increased by over 10million, the disease burden has increased significantly, the North is employing heath workers from the South, but we cannot increase the number of health workers in our public sector. How now??

IMHO we need 2 things 1st, Evokers from the South to speak & act for the South and Evokers from the North to speak & act for the South. If we can start this on a small scale with Evoke, we are on the way to change the world.

Remember I started by introducing my parents? Well these 2 dirt poor Kenyans changed the lives of hundreds of thier "children". How much more can Evoke do?
Comment by Rahul Dewanjee on March 30, 2010 at 8:19am
+1 for courage
"EVOKE does not have months" could be the single biggest constraint. There is no quick fix solution to a systemic problem in Africa. I don't think Evoke is designed to brain pick people to come out with proprietary new innovations on an open platform with no safeguards on intellectual property and without providing clarity on how agents can monetize their innovations. Well, we do not have a single project right now that has the potential to create any material impact in a developing world context on a really large scale. What we have in abundance is excitement, awareness, hope and optimism that something can be done. Does that mean we won't have anything substantial in future beyond talking? Well, whatever we do if at all we do, will come out months after the game is over and once it will sink in that we are not playing a game of endorsement but in the business of trying to do something that has realistic goals of acceptance in the geographies we wish to target. What I reckon is missing here is a profound lack of acknowledgment of on-ground realities in a developing world context and a lack of foresight to see how ideas cannot be scaled up without including power players in the process - grouped as funding source (those who would fund the project) and clearing source (those who would give permits on the actual area of impact).

If we know anything about how lives are spent in a developing country on a day-to-day basis dealing with imminent challenges of life (i.e., food, water, education, raising kids, getting a job, paying for a loan et cetera), we could safely then assume that we may never be able to attract people coming forward to play a game that can change the world.

Any game has limitations and elevating gamers to demi-god status (and hoping that they would be change agents without an iota of questioning assumptions and questioning group think) will not be realistic. It is simply very difficult to imagine that gamers in specific can actually provide transformational inputs to problems within weeks that local governments, institutional finance and local ingenuity could not solve in decades. We are simply assuming too much from a game. Are we playing too seriously a game that should have been fun collaboration and an opportunity to meet inspiring people in the first place? I can say that we better get the fun back before anything else.

Those agents domiciled in Africa who came to know about Evoke in the first place cannot be from the the lower middle class or average Joe in an African street. Those agents from Africa participating currently at this 'game' are motivated optimistic people who are also resourceful even if they might not be endowed with a lot of resources at their disposal.

Among the motivations that brought people from that section of people who are resourceful and are currently domiciled in Africa, we can always argue but getting a World Bank certificate, establishing networks, connecting with like-minded people and the desire to get funded for an idea that can capture the mind share of the decision makers in the game (read: Alchemy) is pervasive in this equation and rightly so.

But there is simply no way to get more participation of lower middle class average people from emerging countries participate in a game unless conventional mediums of advertising (billboards+ television+newspaper) are used and the game of Evoke is locally endorsed by power players (read: politicians) in the society (in a developing country). But even then, common people in Africa might still never get hooked into a game because their apparent problems, challenges & goals are still focused or grounded in real life scenarios where they are deeply involved. A game like Evoke will never ever be able to bring in participants in millions from developing and under-developed countries. It has the potential to capture the fancy of those in US and Europe to a large extent and we know it has. Now that validates the idea of donor centricity and how the developed world is currently focused into solving some of Africa's problems as quickly as possible.

The middle class or lower middle class in Europe or US has more access to quality resources than her/his African counterparts. In days to come, they will come in droves. Some will look at Africa but the real efficient ones will inevitably focus on how their own communities could be impacted. So this game will hopefully help mobilize a lot of efforts to create changes that can change the essence of how people in developed world want to see change happening.

The way I see it now after four weeks of participation is that we should keep playing and sincerely hope that we could make our own network and really think slowly and steadily whether we have the resilience to do anything once the ten weeks of gaming is finally over, your ideas could not make the cut and yet there is a faint optimism still alive to make contextual innovation happen. Of course if you are not fixated on an Epic Win but inspired by it in your own ways to get evolved. Unless we can truly evolve our mindsets, we will never be able to bring change that can impact others.
Comment by Evo on March 30, 2010 at 8:32am
I keep coming back to ACCESS -- CONNECTION -- IMPACT. We have to boost access first, share and work together then learn to hear one another enough to work toward long term impact.
Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on March 30, 2010 at 9:40am
Excellent post, Alex. I have been thinking about this problem and will have more on a separate post. For now I would just like to add my voice to those suggesting more collaboration between what's sometimes referred to as the 'North" and the "South". I would also like to correct the idea that those of us in the 'North' have no easy way to connect to people from the least developed nations: all of our countries have large refugee populations from every part of the world. Many of them don't speak the local language-- or English-- well, often they're illiterate, but most of them have children, teenagers, nieces, nephews and grandchildren who are fast soaking in far more technical knowledge than an 'old fogey' like me will ever have. I'm going to a meeting of a local group tomorrow which has projects in Chechnya and Afghanistan and works with refugees from both those countries.

I suggest we all think about how we might bring local teams together and partner with teams in other countries. If we work together, lack of knowledge or resources in one place need not be a barrier to participation. Those with languages and technical knowledge can partner with those in their communities who have neither, but have the gift of experience, wisdom, enthusiasm, or simply a fresh eye to the problem to contribute.
Comment by Aaron Freeman on March 30, 2010 at 10:52am
amen on north south collaboration. I'll certainly be more aggressive in trying to make African friends, read their posts and try to plug into their needs. Thanks Alex
Comment by Alex Stovell on March 30, 2010 at 12:10pm
Hi All, thanks for you comments and great to see this has sparked a good and healthy debate :) I've posted a specific idea in response to the brief above if anyone wants to check it out: http://www.urgentevoke.com/profiles/blogs/dragon-evokation-greenhouse .
Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on March 30, 2010 at 1:29pm
Here is my response to Alex's Defeat the Dragon challenge.


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