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5 easy low tech gamification techniques you can use to save the earth

Gamification can be easy and fun to implement.

But more importantly, it works!

Gamification often gets conflated with software design or Angry Birds. But gamification can be done the easy way: with a pen and paper . . . and maybe some cute stickers.

Gamification is simply a process of applying game design techniques to real world problems with the aim of enhancing human motivation.

We don’t need computers to do this.

Even though I really do love to design software, I especially love low tech! If you've ever slaved over lines of code, then you’d understand that if you can achieve the same outcome without the pain and suffering of building an app, then WE SHOULD DO IT!

Gamification tools work well when you combine several at once. You can combine all of these gamification techniques for the one campaign. If you do it right, you should see results!

Here are five failsafe gamification techniques you can apply to your cause

1. Behavior charts

2. Custom pins

3. Leaderboards

4. Color coding

5. Certificates


Here’s how they work

1. Behavior charts

Behavior charts are cool because they are SO easy to make and use - and they totally work! They are actually so effective that psychologists have recommended parents to use them with care so their children don’t become addicted to getting stars. How crazy is that? But for us grownups, the star chart is all about accountability and transparency of our goals. Generally anything that assists our motivation on doing more good things, is a good thing.

You can design your own in chart in Microsoft Word or Excel, or in Google Docs. Here’s an example of a crude chart I make quickly in Google Docs to help me get through the big task of writing all these gamification articles. You can also download these three free behavior charts I designed for you or make a fancier one on canva.com. Then buy a set of stickers you like and start sticking them on your chart!

Despite being in my 30s, I still get a childlike bump of joy every time I put a cute sticker on the charts I make for my personal goals. They really are addictive!

You can use behavior charts for your own personal use or for people in your team. You can also construct a multi-person behavior chart for a group of people such as colleagues in an office, a class in a school or members in a household.

Examples of things you can track with a 30 day challenge star chart

-> I was plastic free today

-> I composted today

-> I had a zero waste lunch today

-> I went car free today

-> I brought my reusable water bottle to work today

-> I bought nothing new today

-> I ate my vegetables today

-> I ate only plants today

-> I brought my reusable coffee mug to the coffee shop today


2. Custom pins for high achievers

I think that custom pins are a dramatically underutilized tool. You can easily get super cute custom pins made that your audience will go crazy for. Check out my Pinterest board and Etsy for ideas.

The trick is to use the pins sparingly so your audience highly values them. Give your custom pins out to a small group of people who have excelled at what you want them to do. These people could be high achieving fundraisers or financial donors. Or they could be members of a challenge who completed a significant behavior change task, such as quitting disposable plastic for 30 days.

You can also use custom pins to help construct an identity associated with a group. Group identity can be a powerful psychological driver.

Individuals who were asked to wear a lapel pin publicizing the Canadian Cancer Society were nearly twice as likely to subsequently donate than those who were not asked to wear the pin.(1)

Imagine if had you joined a challenge or pledge with a group of people to “go plastic free for 30 days”. At the end, you and everyone who completed the challenge received a pin that designated you as “the plastic free clan”. It is very likely that you would forever identify with this group, and this identity would mold your behavior to make more plastic-free lifestyle choices.


Examples of how to apply custom pins

Cute worm - Give out pins of a cute worm to all office staff members who composted for 30 days in a row.

Bicycle -  Give out pins of a fun looking bicycle to all office members who ride their bike and go car free for 60 days.

Happy fish - Give out pins of a cute happy fish to all office members who bring their reusable water bottle to work for 45 days.

Carrot - Give kids a fun carrot pin if they eat a serving of vegetables every day for a whole week.

Banana - Give people who complete a 30 day plant based eating challenge a banana pin.

Read the full article How to use custom pins for the epic win.


3. Leaderboards

A behavior chart used for a group can be easily worked into a leaderboard. A leaderboard is really just a rank of people in your group from best to worst performance.  You can add other gamification features like progress bars, stars, badges, awards and stickers to your leaderboard to make it more exciting.

Leaderboards work because they leverage our natural desire to be perceived well by our peers. Peer to peer comparison can catapult significant motivation to change.  

Leaderboards also provide a powerful transparency and disclosure of information to a group. You need to know the numbers behind what you are trying to change in order to make a leaderboard, which is in itself, is a powerful step to make in your social change project.



Imagine this

//Imagine you owned a cafe. A local sustainability group started a project whereby they monitored the water consumption of fifty cafes in your district. The then tabulated the results (adjusting for the average amount of customers) and gave you a sheet with all the cafes listed from one to fifty. The sheet shows the water amount your cafe uses (you’ve never seen this number before) with a color assigned to it. You see that you have scored 39th! How could you be doing so badly? You speak with the project manager and ask them why your score is so low. They tell you that it’s probably something like the model of dishwasher in the kitchen or the tap fitting. You go and look and BAM - you cafe is using the super-wasteful tap fitting! You go online and buy the recommended water saving tap fitting. You change the setting on the dishwasher too. Next month the report comes out again. You eagerly await it to see if you’ve done better. Hooray! You’ve jumped up to 24th place, just by making these two small changes. You’re happy and now you’re looking for the next water saving adjustment you can make. //

You can see how this example could be played out for just about anything you want to change in the world. It’s part social competition, part disclosure of information. These two things together make up the power of the leaderboard.

Read my full article Why you should be using leaderboards to change the world.


4. Color coding

Color is a fabulous tool to use because it is immediately recognizable. You can use colored stickers ranging from warm to cool, such as (red, orange, yellow, green and blue) to indicate performance on just about anything. You can use sticker dots, post-it notes or tags, all of which are easily purchased from an office store or from Amazon.

If you want to create a color coded digital image to use in your campaign, you can create a dashboard like are used for fire-warnings or the Greenpeace electronics guide. You can use this image in press releases, blog posts and social media. You can also color code your leaderboard. 

Read my full article on How to use colored lights to change behavior and How to use Google maps to catalyze epic action.


5. Certificates of accomplishment

People are remarkably responsive to tokens of appreciation when they have made an effort. If someone has performed well, even exceptionally well, it’s an easy thing to do to give them a certificate or award to recognize their efforts. If you can ensure the award is delivered or signed by a high status person such as your CEO or mayor, the award will carry even more weight.

You don’t even need to make the award exist in the physical world. You can make a digital certificate or award that you share on the internet.

A study done on Wikipedia contributors found a 20% increase in their contributions after they had been awarded a small digital flower. The contributors seemed to be genuinely touched by receiving the gift and left these comments,

“Thank you very much for the recognition. I will continue contributing!"

"I feel very honored to receive this award. It makes me realize that contributions, even if they may be small, are recognized here” (2)

We all wish to be seen and appreciated, so let’s do more of it!


Why does gamification work?

Gamification is a process of adding simple tools designed to enhance human motivation to the real world.

These are the reason why it works:

Disclosure - The act of making data about an issue a focus point causes people to adjust their behavior. Data is intrinsic to gamification design.

Social comparison - We are naturally both competitive and herd-like, studied extensively in the theory of social proof. Gamification techniques that encourage us to catch up with the group or improve our score amongst a group will motivate people to change.

Desire to be perceived well - We want others to perceive us as being good and responsible people. We also want to perceive ourselves this way.

There is more to social psychology than just these three points, but these cover some big principles in how to influence people to change the world.

I teach a style of gamification that is based on making measurable change in the real world, drawing from the effect of transparency, or the disclosure of real world data that might otherwise be completely invisible.  Check out my video course “Save the World with Gamification” if you’d like to learn the whole 15 techniques with a focus specifically on creating social and environmental change.

Saving the world should be fun!

Could saving the world be as fun as a game? Hell yeah it can. I think so, anyway.

When you bring measurement to the center of your creative strategy, saving the world can quickly become the greatest game on earth.

(1) Compliance without Pressure: Some further data on the foot-in-the-door technique” Journal of Environmental Psychology 1974
(2) Fostering Voluntary Contributions to a Public Good: A Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment at Wikipedia, Jana Gallus, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2579118


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Join us in the Facebook group to leave your comments and ideas about this article. I'd love to hear from you!


Check out the other articles in the 21 Days of Gamification series.

-> The “Russian doll” strategy for change

-> Are you leveraging the power of comparison?

-> Why public dislosure of data is the secret solution we need more of​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


Find this kind of thing interesting? Join our community of world-changers and get access to my free resources that show you how to apply data, behavior change and game design techniques to your cause for the epic win.
Author: Katie Patrick
Katie Patrick is an environmental engineer and a designer. She helps sustainability professionals, entrepreneaurs and civic innovators to apply powerful techniques in data science, game design and behavioral psychology so they can make epic wins in environmental and social change. She lives in San Francisco with her little daughter Anastasia.
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