Why should we care about Gamification and AX/SX?

Gamification is a rapidly growing industry that is increasingly being used in diverse fields and on a global scale. Businesses use it to build customer loyalty and increase sales, educators use it to engage students to learn, and individuals can use it to make it easier to achieve personal goals. Gamification also has an important role to play in digital organizing, particularly for political and advocacy organizations that can employ its enormous potential to increase supporter engagement to build social movements for the greater good.

What do we mean when we talk about Gamification and AX/SX in politics and nonprofit advocacy?

This is how Wikipedia defines gamification: 

“Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.”

For us, that “non-game context” includes the relationships and interactions between political parties and nonprofit organizations with their supporters/members/volunteers/donors. 

But what exactly are game-design elements and game principles? And more importantly, why use them in politics and nonprofit advocacy?

Going a bit deeper into the definition:

“...Gamification commonly employs game design elements to improve user engagement, organizational productivity, flow, learning, crowdsourcing, employee recruitment and evaluation, ease of use, usefulness of systems, physical exercise, traffic violations, voter apathy, and more.”

Ok, so that provides a small window into why we think it's worthwhile to adopt gamification techniques in digital organizing.  After all, addressing and finding solutions to voter apathy is an incredibly important issue. But, let’s hold that thought and focus on game elements for a moment. 

Some examples of game elements include things like, Points, Badges, Leaderboards, Performance graphs, Meaningful stories, Avatars, Teammates, etc. For our work in digital organizing, however, we want to take it a step further. Of course we use these elements when we gamify campaigns to support engagement pathways. MyActionCenter uses all the elements listed above, for instance. But to have a better understanding of the importance of gamification, we have to go a bit deeper.

A game has three main elements: A story, a challenge and a reward.

Essentially what that means is that in order to gamify the experience for supporters who want to contribute to a campaign or a movement, it’s important to:

  1. Connect them emotionally to the story or stories behind the cause the campaign is organizing around;
  2. Challenge them with different paths of actions available so they can contribute to the success of the campaign; and
  3. Properly recognize their accomplishments in the form of reputation, gifts, access to special/exclusive experiences, etc.

Our goal is to provide supporters with an experience that makes it easier, more attractive, and more exciting for them to engage in multiple actions created by our campaigns--actions that are necessary for the organization to reach the level of support and mobilization that allow it to achieve its goals.

Organizations are only as strong as their supporters, and, for that reason, it’s extremely important to make sure your supporters’ experience taking actions on behalf of your organization is as engaging as it can be. And it’s also why we think it’s important to talk about AX/SX, or Activist/Supporter experience.


So what exactly is AX/SX?

There’s no real shared definition of what AX/SX is. The term is inspired by the UX, or user experience, field. So if we look again at our Wikipedia definition:

“...Simplified, user experience is about how a user interacts with, and experiences, a product.”

Similarly, AX/SX is about how an activist/supporter/volunteer/member/donor interacts with, and experiences, a movement/campaign/organization.

While UX design is more focused on technical aspects of product interfaces, AX/SX design has a slightly more holistic vision that takes into account all of the elements that we can control or influence to deliver a positive and engaging supporter experience.

Our clients are all vying for the most valuable gifts their supporters can give: their attention, passion, support, action, and maybe even their money. In exchange, we want to reward supporters for giving our clients something that is of immense value to them both. In order to procure these highly sought after gifts from supporters, organizations need to build and deliver effective experiences so that supporters continue to stay satisfied as they engage and interact with the organization. To achieve this, AX/SX must be gamified. And congruently, gamification techniques have to be centered on the AX/SX that they create. For us, this relationship is both necessary and symbiotic. 

There’s no doubt that digital technology offers incredible tools for community building and organising. That’s why exploring gamification and its benefits is one of our principal tasks as digital strategists for political and nonprofit entities. 

As we continue to work in this field, we are discovering how powerful these techniques are in mobilising people towards achieving political goals. Its straightforward capacity to connect with people’s willingness to act and their emotional connection to the mission of the organization is the main reason gamification is so effective. Of course, that’s great if your organization’s mission is to make the world a better place because gamification will attract more and more people to your movement. But gamification’s power also requires that we be extremely mindful and responsible about how and for what purposes we use this technology.

For instance, some gamification techniques were designed incorporating principles of neuroscience that could potentially give your organization an extremely unbalanced and privileged position over your supporters. As such, it’s necessary that we address ethics in gamification

Gamification and Ethics

The debate about the ethical implications of using gamification is not new. In fact, it began as soon as people started to realize how powerful and effective a tool it was. And that’s natural, any new technique or technological advance comes with the necessary sociological dissertation about the benefits and losses coming from the changes and new scenarios that they produce. Although it’s difficult to make a definitive statement on the issue, we’ll offer our two cents on this debate.

First things first--technology per se is neither evil nor good, it’s how you use it that defines its character. There are certainly many valid criticisms of gamification (which you can read more about here and here), and we think it’s important to stay mindful of those criticisms when incorporating gamification into your campaign. To that end, we’ve tried to set the right principles to make sure that adopting gamification in campaign and movement building has a positive impact. 

The following are some of the ethical guidelines that must be adhered to when using gamification techniques:  

  1. Be honest: As long as the support you are supercharging with gamification techniques is aimed to help achieve the collective benefit and social improvements that are the campaign’s objective, using gamification is just a way to engage people more efficiently. 
  2. Be transparent: It’s important that you’re clear about the purpose of the different engagement pathway stages that you create for supporters. Gamification is just one way of improving their experience as a supporter, and it’s important that partaking in that experience is something that’s been actively and freely chosen by them.
  3. Focus on game elements/principles that add value for supporters.

Although using brain-tricking techniques to gain more supporters might be very tempting, it will only result in creating superficial relationships that won’t be much help to your movement. Instead of engaging with your movement, these kinds of supporters will more likely simply be playing the game, and with likely a short-lived commitment.

In contrast, building an AX/SX structure based on the three elements mentioned above (story, challenge and reward) is more likely to help you build valuable relationships with supporters and use gamification to achieve social positive goals. 

In sum, this technology gives a lot of power to whomever wields it, so it’s important to make sure you balance the relationship between your organization and your supporters so that the organization doesn't have the upper hand. To do this, focus on building the best experience possible for supporters without using it unethical ways that will only backfire on you and your movement.


Why is gamifying AX/SX so important these days?

Over 300 projects in over 30 countries have given Tectonica special insight into what the best approach is to create momentum and build movements.  Moreover, we know what doesn’t work and are constantly growing in our capacity to detect strategies born to fail.

One of the most common inconsistencies we regularly face is in trying to create massive mobilization by using low engagement tactics and tools.

Subscribing to a newsletter, liking your social media profiles, responding to a message/email, signing a petition, and even one-time donations are not activities that create a high level of engagement in the supporter. These kinds of actions don’t lead supporters to establish a real bond or relationship with your organization, so when it’s time for the real ask, for example, to vote for your candidate in an election, they’re not going to feel compelled to respond.

Establishing an engagement ladder is not enough to generate engagement if the rungs don’t pull supporters out of their passivism. 

Building activism is about creating emotional connections strong enough to lead supporters out of their comfort zones and enough to allow them to give their full attention to the challenge they are handling. It is at this exact moment when the relationship is born, birthed from learning, advancing, success, and recognition. 

Building activism on a massive scale means defining engagement strategies based on this principle and being thoughtful about the activist experience we deliver. Key to successfully rolling out these strategies and experiences is using powerful organizing tools that are built to massively deploy pathways of engagement for our supporters and are more effective than engagement ladders alone. The pathways of engagement should take into account the abilities, availability, interests, and resources of each supporter.

Concepts and techniques like segmentation, automatization, activist experience designing, gamification, personalization, and so on, are critical to curing passivism in today’s world. But, more than this...

Organizing over messaging

Passivism is the consequence of the hyper-utilization of messaging strategies not just by nonprofits and political parties but by any corporation or individual that has access to the internet. 

This approach, while extremely successful in the past, has become obsolete for those who don’t have millions to spend. The democratization of messaging technologies and the large number of channels available to reach people have provoked the complete obstruction of the gate to the people.

Faced with this, most people find it impossible to handle this overwhelming demand for attention and are instead opting to stay passive, an approach, that protects them from stress and even frustration. Even if a supporter completes the requested action, a relationship with the organization is unlikely to form because of the passive nature of the action. Consequently, low engagement actions and tools inevitably lead to… low engagement.

Luckily, on the other hand, this passive reaction from supporters also opens amazing new possibilities. People still want to feel connected to a cause they care about and are often seeking a way to become active in a movement. For an organization to capitalize on this, their focus needs to be on attracting supporters instead of reaching them simply by bombarding them with messaging.  This means two main things:

  1. Attracting new and more engaged supporters depends on the experience that the organization offers them. That is to say, the organization needs to carefully design and customize the kinds of activism their supporters can engage in so that once they join, they stay committed to the movement. This method of engagement makes it more likely that they will be active members of the organization. 
  2. Now, when people reach out, they bring a high level of willingness and expectations that the organization has to fulfil - frustrated or demanding supporters answering our messages or reaching out to us is a solid example of this. They have chosen us already, but they want more.

Most of the big organizations are working hard to take people out of their passivism, and the window of opportunity is getting smaller. In other words, it is necessary to move fast. 

That said, the perfect approach to taking advantage of this new situation is, precisely putting organizing back in the centre of our activity as movement builders--as organizers. 

Organizing is the act of creating paths of action aimed to achieve collective goals, e.g., creating dynamic adventures that attract supporters.

Scaling this to have a massive reach and impact means becoming expert digital organizers that design and plan successful movements, designing and providing powerful activist experiences through advanced organizing tools, like for example, MyActionCenter.

As we mentioned before, the best way to build engaging experiences is through gamification. But, why is this the case?

It’s simple: it’s the way we understand the world. Story. Challenge. Reward. Postmodernity has been built around bombarding us with a life-has-to-be-an-adventure idea. Originally created to make us buy things we don’t need, it’s everywhere, deeply intricate in cultures all over the world. It’s already a part of us, so why not use it to make positive change? Fighting for the causes we care about is indeed an adventure. Let’s make it an adventure widely shared to build movements that change the world for the better.