The Open Data Board Game Project

Building a board game about open data

There’s been a lot of conversation in the ODI office about board games and open data. This could be because we’re all effortlessly ‘on trend’/don’t get out much, or it could be because there’s an untapped pool of board game expertise here poised to make a difference to open data. Maybe a little of both. In any event, about a month ago we created an open data board game Trello board, set up a board game night and then… waited for the open data board game to show itself. This is the first real gesture of intent.

##Why a board game?

Board games communicate complex ideas in simple ways. They’re tactile, social, offer fresh ways of communicating what can be fairly uninteresting themes (trading wheat and sheep anyone??), and sometimes, if they’re good, Kim Kardashian might buy one.

Open data can be a little… exclusive. If you’re working with data, talking about data, or in an area where more open data could be useful, then it’s easier to grasp. If you’re interested in access to information, or transparency and accountability, then you might have come across open data. But if you’re not already on board (hehe) with open data, you may need other ways to understand its role and impact. A board game is one way of capturing interest in open data, without people necessarily realising they’re absorbing knowledge about open data. Also, it’s pretty clear board games are hip right now. They’re in Hackney!

If we can pull one off that isn’t awful, it’s a great story, a novel way of talking about open data, and fits in with the ODI’s myriad approach to illustrating the benefits of open data (from Data as Culture to videos to white papers and world class research to open data training). It’s also a physical thing we could give to people we like - or who we want to like us.

##What message should an open data board game get across?

An open data board game should be about more than simply releasing open data. The release of open data needs to be connected to benefits. A physical board game journey might involve clearing datasets for release as open data, achieving a certain data quality, and ultimately connecting data sets with a start up, SME or government to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.

Example: Players accumulate ‘sets’ of data (i.e. crime data, geospatial data, income data). Once they have 4 of a kind, and/or have assembled “data quality cards - ODI certification?” alongside their datasets, these can be ‘released’ as open data. Players progress through the game achieving open data sets, and trying to connect these with SMEs/government/innovators to deliver positive outcomes . Play ends when a player has released all their data as open data and connected it to one positive outcome.

##Who would our target audience be?

People aged 16 and above. Anyone able to play simple strategy games like monopoly, scrabble, etc, but probably of most interest to those who get really enthusiastic about games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic - games that you can keep returning to.

As the board game enthusiast Tupac Shakur said, “I gotta have as much fun and go around the board as many times as I can before it’s my turn to leave”. That’s the kind of enthusiasm we want to channel into players of our open data board game.

##Well, how do we go about starting this?

Good question. At the moment, we’re trying to tease out how an open data board game might actually work. What’s a good game narrative about open data? How would we set the scene? What’s a good board game mechanic for this kind of game? Has someone already posted about “steps to building a board game” on the internet? As a start, we can:

##This doesn’t sound very structured…where’s your Gantt Chart? What’s the production schedule?

There’s no timeline for this (but if you think there needs to be, say so!). It needs to fit in around our existing work priorities and we don’t have a solid idea of a product that could be delivered yet. This is the “exploratory phase”. We do need to set a deadline for the exploratory phase though - how does end of March 2015 sound? Within this time frame we can:

If we have some strong ideas and interest in moving forward three months from now, we can add more concrete progress points.

##Give feedback

How can we make this work? What ideas do you have about an open data board game, or the process for building one? How can we engage people with it? What’s the best way to share information/communicate about it? Who wants to be involved? Are we crazy? Tell us your thoughts.