Category Archives: Games

Virtual Participation Camp: Changing the Rules, June 27-28

Having just blogged about conference formats, I have just received the following email from Stephen Dohrn via the km4-dev list-serv. I hope Stephen doesn’t mind me reproducing most of that post here. The virtual participation camp sounds like it could be a very different conference experience.

Participation Camp, Change the Rules, in New York on June 27-28, will provide the spark for an explosion of sharing, experimentation and collaboration. Democracy is the game where we can change the rules together! How do we make this game more serious, more fair and more fun? Please let us know if you are interested in convening a virtual session at this event on a topic of your choice, or collaborating with us in some way!

Participants may attend a wide range of physical and virtual presentations (or deliver one themselves), compete in a conference wide web participation game called Nomic (, or roll up their sleeves in a hands on workshop. For preliminary details see:

If you might be interested in collaborating with us, please check out the wiki at:

What Makes Change The Rules Different?

Virtual/Physical Hybrid Structure: One particular feature of this event is that we will be bridging the physical and virtual worlds. We will be opening up virtual spaces in advance of the actual session so as to engage virtual participants in the project. We will also have a room where virtual presenters can connect with those at the conference.

Open Space/Defined Hybrid Structure: We will be using Open Space principles for the creation of some of the sessions, but will also be seeking out the involvement of those that would like to actively
engage participants on a specific topic. If there is an issue or a question that you would like to discuss at this event, please let us know!

Play Game: We will be playing the game, Nomic ( This is a game that is designed to teach participants, by virtue of their experience, some of the interesting features of governance, democracy, rule making, rule following, collaboration etc.

Pre-Session Dialogue: We will open SkypeChat spaces that enable those that are interested in the PCamp theme(s) to connect with each other, exchange ideas, plan potential sessions etc.

Sustain Dialogue: Due to the fact that virtual environments are accessible from anywhere, it becomes possible for participants to continue their conversations with others after the conclusion of the
session. This makes it possible for them to continue to explore the ideas and projects that they are interested in, as well as to cultivate the relationships with those that they have connected with.
We hate the fact that what happens when events end is that there is little or no follow up!


Here are a few questions that we have been thinking about. Are there any such questions that are of interest to you, and around which you might be interested in organizing a virtual session?

What, generally speaking, is the role that technology can play in fostering citizen engagement?
What are the best tools for creating the right frameworks for fostering citizen engagement?
What are the particular challenges of using open, collaborative, platforms?
What sorts of business models are consistent with ‘open collaboration’? How can organizations that subscribe to these principles also generate revenue?
How do we utilize technology to mobilize the youth vote?

On June 20th, we will create a chat space/conversation in Skype to which we will invite all those that are interested in participating in an open dialogue on issues relating to open governance. This chat
space will allow you the opportunity to:

Introduce yourself and your project to others that are like minded
Connect with others that might be interested in your project or might have interesting project ideas.
Learn, via participation, about how open, collaborative, patterns of interaction work
Learn, via participation, how groups self organize
Virtual Tools

We will be using free online tools that are easily accessible by any participant, such as: We will utilize ( in order to organize and share files.
Google Documents: will be used for the joint authoring of documents.
SkypeChat: Will provide a open space where people can start the dialogue, network and keep the discussion going.
Etherpad: for notetaking during sessions.
Twitter: as a channel to the outside to integrate other interested parties.

You can’t get more web 2.0 and participatory than this conference!


On conferences

Apart from just moving house (again) and waiting to get the utilities connected (again), I have been thinking about conferences.  My thinking was instigated by an approach I received from a conference organiser to present at an upcoming conference in September on collective intelligence. Almost at the same time, another conference organiser contacted me asking about case studies in government that could be used to demonstrate effective collaboration. And, of course, there is the plethora of conference invitations and conference pamphlets that come across my email and my desk each week advertising future conferences with discounted early bird rates. The message is clear:  Get in quick, folks!

As I thought about all these conferences I was conscious of the fact that essentially they were all the same. The conference organisers invite speakers to present under a particular conference theme. People attend the conference to listen to these presenters, network with professional peers, and hopefully find some useful information and learnings that will be of personal or workplace relevance. It is pretty standard conference fare.

Now that’s all very well and I am happy to participate in such events. But I am thinking there could be other ways to provide conferences with something different. I know there are un-conferences and the like but I am thinking of something else.

Firstly, I’d be interested in a conference where the theme was not so tightly regimented. I am thinking of a conference at which there are presenters speaking on different and unrelated topics but from which the audience could develop particular personal or collective themes themselves. The audience would therefore become an active participant by discussing these emergent themes rather than having the themes imposed upon them. I see strengths and weaknesses in this approach – my interdisciplinary preferences are also at work here. But at least there would be some active thinking, rather than what often happens at conferences is passive and sleepy acceptance.

Secondly, I’d like the keynote to be in the form of an interview. There would be an interviewer but I’d like the audience to be able to take part as well – perhaps providing some questions in advance from which the interviewer and conference organisers could put into some form of meaningful order (randomness would also work for me but I think effective interviewing relies on a logical progression). The interview lends itself more to a storytelling approach rather than a lecture. The Q&A format stimulates quetioning in the minds of the audience throughout the keynote – something that could be followed up after the conference as well.

Thirdly, I’d like conferences to have some follow-up. We go to a conference, hear some stuff, maybe feel pretty good about things, and then go home or back to the office. Why can’t we tap into the collective experience of people after the conference officially finishes? If the conference is interesting and participatory, then there is the opportunity to extend the discussion outside the formal conference environment.

And talking of follow-up, I’d really be interested in any game that could be developed to reinforce or stimulate further thought about the conference presentations. I am thinking simple card or board games, but more technical games on  a website would be equally useful (if a tad expensive!).  A “snakes and ladders” for effective knowledge management would be absolutely fantastic! Games are great information reinforcements and something worthy of considered thought.

And lastly, I’d like conference organisers to think more creatively about conference “notes”. A few Powerpoint slides from presenters in a drab folder doesn’t cut if for me these days, I’m afraid. It also makes it difficult for presenters since Powerpoint slides often become the presentation (the defacto content) rather than acting as a supporting element to the actual presentation. Powerpoint slides are not conference notes! I really like the idea of podcasts and I am a big fan of the podcasts that come out of the SXSW Conference each year. Great stuff!

Now if I can work out how to introduce African drumming into a conference I would be really satisfied…

On digital games

In late 2006 I met up with Euan Semple over a few hot beverages at the hotel I was staying in for my London visit to Information Online. As part of our discussion, Euan recommended the book, The kids are alright, by John Beck and Mitchell Wade (actually somewhat dated now). I bought the book in Charing Cross Road and it stood on my bookshelf at home in Sydney for some time before I got around to reading it late last year.

But before I read that book, my interest in online games was stimulated by a couple of items I haphazardly found on the web and downloaded for interest. One was a 2006 article on games and learning, and the second was a podcast by Richard van Eck of the University of North Dakota (USA) on the thinking behind the effectiveness of games in teaching and learning (I listened to the podcast again this evening and it is still very relevant).

Since then, I have read quite a few more articles on the topic and I am gradually changing my previously sceptical viewpoint about digital games. Now this is quite a revelation to me since I have always had the opinion that play and games are vital for learning. When I was at primary school and in the early years of high school, I made games myself with cardboard, cards, tokens, and spin-wheels. I created characters, currencies, and problems that were developed for the board games and I did all of this for fun. Moreover, my research to make the game and the rules was also fun!

But somehow, as an adult, I have clung on to the notion that board games are good and digital games are bad (and this is despite the fact that I spent considerable time playing Galaxians during my early university years, and becoming quite proficient I might add). I have held the view that board games are “more than just fun” but digital games are just leisure, not something to take seriously.

But I am now reviewing my attitudes more and more about digital games and learning. I have become much more interested in the role of digital games within the educational domain. To a lesser extent, I am interested in understanding and using digital gaming as another form of entertainment. I’d say my lack of spare time prohibits my full exploration of digital games for fun but the prevalence and variety of such games is astounding.

Having said all this, I have some doubts as to the effectiveness of online training systems. I have completed a few workplace-based online training sessions (funnily enough, most often dealing with compliance issues) but always felt that the learning session was more interested in checking off tick-boxes rather than any meaningful learning. Essentially, the online training sessions relied on the ability to memorise a few bits of information, answer the multiple choice questions, and move on. But did I really learn anything??

When it comes to digital games I am more positive given their emphasis on problem-solving in particular. It was therefore interesting to read today that gaming can indeed be a positive learning and thinking medium, using alternate reality games (ARGs) such as World without oil. Not only does the game look at dealing with real world problems like global oil deficits, but the nature of the game is indeed very collaborative.

The article cites Andrea Phillips, an ARG writer and producer, who says that the key appeal of these games is in the art of crafting a collaborative narrative. “Collaboration in storytelling is an old tradition, even older than print,” she says. “So you could say we’re working to reclaim something we lost hundreds of years ago when we first started recording narratives with pen and paper, and later with film.”

[And interestingly, there’s a conference next week on narrative and interactive learning to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Could be worth a look to anyone living in the British Isles. I have also been alerted to the 2nd European Conference on Games-Based Learning to be held in Barcelona, Spain, in October].

Digital games as a learning media are certainly gaining some traction. As the book, “The kids are alright” argued, our doubts and fears about the online digital space in which these games are conducted need to be re-examined in the light of the positive digital gaming taking place around the world. And like most things, the good and the bad are determined by the context, not the technology.

If we can use digital games for educational learning, and to generate new ideas by examining real world problems in a collaborative environment, then we should be supportive, shouldn’t we?

On cartoons for learning and knowledge management

When I was a kid at primary school, a favourite project of mine was cutting out the word balloons from cartoon strips in newspapers, pasting the cartoon strip down on white paper, then rewording the balloons with a story of my own invention. I remember that the Fred Bassett comic strips were a particular favourite.

One of the initiatives I am looking at in my knowledge management work at The Fred Hollows Foundation is the use of cartoons for knowledge discovery and for use in simple interactive games. It’s not a big focus for me at the moment, but the thinking is working away in the background.

My thoughts were triggered by a discussion last week at the Cognitive Edge course in which we talked about the displacement of personal stories into another character, thereby overcoming the potential reluctance to reveal negative experiences, in a non-threatening way. One of the exercises we did at the course was in developing a set of representational characteristics to develop an archetype. I am not necessarily looking to do the same thing, but I am interested in exploring cartoons (especially the word bubble variety) to generate story fragments for learning and knowledge discovery. 

Whether something comes of this interest in my current role remains to be seen. However, a cartoon character drawing of the iconic Fred Hollowswould be a great start (by the way, there’s a travelling information and photography display on tour through NSW public libraries about Fred – here’s the itinerary). Unfortunately, my artistic skills in caricature drawing are rather poor, to say the least!

My strong interest in the use of cartoons for knowledge discovery has an education side to it too. I remember many years ago when I worked at Australian Freedom From Hunger Campaign, we used a ventriloquist (his name was Kit, if I recall correctly) and his puppet to promote our development education message to primary school kids – a most successful and entertaining project for us. 

From puppets to cartoons and comics, how effective can they be in today’s world? How can I use cartoons in the context of developing more meaningful educational engagement with school kids and the youth market, particularly in the area of international development, blindness prevention, and the work of The Foundation?

I’d be interested in hearing if anyone out there in the big wide world has been actively developing and using comics or cartoons in international development education or youth engagement projects. Please feel free to make comments on my blog (if you’re the first, click on the no comments tag to start the ball rolling).