Gameful civic engagement: A review of the literature on gamification of e- participation

In recent years, we have seen an increased utilization of gamification to foster citizen engagement with the governance of their countries and communities. This, at its best, has beenan endeavor to progress the democraticness of governance or at least to progress its efficiency. However, there have remained several gaps in our knowledge of said gamification of citizen engagement.

Gamification has mostly been seen as a technological development that would incite human motivation to directly participate in democratic practices. Nonetheless, democratic governance and gamification are an especially intriguing combination since several polarizing facets emerge in their juxtaposition, i.e. whereas governance is commonly connected to serious, persistent and systematic practices, playing games has traditionally been regarded a foolhardy activity without any instrumental outcomes. This conceptual contrast, along with many others, perhaps primarily stems from how both governance and games have popularly been understood in dated conceptualization. They, nonetheless, provide interesting avenues for investigatinggamification in relation to democratic governance and e-participation.

Therefore, in this study, we conducted a systematic review of the corpus of literature on gamification in e-participation so as to develop a holistic understanding of the work that has been conducted thus far in this field and provide future research directions.

The findings show that gamification has been investigated in several contexts of e-participation, such as in crowdsensing, welfare and energy management, urban planning, urban mobility and mapping, government opposition, civic learning, emergency response, law enforcement, as well as in elections. Most research, however, investigated gamification as a method for e- participation generally without specifying an e-participation application contexts. Contextualized research in the contexts outlined as well as in other contexts that have not been researched yet, such as, for example; campaigning, petitioning, voting, and taxation, is highly needed to uncover the contexts and conditions under which gamification can have a positive or a negative impact.

Gamification has, similarly, been investigated in all three levels of citizen engagement outlined by Macintosh (2004): empowering engaging and enabling, showing that the extant corpus is well versed in considering the spectrum of citizen participation, however, research remains scarce with regards to the engagement levels of empowering and enabling. Without enabling basic access to information, those who engage in e-participation may not be well- informed so as to build evidence-based opinions. On the other hand, without empowered engagement, bottom-up implementations would remain hard to emerge, depriving society of the innovativeness that often comes through it. Researchers are hence encouraged to investigate the gamification of the enabling and empowering levels of e-participation.

The extant corpus widely covers the stages of participation in policymaking; agenda setting, analysis, creation, implementation, and monitoring. The implementation stage has been the most researched while the creation stage of policymaking has been the least researched and in need of further investigation.

The types of gamification seen in the literatures varied. Points, leaderboards, missions and competition were the most popular, although a few researchers focused on relatively niche implementations such as those involving memes, AR, or hardware controls. Future researchers are encouraged to examine the relatively uninvestigated gamification types so as to develop a broader understanding of its practices beyond the popular ones.

A considerable part of the literature investigated the use of gamification in the “creation of good citizens” raising concerns and needs to research power dynamics, paternalism and ethics of gamification.

The majority of the reviewed corpus utilized design, prototyping and implementation methods, most notably in combination with quantitative methods such as log data analyses and surveys. Most of this research was of proof of concepts, used for short periods to prove the validity of an idea. Consequently, while the majority of the reviewed empirical corpus reported positive outcomes from gamification, these positive outcomes are, however, often reported with little in-depth analysis or problematization and most of the findings perhaps do not fully reflect actual practice.

Government involvement in gamification research is limited and perhaps this creates challenges in research access, and this can explain why the tools that are currently maintained by governments, as seen in the media and grey literature, are not all covered by the academic literature. Increasing government involvement in this research is imperative to breach classical gaps between academia and practice. Furthermore, longitudinal research is needed, perhaps through qualitative methods, next to quantitative, to uncover more nuance in the observed results from gamified e-participation.

Researchers of gamified e-participation are encouraged to adopt critical perspectives, looking beyond the observed positive impact of gamification on civic engagement, to investigate nuance pertaining to inclusion, power dynamics, freedom of choice as well as the use of gamification by citizens in bottom-up approaches to support and oppose governmental practices.

Gameful civic engagement: A review of the literature on gamification of e- participation

Lobna Hassan

Juho Hamari

Reference: Hassan, L., & Hamari, J. (2020). Gameful civic engagement: A review of the literature on gamification of e-participation. Government Information Quarterly, 101461.

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With increased digitalization, governments and public institutes became potentially better able to practice fuller and wider ranges of democratic governance through e.g., e-participation. E-participation, as any means of en- gagement with the common good, is, however, a difficult area of human motivation as it can be seen to exist outside the common hurdles of the everyday life and where the effects of participation are often invisible or take a long time to materialize. Recent trends of digitalization, such as gamification; a popular approach for stimulating motivation, have been proposed as remedies to foster e-participation. A plethora of applications and research has emerged related to gamified e-participation. However, there is currently a dearth in our knowledge of how gamification is being applied, researched or what its possible positive and negative outcomes can be. This study employed a systematic literature review approach in order to summarize research and findings on gamified e-participation. 66 papers were reviewed, the majority of which indicated that gamified e-participation is linked to increased engagement, motivation, civic learning and enjoyment amongst other outcomes. Nonetheless, question remains as to ethical and inclusive gamification, for which, this research provides directions for future research.

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