Engagement Lab received grant to mobilize civic game

by Bret Hauff / Beacon Staff • November 19, 2015

The Engagement Lab, an applied research facility at Emerson, received $35,000 on Nov. 3 from the Knight Foundation to develop a mobile application for @Stake, a table-top debate card game created almost two years ago.

The grant, awarded by the Knight Prototype Fund, stipulates the project be completed in six months, according to Engagement Lab director and founder Eric Gordon.

“We already know it really well,” Gordon said. “Now it’s just translating it into a different form.”

Gordon designed @Stake in December 2013 at a United Nations Development Programme workshop in Moldova to come up with solutions to youth unemployment. He said the game uses role playing and competition to encourage collaborative solutions to pertinent civic issues.

The physical game, which is free for use by the public, is played with cards to assign roles and beans to represent points. Gordon said the mobile version will connect players’ smartphones via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

@Stake players are pitted against each other to argue civic issues through the perspective of another, with objectives to fit the given role. Participants first pitch, then compromise.

The goal is to convince the decider, an assigned player, that your solution is best. The winner is awarded beans.

But having the best argument isn’t the only way to earn points. During the compromise stage, debaters collaborate to include agenda points, or objectives, in the each other’s proposals. Each agenda point achieved in the winning decision, regardless of the winner, awards bonus points.

Gordon said the goal of the game is to get people to think empathetically by arguing applicable social problems through an alternative mindset.

“It’s a sort of democracy training,” Gordon said. “People are working out their deliberation muscles.”

The mobile version will simplify rules, remove the need for a facilitator, and bear subtle changes to the game’s format, according Becky Michelson, @Stake project manager. She said these changes came from feedback over months of testing.

“We’re excited to take the project that we know works and make it super easy for anyone to pick up and use,” Gordon said.

@Stake has been used across the globe, Gordon said. From civic workshops in Egypt and Bhutan to participatory budget planning in New York City, the game has facilitated discussions with organizations like the United Nations and The Frontiers of Democracy.

Gordon said the successes of the game as a debate facilitator and civic engagement tool, discovered through research and observation, is what drives @Stake to mobile development.

Initial progress on the app has already begun, according to Michelson, but no more than a framework. The next six months, she said, will be spent playing and testing the game for feedback from focus groups and perfecting the digital platform. The team announced plans to debut the application for iOS and Android next spring.

“It’ll be a fast turnaround,” Michelson said, “but with this support I’m confident we can make something great.”