Let’s Play! Using Gamification to Encourage KM and Collaboration

What can we expect from the new gamification features in SharePoint 2013?

Games were an interesting theme at KM World 2012 this week. John Seely Brown gave a fascinating keynote on Wednesday where he talked about the incredible and rich knowledge transfer environment created in the online gaming communities in World of Warcraft. The concept of games in the workplace was addressed more specifically in a session given by Thomas Hsu and Stephen Kaukonen from Accenture. They talked about how Accenture is using gamification strategies to encourage and recognize collaborative activities in the global consulting firm.

If you don't already know about it, World of Warcraft is an example of a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game." In this game, like other role playing games, players select and control an avatar that they use to explore worlds, fight monsters, complete quests, and interact with other people in the game. While a character can complete quests and participate on their own, players can group together to accomplish harder tasks and in fact, participating in a group is required in order to complete the most important outcome activities. Brown talked about both in-game knowledge transfer that happens within the virtual "guilds" in WoW and also about the out-of-game learning that happens within sub-groups of the guilds who process the day's gaming activities to help players gain and create knowledge faster than they could on their own. The game itself is too complicated to play without complex analysis and personal dashboards as well as after action peer-based review. There are interesting lessons from this gaming community for the "World of Knowledge Management."

Hsu and Kaukonen talked about games in the workplace context and how Accenture is using gamification to help accomplish their knowledge management objectives by recognizing and rewarding staff members who demonstrate the desired collaborative behaviors. They define gamification as the use of game mechanics and game design in a non-game context and talked about three critical gaming elements: points, badges, and leaderboards. For Accenture, a key KM challenge is ensuring that the best knowledge and experience of the firm is available to individual teams on individual engagements so that knowledge and experience can be delivered to clients. Their KM goals consist of three "c's:" connect, contribute, and cultivate. For the past few years, Accenture has leveraged gamification techniques to encourage the behaviors that they associate with knowledge transfer outcomes: blogging, micro-blogging, and publishing re-usable documents. Their goal is to encourage and recognize people who are demonstrating these behaviors.

A key to the Accenture approach is the ability to collect, store, and retrieve data associated with the desired activities. They keep track of the number of contributions people make, the number of blog posts, the number of blog post readers, the number of microblog posts, the number of downloads for documents, and a few other pieces of data. People receive points for these activities, though the KM team does not tell people how many points are awarded for a specific activity. Instead, staff is told that harder and higher value actions result in higher points per task. In addition, to discourage "gaming the game," they limit the number of points you can achieve for a specific activity in each quarter. To demonstrate this concept, session attendees completed quiz questions at various points during their presentation. One of the quiz questions awarded points for people who had already tweeted about the session. Attendees got 1 point per tweet for the first three tweets. After that, additional tweeting was appreciated but not rewarded in the "game."

Accenture employees accumulate points and then are awarded badges that appear in their online profile that is part of the staff directory for the firm. There are five levels people can achieve: novice, problem solver, expert, master, and visionary. Top point earners each evaluation period (which is currently quarterly) are further recognized with additional badges, the highest of which comes with a small cash award. One thing that the team has learned is that it's important to spread the recognition around. Accenture has about 250,000 people and, initially, they were recognizing the top 25 people. Today, there are additional levels of recognition for 9,000 people.

Though not all of their approaches have been 100% successful, and they admit that they are still pretty early in the journey, the Accenture folks believe that they are moving in the right direction and that the techniques are yielding positive results. So, that's the big question for me: what exactly ARE these positive results? I think the Accenture folks are definitely looking at the right types of behaviors given what they do. But, of course, the real measure of success is not the number of blog posts that you make, but whether what you are posting about is relevant to your colleagues and helps your colleagues do something that they would have been unable to do without your knowledge and expertise. In other words, it's not what you know that counts, it's how you are able to leverage what you know to help others achieve the desired outcomes for the firm. The points and badges are a proxy for value, but what we really want to understand is how that knowledge contributed to the core metrics of success for the firm. For example, it would be helpful to know specific examples of how your contribution was leveraged in other contexts - because transferring that type of learning is what really drives value to both the individual and the firm. This is, of course, the holy grail for knowledge management, and it's a quest that the entire KM community (or "guild") shares.

Hsu and Kaukonen talked about how Accenture has become pretty good at collecting and storing activity data but they have not yet mastered the ability to retrieve that data to provide closer to real-time feedback for "players." This is where Microsoft is going with the gamification techniques that have been included in SharePoint 2013 community sites. Within a community forum, participants can achieve points towards badges by demonstrating some key behaviors. Out of the box, these behaviors include posting to a forum, replying to a post, having your post "liked," and having your post designated as the "best reply" to a question. Community moderators (or site owners) determine how many points each activity "is worth" along with the names of the levels (up to 5) and the "badges" that are awarded. Reputation is contextual - in other words, your reputation in one subject-based community does not carry forward to other communities but it is calculated in "real time." At least for now, unlike what happens at Accenture, your community reputation is not automatically displayed in your central profile - it is only displayed in the context of each individual community - but I'm guessing that this is a feature that is likely to be added in the future.

I think that the Accenture experience is one that will encourage a lot of organizations to at least give gamification a try - if it fits within both the culture of the organization and more importantly, with the activity that you are trying to encourage. There is a lot of really interesting research about the value of incentives for different types of tasks and any organization considering these approaches should spend some time understanding whether gamification is an appropriate model for the behavior that you want to encourage. If you want a quick and interesting lesson, I definitely recommend taking a look at this fascinating animation of Dan Pink's talk about what motivates us at home and in the workplace. The talk is part of the RSA Animates series produced by the Royal Society for in the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in the UK. So, the games have clearly begun and it will be interesting to see how the gamification approaches demonstrate real value to organizations as the opportunities to try them become available to more people in SharePoint 2013.

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