Managing information: are you game?

The sack race: competitive behaviour in action! (COAL 80/1155/10)

The sack race: competitive behaviour in action! (COAL 80/1155/10)

Today I’d like to talk about ‘gamification’ – a term that as I type is producing all kinds of squiggly red lines in my spellchecker…

What is ‘gamification’, I hear you ask? Well, it’s an ugly word. In fact it’s such an ugly word that to really understand what it means we must first delve into what it is not. Gamification does not refer to the process of turning everything into a game, nor sadly is it about playing computer games at work. As addicted as I am to Angry Birds, destroying evil green pigs unfortunately does not help me in my current roles here at The National Archives.

No, gamifiction is about understanding behaviours, in order to design and implement techniques to incentivise people to follow certain processes. It draws upon the kind of dynamics that computer game developers have been grappling with for a long time – why do people keep coming back and playing the same game? How do you get people to continually strive to improve? And how can you get users to play in a certain way?

Selling IT solutions, products and consultancy to apply this concept in the workplace has become big business: supposedly the industry is due to be worth $2bn in 2015.

In this blog, I want to think a little more about how you can use gamification theory to support good records and information management.

If you’re a regular reader of our information management blog, you’ll know that we go on about three things: digital information systems and tools, information policies and processes, and Star Wars. Putting Jedi archives aside for a moment – without the right behaviour within your tools, policies and processes, it’s difficult to have a handle on your information management. By this I mean what records your organisation creates, where they are stored, and what value they hold.

Good information management therefore is dependent on influencing employees to behave in a particular way, follow set filing processes and engage with the tools you provide them with. Ultimately it’s getting information management embedded in their everyday work, that’s the utopia we’re aiming for.

So forget what makes Super Mario rescue Princess Peach again and again. The real question is: what motivates workers to handle and manage information in the right way? Well, I’d suggest as information managers we consider and apply the following concepts:

Competition (think three letter names at the top of an arcade machine leaderboard)

This is a powerful motivator, pitting people against one another in pursuit of winning or achieving something. Okay, a slightly vulgar way of describing it. However both ‘being the best’ and ‘not being the worst’ are things that drive individuals, teams or even entire organisations to behave in a certain way. By using gamification to influence information management, you could think about how to measure and feedback performance. Statistics, league tables, and compliance measures are all things that, if presented in the right way, could drive a change in some people’s behaviour and priorities simply because they are benchmarked against others. For example you could do this to measure and publicise how much teams are filing into an electronic document and records management system (EDRM), the size of individual email inboxes, FOI response rates etc…

Achievement (think trophies, award points and badges that can be earned by playing)

The carrot rather than the stick. Yes, I could talk about financial rewards as a wonderful motivator for people at work, but in the context of current budgets that’s not an easy thing to implement. Having a sense of achievement isn’t purely about being rewarded by money; most people at work are motivated by a sense of doing a good job and having that confirmed by their colleagues, managers and themselves. By making information management explicitly part of employee objectives along with reasonable but challenging targets, and positive feedback, people will feel like they are rewarded for following the rules.

Altruism (think of those multi-player games where you work on behalf of a team)

The natural desire to help others in spite of the consequences to ourselves. While good filing does indeed support our own work, another motivator for action is this idea that something which you dutifully label and save will one day be found and used by someone else. This draws upon a core concept for gamification, which is about adding a narrative. To enable this, think about explicitly telling the story of the information lifecycle, putting each employee at the centre of what happens, and how certain action/inaction will affect others.

Self-expression (think about games where you can choose your own username, appearance, and be your own character)

Allowing people to be themselves within a world of boundaries and rules: that’s a challenge for computer game designers and information managers alike. It doesn’t matter what computer systems people use at work, they will find their own way of working with it to create and save their information. Good information management then is about understanding what information employees create, and allowing them to express themselves and their work in a way that shares knowledge and experience across the organisation. For self-expression to be a motivator, users should feel enabled by systems and rules, not restricted.

Closure (think about the final boss level on Sonic the Hedgehog where you save the world by jumping on Dr Robotnik’s head three times)

‘Finishing something off’ is another motivation to keep people engaged (in the same way that hopefully you’re still reading this blog to get some closure??). The point here is to ensure that employees know that managing information is a part of their core responsibility at work, and that their normal duties aren’t finished without considering how they capture a record of it. That’s not to say that information management is an afterthought – indeed there are significant risks around waiting until something is finished before you start filing – but understanding how to handle information appropriately and following through with that process will provide people with closure.

There’s plenty more to gamification than this, and you can find a wealth of ideas and techniques online about the how and why of constructing narratives, awarding achievement badges, ‘levelling up’, virtual currencies, progress bars etc… I hope though that this has given you food for thought when applying this theory to the information management discipline.

Managing government information doesn’t succeed without influencing the behaviour of those who create, receive and store it. Understanding what motivates them is the first step for getting them to do it in an appropriate way.

Thanks for reading. As always if something here has sparked your interest, please get in touch with us below. The first three comments posted will receive 5 virtual points! (Now that’s gamification for you…)


  1. Annett says:

    If you carry expired files, medical documents, contracts, financial records, invoices,
    or research developments, then it is better to be sure that all these
    files don not fall to the wrongful hands. In taking close up shots, you can make your
    subject sharp (not blurred) and your background blurred. There’s a time for that, but the actual writing needs to
    be separated.

  2. […] Managing information: are you game? May 19, 2014 Filed In Journals & Publications Today I’d like to talk about ‘gamification’ – a term that as I type is producing all kinds of squiggly red lines in my spellchecker… What is ‘gamification’, I hear… Go to Source « Confronting the terrorist threat […]

  3. Steve Johnson says:

    Interesting use of positive drivers to encourage good information management. Its worth noting that not all drivers work on all people. If processes are right then a more stick based aproach might be needed. In gaming if you take the wrong action “you die” and have to start all over again.

  4. Tracy White says:

    I like the gaming reference and the idea of engaging with the organisation to highlight progress and achievements. However, as with gaming, there are always a number of people who cannot be bothered to invest time in the process; preferring instead to reach ‘end game’ as quickly as possible. In reference to Information management, we need to make sure people are aware of what they are doing and why and not simply going through the motions. To understand something is, in my mind, more likely to encourage people to incorporate it into their daily routine. In my perfect world, I envisage having champions in each area of the business who can motivate and inform staff and the organisation understands the benefits of managing its most valuable assets.
    We can but dream 🙂

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