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San Jose shows the world how to play serious Innovation Games!

by Chris Matts on Feb 22, 2011 |

Technology is recently associated with unrest in the media but an Innovation Games event in San Jose shows how Governments can use Agile technology to collaborate with the “people”.

On Saturday 29st January 2011, Luke Hohmann led a specially designed version of an Innovation Games “Buy a Feature” to help the Mayor of San Jose identify how to allocate the budget across public services. The game was played with 100 neighbourhood leaders, ranging in age from 15 to 70.

Gerry Kirk was an observer at the event who helped to gather qualitative data.

A true measure of an event like this is that besides better understanding citizen priorities, a community grows closer together. This event delivered on that. They heard each other’s stories and dreams. They shared their diverse knowledge to make better decisions, collectively, and they had a fun time getting to know each other.

Tina Morrill, a resident of San Jose who played the game had this to say about the event.

Significant contribution and goal participation are two factors that motivate people and from my vantage point, everyone in that room today appeared motivated and engaged. The dialog and negotiation FLOWED.

InfoQ asked Luke Hohmann to comment on the event.

Pause for a moment and consider if Agile really is helping to change the world. It is safe to say that software has changed the world. And at one level, the degree that Agile is enabling us to create better software is indeed the degree to which Agile is changing the world.

Consider something much deeper. To what degree is the Agile value of collaboration changing the world? Unlike software, the answer is not so clear cut. What we prove time and again in Innovation Games® is that small group interaction played at large scale is indeed a recipe to change the world.

But any game that is played is played within a larger organizational, cultural, and societal context. Although we’ve played games around the world, and have helped many organizations tackle extremely tough problems, the reality is that there is a profound difference between such things as Yahoo! using the games to understand how their customers in London or Hong Kong want to use the Yahoo! Finance Home Page or the Mayor of San Jose seeking input from his residents and the protests that a swirling in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria. While the citizens of these countries could leverage the games to better craft their goals, and better plan their futures, we seek ways in which the games could facilitate collaborative, democratic discourse between citizens and their governments. The games we played in San Jose are good start towards this path. Our world-wide team of trained facilitators are another step in the right direction. And so are you, dear reader, as you can start to use the games in your local or national government to improve collaboration and bring Agile values to democratic processes.

Compare this with the impact of technology on other events around the world. A BBC Blog entitled “Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere” explains how social media is being used by people around the world to bring about change.

The Blog identifies a new social group and the importance of social media.

We've had change in Tunisia, Mubarak is teetering; in Yemen, Jordan and Syria suddenly protests have appeared. In Ireland young techno-savvy professionals are agitating for a "Second Republic"; in France the youth from banlieues battled police on the streets to defend the retirement rights of 60-year olds; in Greece striking and rioting have become a national pastime. And in Britain we've had riots and student occupations that changed the political mood…

At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future, with access to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and eg Yfrog so they can express themselves in a variety of situations ranging from parliamentary democracy to tyranny.

An important part of this discussion is an understanding of memes. Memes explain why the events in North Africa are occurring, and also why ideas like Agile spread.

So what happens is that ideas arise, are very quickly "market tested" and either take off, bubble under, insinuate themselves or if they are deemed no good they disappear. Ideas self-replicate like genes. Prior to the internet this theory (see Richard Dawkins, 1976) seemed an over-statement but you can now clearly trace the evolution of memes.

Whilst old regimes are in conflict with new social groups using modern social media technology, the innovation games event is one example where Agile is helping the government to collaborate and have fun with people.

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