How Helsinki uses a board game to promote public participatio

Bloomberg Cities: “When mayors talk about “citizen engagement,” two things usually seem clear: It’s a good thing and we need more of it. But defining exactly what citizen engagement means — and how city workers should do it — can be a lot harder than it sounds.

To make the concept real, the city of Helsinki has come up with a creative solution. City leaders made a board game that small teams of managers and front-line staff can play together. As they do so, they learn about dozens of methods for involving citizens in their work, from public meetings to focus groups to participatory budgeting.

It’s called the “Participation Game,” and over the past year, more than 2,000 Helsinki employees from all city departments have played it close to 250 times. Tommi Laitio, who heads the city’s Division of Culture and Leisure, said the game has been a surprise hit with employees because it helps cut through jargon and put public participation in concrete terms they can easily relate to.

“‘Citizen engagement’ is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot,” Laitio said. “But it means different things to different people. For some, it might mean involving citizens in a co-design process. For others, it might mean answering feedback by email. And there’s a huge difference in ambition between those approaches.”

The game’s rollout comes as Helsinki is overhauling local governance with a goal of making City Hall more responsive to the public. Starting last June, more power is vested in local political leaders, including the mayor, Jan Vapaavuori. More than 30 individual city departments are now consolidated into four. And there’s a deep new focus on involving citizens in decision making. That’s where the board game comes in.

Helsinki’s experiment is part of a wider movement both in and out of government to “gamify” workforce training, service delivery and more….(More)”.