Can it improve data literacy and help organizations make better decisions?
I was a Cub scout. Fred Hudson’s mom was the den mother. We would sit cross legged on the floor in Fred’s basement learning about our next adventure. The adventure always centered around rank advancement and included games, handicrafts, hikes. I proudly earned my food badge at seven years old by making French Toast for the very first time. I didn’t realize it then, but the scouts had gamified character development. The gamification of life.
In its simplest sense, gamification is an attempt to make learning fun by providing intermediate rewards. Progress toward the end goal or ultimate skill is recognized with achievement markers or digital kudos. The thinking is that if you make the activity more like a game, you might be more inclined to engage and actually spend time doing it. You are encouraged to do things that you might otherwise consider too daunting (or boring): learn a second language, get off the couch and run 10k, or drive your business with data.
You can gamify data literacy?
Hear me out.
Data literacy is the ability to explore, understand, and communicate with data in a meaningful way. As we’ve written before, data literacy and a data driven organization is vitally important to the financial success of a business. But, it’s not easy. The data is there. The analytic tools are available. All we need is a little organizational change. Enter gamification. Gamification can help humans move toward behaviors that, inwardly, we know are beneficial, but is new and no longer based solely on intuition.
I don’t have the receipts, but my theory is that gamification within an organization can lead to increased adoption of analytic tools and overall better decision making based on the data. Here are some examples:
1. Leaderboards: Create leaderboards to rank employees by their level of data literacy and award points or badges for progress. Heck, they could even be digital kudos. You can get badges for achievements in Microsoft, Tableau, Qlik, IBM and just about any tech topic on LinkedIn.
2. Quizzes and Challenges: Create data literacy quizzes and challenges to help employees master new data literacy skills.
3. Badges: Award badges or certificates for completing data literacy courses or achieving certain milestones. Yep, just like in the scouts. (See The Legend of Sierra Madre for an opposing viewpoint.)
4. Rewards: Offer rewards like gift cards or extra vacation days for employees who demonstrate a high level of data literacy. Annual reviews could even be based, in part, on achievements.
5. Levels: Companies can set up different levels of data literacy and require employees to pass tests in order to advance to the next level, or rank. To level up you gotta play the game. Now that’s the gamification of life when it affects your wallet.
6. Competitions: Organize data literacy competitions in which employees compete against one another. Head-to-head competition. This is no different than posting who has given the most to the March-of-Dimes during national philanthropy day.
7. Team Challenges: Create team-based data literacy challenges that encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Can you imagine the smoke when the HR team is pitted against Accounting?
8. Unlockables: Companies can offer unlockable content such as extra resources or tools for employees who demonstrate mastery of data literacy skills. This could be offering first access to new analytics tools.
The goal of the gamification of data literacy is to encourage behaviors that may be outside of your staff’s comfort zone. The examples above provide an incentive to tackle increasing challenges by developing new skills. Developers of video games strive for an ideal game flow between anxiety and boredom. If the game presents challenges which are too complex, too early, the player will feel anxiety. If, however, there is a task which is trivial but the player’s skills are high, boredom ensues.
So, like in a well-constructed video game, the objective in the gamification of data literacy is to present increasing challenges as skills improve. Thus, the optimal flow channel seeks to engage the employee, moving them off the low-challenge, low-skill neutral spot of apathy.
Technology can be the easy part. Changing the culture of an organization, on the other hand, isn’t done overnight. Assess where you are as an organization in terms of data literacy. Define which of the gamification examples may help you develop an approach. Agree on desired levels you’d like to achieve and your end goals. Then put the plan in place.
The changes effected by gamification can be permanent and life changing. I long ago lost my badges earned in scouts but not the lessons. I may not make French Toast every day, but when I do, I use the same recipe that I learned as a scout. Is there really any other way to make French Toast?