Background and findings
EVOKE is a multiuser online game, created under the auspices of the World Bank Institute (WBI), which was intended to engage players in social-innovation activities that addressed global challenges. The game ran from March to May 2010, and was open to players of any age around the world (although it was recommended for players above the age of 13).
EVOKE’s primary user population comprised young people in sub-Saharan Africa, and especially in South Africa. At the end of the game, players could submit “Evokations,” plans for real-world social-innovation activities, which could qualify for various forms of support and incubation.
Engagement and participation
Levels of international and African regional participation in EVOKE were high. Web-traffic data on participation from all countries shows that:
- EVOKE received 286,219 visits by 171,958 different individuals during its ten-week “run-time.”
- 19,386 people (or 11.3 percent of unique visitors to the website) registered as players.
- 6,618 people (or 34 percent of registered players) completed at least one mission or quest.
- 142 people (0.73 percent of registered players) completed all ten missions and quests.
- 73 people (0.37% of registered players) submitted Evokations.
Levels of engagement shown by visitors to EVOKE were much higher than those shown by visitors to other development-related websites (worldbank.org, unesco.org, kiva.org). Visits to urgentevoke.com averaged 9.0 minutes, while visits to worldbank.org average 3.5 minutes.
Visitors to urgentevoke.com viewed more than twice as many pages per visit than the average for visitors to worldbank.org. These and other data support the following observation:
During EVOKE’s ten-week run-time, approximately 100,000 visitors under the age of 24 visited the EVOKE platform and engaged with development challenges and social-innovation-based solutions; in all likelihood, many of this group would not otherwise have encountered these challenges or considered solutions to them.
South African players’ engagement and participation
Players from South Africa comprised 5.2 percent (or 1,010) of the more than 19,000 registered players, with an additional 2.6 percent (or 519) registered players from other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. (EVOKE producers and partners conducted a focused marketing campaign and various outreach activities in South African, activities that were not replicated in other African countries.)
South African players demonstrated higher levels of activity and engagement than did all players in aggregate. South African players spent more time on the EVOKE website and viewed more pages per visit than the average for all players; South African players on average completed 40 percent more EVOKE missions than the “global norm,” and also posted more blog, photo and video evidence.
South African players’ overrepresentation in EVOKE, plus their high levels of engagement and participation, suggest that they contributed substantially to the success of EVOKE and to the lively dynamic of the EVOKE social network.
Impact of EVOKE on African players
Survey responses from sub-Saharan African players suggest that participation in EVOKE:
- Led players to change their thinking about issues
- Helped players increase their self-confidence
- Increased players’ sense of agency and of future potential
These and other findings are provisional, in part because they result from players’ self- assessments.
In addition, participation in EVOKE required affordable and reliable Internet access, technological fluency, English language skills, a degree of familiarity with social networking and other conditions that are not available to most people in African countries. Access- related issues limit participation to privileged user populations, such as university students and young professionals. These limitations notwithstanding:
Survey and interview responses indicate that EVOKE was very effective in helping those players in sub-Saharan Africa who had requisite capacities and access to resources to develop 21st-century life and learning skills. These players were likely to increase their sense of agency in relation to future actions, their awareness of and engagement with social, environmental and economic challenges, and their knowledge in relation to these challenges and to potential solutions.
EVOKE in context
EVOKE should be seen as occupying a unique and potentially important niche in the broad array of donor-driven and national programs for development. EVOKE’s impact stems primarily from two key factors: the establishment of a diverse, global social network focused on social and economic challenges, and; a powerful blend of fiction and reality.
EVOKE’s combination of an international social network focused on development with an imagination-infused reality reduced barriers to participation, prompted imaginative solutions to be proposed, and fostered a sense of moral urgency among players.
Recommendations are predicated on the idea that EVOKE will be revised and repeated, or that other development-focused Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) will be designed.
Advancing opportunities for real-world action
One cluster of recommendations address the need to augment the pathways to players who wish to engage in real-world action as a result of their participation in EVOKE.
- Establish pathways to connect players to local NGOs and social enterprises
- Establish pathways to connect players to international NGOs and social enterprises
- Support platforms for affinity and interest groups
- Increase the transparency of the Evokation awards
- Experiment with languages and social-network scale
Advancing opportunities in education
A second cluster of recommendations focuses on improving the linkage of EVOKE to higher and secondary education.
- Explore partnerships for the education of “social innovators”
- Increase support for teachers (teachers guide, online community of practice, pathways
- Develop an “export to portfolio” feature and improved search/cataloguing
- Explore partnerships to improve students’ Internet access
Some consideration should also be given to the risks and benefits of developing a “students- only” version of EVOKE.
In addition to the preceding recommendations, the report recommends improvements to the evaluation design and process.
EVOKE demonstrates that development-focused ARGs have strong potential to serve as cornerstones supporting the emergence of a cadre of young, civic-minded, socially engaged African and non-African innovators. These innovators, nurtured in EVOKE’s online commingling of real and imagined worlds, will demonstrate increased abilities to find, organize and creatively make use of the knowledge resources and human resources necessary to address local, national, regional and international challenges in new ways.