Datopolis: the board game for open data

Datopolis - captured

Google Docs notes for this session

Datopolis is a board game, created by Jeni Tennison and Ellen Broad from the Open Data Institute. At the outset of the session, Ellen explained that the game has been in development for around 12 months, and is still being prototyped.

The aim, naturally, is to explain the principles of open data and how they can be put to work. Jeni took a keen – if slightly apprehensive – set of players through the basics. The key pieces are hexagonal data tiles, she said, which represent data sets of different types. Clouds, for example, are weather data. Trains are transport. The tiles have two sides: a closed side and an open side.

Jeni: “You can build stuff easily on stuff that is open and less easily on stuff that is closed.” Player: “Is there some kind of agenda here?” Laughter. Jeni: “There might be.”

Then, there are tool cards which explain what kind of tools you can build with data. To play the game, you take a card, and, if possible, build a tool with it, that has to be given a great name. Creating a tool helps to create more health and vitality for the town of Sheridan. A dashboard keeps track of the social and economic value that has been created.

“However, if you are just making things better, that’s boring,” Jeni contended. “So there are also ‘event’ cards that are things that happen that can be really sad. For instance ‘mole chews through cable stopping broadband in Sheridan.’ If you get one of these, then you have to adjust down your scores on the dashboard.”

Victory – or zombie apocalypse

There are three ways for the game to end. “The really, really happy way, which is, I think, impossible, is to get [a set of scores – four on every indicator on the dashboard] that mean you have entered utopia. Alternatively, [you can get so many negative scores] that the town is destroyed, crumbles into zombie apocalypse and so on.”

Otherwise, when a player gets to ten points, the game just stops. But there are other ways to win. The players have specific roles in, for example, business or the public sector, and if they accumulate ten points they win.

Measles outbreak – go back two spaces

Any questions? Two teams of six got stuck in. Soon the room was full of anguished cries. “If I open this data set, what’s meant to be in it for me? Ok, that’s not enough.” “Oh no, there’s been a measles outbreak – I have to go back two spaces.” “If you give me a commitment, and a written contract, you’ll open up next round I’ll go with it.” “Holy moly, if you do that it’ll be the end of the game…”

Conclusions? One player said: “It’s not very like the real world, but it definitely generates discussion points.” And: “It’s not clear who is going to win or how, but I guess you often develop like that.”

Jeni and Ellen are planning to keep developing the game and hope it will be used for training and to enthuse teams about the possibilities of open data. Follow it’s Twitter account: @Datopolis: for details.

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