The power of gamification: Designing and using learning games for local and regional governments

By Gaya Blom, Program Manager at The Hague Academy

This article was delivered as a mini-masterclass during the Learning Forum at the UCLG Congress in Daejeon, South Korea on October 11th, 2022.


Making the case for engaged learning

‘Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand’. – Confucius

There is very much value in implementing this approach in training programs for local authorities, CSOs, NGOs, donors, etc.

But why is this important? Research has shown that at the end of a traditional lecture, you know 100% of what you know, however well you know it. Only one day later, if you have done nothing with the information you learned in that lecture, didn’t think about it again, read it again, etc. you will have lost 50%-80% of what you learned. Our brains are constantly recording information on a temporary basis: scraps of conversation heard on the sidewalk, what the person in front of you is wearing. Because the information isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t come up again, our brains dump it all off, along with what was learned in the lecture that you actually do want to hold on to! By day 7, we remember even less, and by day 30, we retain about 2%-3% of the original lecture!

So what can we do to facilitate real learning for adults? How can we create learning that actually helps professionals in local governance to find real solutions for real professional problems? One way we can improve impact is to design training in such a way that our programs are making use of different training methods. It is here that learning games can play a really transformative role. Of course, there  are many benefits to using games in adult education. These include their role in helping motivate and activate learners, teaching problem-solving, communication and team-building skills, and promoting critical thinking. And of course they can be fun!


Practical guidelines for designing games: Four key questions to ponder

When we design or identify a game, there are some key aspects we need to keep in mind in order to ensure impactful learning:

First of all we need to constantly ask “what are the learning objectives?” We need to be clear about what it is that we want our participants to have learned at the end of the training? For example, if you want our participants to acquire team-building skills or get to know each other, then games we  will use are completely different from the ones we will use if the aim was to understand certain knowledge or develop problem-solving skills. For the first kindwe might choose games from which participants learn from each other or have a competitive element while for problem-solving skills we might go for a specific case study or an escape room.

Secondly, we must be clear about “who is your audience?” What is their age, what are their positions? Which country or which region are they from? For example, when we want to develop a case study it is helpful to know a bit more about the participants’ responsibilities and organizations they work for, and see how we can take this into account when dividing different roles. It is also important to know if we have people in the group who might have a certain disability. In case we have people with a visual impairment, then we obviously must have to design our game in a different way than when working with people who may have a hearing impairment. 

Thirdly, we must be clear about “how will you deliver your training: online or in a face-to-face format?” This modality is critical. In an online format, a role play is for example much more difficult to use than a competitive quiz or a game, which can work better online. 

Lastly, and in line with Prof Koong’s Keynote address on adult learning, we must ask ourselves “have  we applied adult based learning principles in our game?” For example, it is important for us to ensure that the topic of the game is relevant for our participants and that we make effective use of the experience participants already have as part of their lifelong learning journey.


Sharing an example that works well in practice

The Hague Academy, which is an institute created by the VNG on inclusive governance, uses the following games:

The Game of Life

Rather than explaining why inclusion is important, we make our participants experience what social exclusion actually means when we take the perspective of a marginalized group/individual. We have our participants play the game of life. Imagine a Mayor of a rural municipality in Burundi who, due to the opportunities he/she had in life, it is often not easy to imagine all the barriers people face to effectively participate in the society of the municipality. 

When we ask that Mayor to take the position of a girl with a disability and to assess the extent to which that person has access to education, health services, marriage, employment and political participation, we make the Mayor identify all the barriers that person faces. Other participants take the role of a man without disabilities, or a man with disabilities, or a woman without disabilities. We make them go forward or backwards in the room depending on the opportunities they see in life. 

Other participants can comment on the perception of the community in the municipality. As such the professionals not only gain awareness on the impact of social exclusion, they also identify marginalized groups that exist in their society, how intersectionality is an important factor, what different barriers to inclusion exist in their municipality, etc. Furthermore they develop skills in communication, debating, giving constructive feedback, etc. In this exercise, it is important that everybody is involved and that there is enough time for reflection and sharing. 

The Community Scorecard Simulation Game

Another example is a simulation exercise we do, around the use of the community scorecard. Instead of just presenting the different steps of the use of a community scorecard, we ask people to really conduct the exercise in a safe classroom setting to practise the use of it. We give for example the case that you want to use the community scorecard to measure the public health services in a community and especially around gender-based violence (GBV). We distribute different roles among the participants, for example the mayor, the village elder, religious leader, the GBV survivor, a hospital director or a judge and then ask them to simulate such a meeting where the services are scored by different members in the community. 

In both cases, if we would have tried to reach all our objectives by only using presentations or lectures, this would have taken at least a long (boring) day of sessions. The participants would have lost 50 to 80% of their learnings only one day later. While the game of life or the community scorecard simulation game can be implemented in an hour, participants do not only see things to remember, they are fully involved and therefore will also UNDERSTAND. 


Gaya Blom has broad experience in capacity development and project management in peacebuilding, migration and psychosocial support. Though she lived most of her adult life in the Netherlands, in the first years of her life she lived with her parents in different countries around the world. This is where her interest started to bloom to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. Now, Gaya works as a programme manager and trainer at The Hague Academy for Local Governance and mainly focuses on training programmes in citizen participation, migration and (disability) inclusion in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Burundi. Before joining the Hague Academy she worked at several Dutch refugee NGO’s enhancing the integration of refugees. Besides working in the Netherlands, she lived in Rwanda for several years where she worked for GIZ and the UNHCR to implement community-based protection and peacebuilding programmes to enhance social cohesion amongst refugees and host communities. Amongst others, she has experience in setting up capacity building programmes, delivering trainings on conflict sensitivity, communication and facilitation, monitoring and evaluation and conducting needs assessments. Gaya holds a MSc in Clinical Psychology from the University of Utrecht and a MSc in International Relations from the University of Amsterdam. She speaks Dutch, English and French.


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