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Meet Commons, the Mobile, Social Gamification of 311

BY Becky Kazansky | Tuesday, June 21 2011

New Yorkers have a new way to identify problems and solutions in their city with the launch of Commons, a mobile, social game which aims to make 311 an easy and social experience through a platform for citizens to "record problems in your neighborhood and vote on other players ideas."

The design team premiered the game in lower Manhattan on June 19th at the River to River Festival, in joint effort with the urban street games festival Come Out and Play and the Games for Change Festival, where it won this year's Real-World Games for Change Challenge.

In a presentation at Games for Change this morning, lead designer Suzanne Kirkpatrick pointed out that when NYC residents call 311, "many people end up reporting on the same problems without even knowing it."

She and designers Nien Lam and Jamie Lin saw an opportunity to change the the usual feedback loop from citizen to city government. With Commons, they explained, the idea is that participants can build momentum and conversation around problems before the city government even gets involved.

"What if people could see each others reports in real time," Kirkpatrick asked at Games for Change, held at New York University, "and comment on them and vote on the ideas they think are best and form community action groups in response?”

The game, which after six weeks of development is now available for downloading from the iOS app store, presents a local map of lower Manhattan that users can tap on to discover specific user-submitted "tasks" for hyper-local problems that need solutions. At the first public event on Sunday, Commons received 350 submissions over 2.5 hours of play.

"What is up with all the cracked sidewalks around city?" asked one user-submitted task. "We almost fell..the baby stroller almost tipped. Help!!"

In response to a question at Games for Change, Kirkpatrick said that she plans to pass information about that issue along to New York City officials.

The designers hope to ultimately integrate Commons with the city's 311 system for tracking non-emergency issues. They have plans to make the game cross-platform and open it up to development for any other urban community interested in implementing it.