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Impact evaluation, now a board game!

posted Mar 31, 2015, 11:23 PM by Ignasi Mas

 [From Savings Revolution blog, April Fool´s day] 

If rigorous impact evaluation can improve the lives of poor people in developing countries, why couldn´t it improve yours? But few of us have the time or inclination to fill in the necessary questionnaires, the discipline to refrain from polluting behaviors that can get in the way of precise measurement, and the patience to wait a couple of years to get the results. Gamification may hold the answer: if it makes you do and buy things online that you otherwise wouldn´t do and buy, why not gamify your self-improvement research? 

The smart folks at Controlled Human Impacts Corp (CHIC) have come up with a board game that takes a group of friends through the process of evaluating impacts on a range of daily activities and chores.

This is how it works. The board is split up into a sequence of zones, which players need to transition through. Everyone starts in the Faith Zone, and to move into the next zone, the Evidence Zone, they must cross the Base Line. They do so by picking up 578 cards from the Instrument Pile on the Evidence Zone, and answering the question on each card. The questions are drawn from among the best that real researchers have used in the field, such as (from here): During the last week, how many days were you bothered by things that usually don’t bother you? Thinking about two weeks ago, how much did your household spend on cold cuts and sausages that week? In a scale from 1 to 10, do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance, or would they try to be fair? Who decides whether to buy an appliance or not for the home, you or your spouse?

Questions must be answered out loud and in rapid-fire fashion. Other players can call out “hesitation!” when answers are not delivered with enough conviction, or “inconsistency!” when the answer to a question contradicts the answer given to a previous question, but that does not affect the course of the game in any way. 

The next step up from the Evidence Zone is the Treatment Zone. Here each player picks a single card from the Treatment Pile, which contains an action that the player must do or avoid. These actions for all players are themed around a given topic, which need not be particularly significant but they need to be easy enough to do – or not do. If the theme is dishwashing, for example, the actions on the cards might be things like: Stick a note on your forehead reminding you to do the dishes tonight. Or think up three good reasons why you should do the dishes tonight. 

Once you have accepted your action or inaction, you move into the Observation Zone. This part is timed, using the sand clock provided with the game, and tends to be the slowest part of the game. While you are in the Observation Zone, you can think or not think about your action or inaction. At every turn of the sand clock, each player needs to pick up and declare the answer to another set of 459 cards from the same Instrument Pile used previously. Here you might get to tell the other players: During the last 30 days, due to lack of money or resources, how many nights did you or your child go to bed hungry? In the last two years, have you bought or sold a mattress or a heater? In the last month, how much did your household receive from jobs without a fixed salary? On a scale of five, how much trust do you have in your family?

This is done two or three times (players can decide that as they go along), and on completion of this process, players move automatically to the Trial Zone. In this Zone, the players look at each others´ responses and have to decide whether Impact has happened or not, based on how action and inaction changed their answers. For this, they can use a calculator provided in the game box that only has two function buttons: average and subtract. If a player finds impact on someone else (for instance in the previous example, that more dishes have indeed been washed), he or she should shout out: “ME! ME!” (short-hand for impact that has been measured and evaluated). If no impact is deemed, players can still declare ME! if they can find specific circumstances under which impact could be detected. For instance, if more dishes got washed on even-numbered days, if more dishes didn´t get washed but those that did were more sparkling, or if the left arm did more washing than the right arm.

Impacted players pick up a Science Point, and can then start all over again but each time they must pick a different action or inaction card in the Treatment Zone. The winner is whoever collects most Science Points after n rounds.

CHIC´s game is sure to transform our lives. Their motto is: “a life with more data is a life with more meaning.”  But the game doesn´t come cheap. CHIC insists that the price is the only data point that is not significant. They cite research with dozens of people who have played the board game where the action was to buy the game, which consistently shows ME! ME!