The Call of Real Duty

Someone recently drew the Parent Imperfect’s attention to Community PlanIt, a project of The Engagement Lab at Emerson College. According to its designers, CommunityPlanIt is “an online engagement platform for local planning efforts” that combines the interactivity of social networks with the incentives of games.” As the PI’s father would have said, “I used to have one of them, but the buttons fell off of it.”

Apparently, the administration of the Boston Public Schools is using this tool to encourage more community participation in its own attempts to plan its future. From September 15 through October 20, a version of the game will be in place to encourage people to share their opinions about the way forward, as the system struggles through a difficult period of ongoing budget cuts.

For those used to social interaction via the computer, this might be an interesting way to provide some input on how the schools could be better. The game is not that complicated. Basically, users provide information by performing “activities” and answering “challenges” and reacting to information provided by others. As the user provides opinions, s/he gets points, which then allow them to purchase “tokens” that define some of their priorities for the system.

The PI spent some time looking for a concise “How This Game Works” page, but never found one. That meant that he had to figure it out himself, which took awhile. Either Vince or Connie would have understood it immediately, but they don’t seem to be interested. The lack of directions didn’t seem to affect Liz, either. She immediately disappeared into the thing and climbed into the Top Ten on the “Leader Board” (those users who are getting the most points). This is important because the top players will be included in a drawing for a Nook, when Community PlanIt goes face-to-face at English High on October 20.

Some people (besides Liz) are definitely participating in the game, but it doesn’t seem that the numbers are yet that large. it isn’t clear exactly how participation is being promoted. The PI found out via a comment on this blog, but there may still be two or three people in the BPS community who don’t see Parent Imperfect. If the BPS is sponsoring this Community PlanIt exercise, then it ought to be encouraging the community to participate. The PI’s visit to the BPS website didn’t suggest any effort to let people know about the project.

One interesting feature of the game is that a participant can see the institutional affiliations of other users. Some schools, such as the Boston Teachers Union School and Boston Latin seem to have quite a bit of participation, while others don’t seem to be in the mix.

The game website claims that the input gathered through this game will somehow impact the way that the BPS plans its future. The PI would love to know exactly how this is going to happen, especially if people from many schools don’t participate. If participants play the game as intended, the process will result in community members stating their priorities for the system by purchasing tokens. They will then have a chance to reinforce those priorities in a community meeting, which one hopes will be attended by BPS leadership. The PI will be interested to see what priorities emerge and how those priorities are and are not addressed as the system plans its future.

Community PlanIt will not suddenly turn the BPS into a system that listens closely to its community, but this is an interesting attempt to use people’s interest in computer games and social networking to get people talking about their schools. For this, alone, its worth a visit or two…just don’t kick Liz off of the Leader Board, as she seems intent on getting that Nook.



Filed under Boston Public Schools

6 responses to “The Call of Real Duty

  1. Parent Pluperfect (i.e. Liz)

    I only want the Nook if I can turn in it for real books…the old-fashioned kind with pages that crinkle and smell musty after you’ve owned the book for thirty years.

  2. Thanks for playing! And thanks for pointing out that CommunityPlanIt doesn’t have a home on the BPS website. You’re right, so we just created one:

    This is a pilot program designed in part to figure out IF people will feel comfortable giving feedback in this way, and if so, how valuable that feedback is. We’re also interested to see how many people participate, what slices of the community participate, and from this we’re learning what else we’d need to do to get the word out about it for future uses. Your points are excellent ones — thank you. We had folks at the BPS Jamboree last month demonstrating the game for thousands of families, we’ve written letters in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole and are working with community partners to get the word out, and we can always do so much more.

    I’m glad Liz is getting wrapped up in this. Our Office of Accountability will be using all this info to help design our school performance measurement tools down the road, so student input is important. It’s just another way to hear from people – not the only way, certainly, but we think it’s worth a try!

    Lee McGuire
    Chief Communications Officer
    Boston Public Schools

    • Well, that’s certainly a quick response. I’m glad to see the BPS trying to work more with social media and other tools that young (and not so young) people are getting more comfortable with. Liz will be happy to see that you consider her a student. We weren’t clear in the post, but it has been some time since she was in school. She’s the mother of Vince and Connie and the one who keeps this operation afloat.

  3. Parent Pluperfect (i.e. Liz)

    Hi Lee — it’s great to have the link there, but it isn’t very visible on the BPS home website. How about the link posted at public library and community center computers, so students and their parents who don’t have computers at home can know of the site and log on? I think there are so many students (I’ve worked in several of the BPS high schools) and families who would like to participate in this effort. Thanks –


    • Hi, Liz – yup, my bad, I thought you were a student. I should look up the word “pluperfect” next time before I make assumptions.

      One step ahead of you… We are working today to increase visibility in libraries.

  4. I have just put a “frequently asked questions” button on the homepage. It’s the ? in the top right corner. Thanks for your observations.

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