In Bhutan, it's 'game on' for innovation


Young monksYoung monks at a Bhutan monastery. Christopher Michel licensed under CC 4.0

Why an innovation developed by UNDP and the Bhutanese government could see parents in the Himalayan country encouraging young people to spend more time gaming

If you wanted bring together all segments of Bhutanese society to discuss youth unemployment issues, how would you do it?

In Bhutan, youth are the largest unemployed demographic; nationally, 7.3% were unemployed in 2012, and in urban areas it was nearly double that figure. With almost half (48.9%) the population under the age of 25, the Royal Government of Bhutan, parents, educators, the private sector, civil society, and, particularly the youth, are looking for new and creative approaches to engage each other in constructive dialogue about youth unemployment.

The result is Bhutan’s first youth unemployment gaming project!

Played online, or through SMS, the gaming project will consist of three ‘missions’, each open online for one week with its own unique theme (i.e. information sources, educational opportunities, etc). Game participants will answer questions and complete exercises designed to build empathy between different members of society, raise awareness of youth employment issues and instill a sense of personal responsibility for various aspects of Bhutan’s youth unemployment issue. Each mission will have a discussion board where all participants can share their thoughts and personal experiences regarding employment. After one week, a mission will close, and participants will move on to the next mission, with a new theme, and engage in further discussion. 

One of the most exciting aspects of the gaming project is its potential to change the tone of the conversation about youth unemployment in the country. The UNDP in Moldova recently completed a similar project, and the ability for various members of society to discuss complex issues regarding youth unemployment generated new and constructive ideas regarding the challenges, and maybe more importantly, the possible solutions.

Unlike conventional surveys or focus groups, the game-like social platform allows participants to visit the mission’s discussion board as many times as they like for the week it is open. The discussion among many participants results in a diversity and depth of opinions typically absent from other engagement methods. Participants can choose to be anonymous, creating an environment where they feel more comfortable, in the absence of social pressures that might suppress their true opinions or suggestions.

The game will also contain challenges and real-life awards meant to encourage youth participation, and it will cost participants nothing to play – not even the cost of sending an SMS. Each mission contains several milestones where points are awarded for a correct answer. Participants collect ‘virtual’ points throughout the game, and the top three participants will receive a cash prize at the conclusion of the project to help implement their youth unemployment strategies.

This style of engagement has only become possible in Bhutan in recent years. With a largely rural and dispersed population, Bhutan did not have the necessary high-speed internet penetration15 years ago. But now, Bhutan’s two mobile networks have over 73% of the population under subscription – mainly young people – and Community Information Centers have brought broadband internet to many isolated parts of the country.

UNDP Bhutan is working with the US-based Emerson College’s Engagement Lab, local techies and youth leaders from around the country to collaboratively generate the game’s content and develop an outreach strategy to maximize youth participation. Workshops will be held across the country where a cross-section of Bhutanese society can give their inputs into the game’s content. Shortly before the game’s launch, a workshop consisting of youth leaders from around Bhutan will converge in the capital Thimphu to help finalize the most important issues they feel need to be addressed in the game.

We’re very excited to start developing the game's content! If you have any ideas to make the gaming project more effective and interesting, we would appreciate hearing from you!

The game is set to launch in early October, 2014. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, let us know what you think!

This blog is part of an Asia-Pacific innovation series on how we’re harnessing new technology and new thinking to confront some of the biggest development challenges facing the region today. Follow us on Twitter @UNDPAsiaPac.

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