How can maps provide motivation?

by Matt Ball on March 28, 2010

Perspectives Header

The class of maps that go beyond navigation to consolidate thought and convey a message belong to the broader class of infographics that aggregate words and numbers in a visual medium. While charts and graphs are often used to show progress to a goal, nothing personalizes the objective like measuring status, and revealing shortcomings, on a map.

With the 2010 U.S. Census underway, one of the more interesting items in the marketing and awareness campaign was released this week. Through a partnership with Google, the U.S. Census Bureau is publicizing participation rates through their Take 10 Map that give varying levels of views down to the local neighborhood level. Besides being a fascinating map to navigate and consider how demographic and neighborhood makeup affect response rates, the map itself is a clever means to provide an incentive to trade on local pride and increase participation rates.

Already there is news that governors from different states, and mayors from different cities, are placing wagers on which wll have a higher response rate. This is inline with the kind of bets that take place during large sporting events, and makes the Census process into its own kind of game. This great idea got me thinking of the role of maps to motivate individuals or to incentivize change.

Revealing Realities

Maps that deliver a broad picture of current status are a valuable reality check for society. Mapping such indicators as overall economic performance, public health, and environmental balance for large regions and countries have a powerful impact on policy. The map becomes a means to gauge the current realities, to reveal deficiencies, drive decisions, and monitor the performance of policies.

Maps are ideally suited to convey these types of societal indicators as they provide an understanding of the whole while allowing for comparisons at different scales. This multi-scale feature provides a means to align policy direction at different scales of government, making maps the ideal medium for collaborative policy making and resource integration.

Providing Measurement
At the top of the U.S. Census map tracking page is the note, “If 100% of households mailed back their forms, taxpayers would save $15 BILLION dollars.” Conveying that there is a lot at stake in the response rate has been a challenge for the agency, and the connection to cost is a key metric in these trying economic times. By making the progress public, the Census has offered greater transparency and given individuals more of a stake in the success.

Maps provide an easy means of measurement against a goal, aggregating details from larger scales down to local views. The entry points of states, verses localities, is a central measurement here to the success of this approach. In one easy session, users of an interactive online map can see quickly see how their neighborhood, city, state and region are doing in comparison to the nation as a whole. Our level of belonging to these different scales are different, but with each there is a connection. We want to see each behave above the norm, and will be inclined to speak with people around us to make sure that these response rates increase. And with the means to gauge progress we’re more likely to become involved and help census takers complete the data in order to see response rates and details about our location fill in.

Games Going Everywhere
In any journey there is an end goal, and maps are an ideal means to communicate progress. Beyond navigation waypoints, maps are well suited to gauging progress toward goals, which also makes them an ideal game medium. There are a number of new social networking map-based gaming platforms (Foursquare and Gowalla) that play off our location and ownership of place.

The idea that we trade off our locations, and increase our ownership of things based on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen, can only be enabled through our current means to track and aggregate our movements on a map. The tools and platforms for location-based gaming are finally reaching critical mass, and it can be expected that we’ll see a greater integration of location-based games in the near future. The map view becomes the means to update our status, deliver incentives, create connections to places and other individuals, and to motivate our interactions.

Harnessing competitiveness as motivation for participation in the 2010 Census is a clever psychological angle, and the map as medium for this message is a key driver that creates instant ownership beyond simply returning your own individual form. The map as motivator extends from individual pursuits all the way up to policy pursuits of the nation. It’s great to see the federal government using maps in this fashion, to encourage participation through low-cost crowd sourced means, in order to drive better efficiency.


Jesse Schell’s Talk on the Future of Games, DICE 2010

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