Archive for March, 2007

What are our Assets?: Social Entrepreneurs are asking

March 30, 2007

What are our Assets?

This question about assets is a question about: ‘what do we have that we can leverage to generate earned income (make some money) to support our social mission?’

A balancing act between mission and money objectives faces social entrepreneurs every day. Nonprofits who operate earned income ventures ask operational and management questions that require a balancing act. Nonprofits who are analyzing the feasibility of a new venture ask the same kinds of questions prospectively.

If we reframe the question a bit, we can get down to brass tacks answers.

Our assets = our core competencies

Our core competencies are:

  1. Not WHAT we do, but …
  2. HOW we do it … exceptionally well


The question about assets becomes:

HOW do we do what we do … exceptionally well?

  • Does your staff have specialized knowledge?
  • Have you evolved a database that contains specialized information?
  • Do you operate with a “low-tech” system or process that produces great results for clients?
  • Have you developed “high-tech” software that facilitates that process?
  • Does your organization have a strong social network of volunteers or sponsors that helps you get things done?
  • Does your organization have community recognition for being able to get things done?
  • When somebody says the name of your organization — do people associate that name with the good things you do?

Real Property

Physical assets are usually the easiest to identify … if you OWN real property, such as land, buildings, equipment, vehicles.

But also consider the value of your LEASE on any land, buildings, equipment, or vehicles. You OWN the LEASE. Even a lease is an asset you may be able to leverage to generate earned income to support your social mission.

Intellectual Property

If you produce materials, such as books, manuals, handouts, for use in your programs — those materials are physical assets that you OWN. Such materials are your Intellectual Property. You can protect your ownership of those materials through patents, trademarks, or copyrights. Once protected, these intellectual property assets can be better leveraged to generate earned income to support your social mission.

The Internet

The internet has opened up a whole new world of assets a nonprofit may be able to leverage to generate earned income to support its social mission. If your organization or your venture has a website — you have web assets that can be leveraged. Two things that create value in “web real estate” are: a) number of visitors, and b) number of in-coming links.

Are YOU analyzing the feasibility of a new earned income venture?

Does something in this list present an opportunity for you to generate earned income?

How do YOU determine whether there is a market opportunity there or not?

What other questions does this opportunity raise for you?

Are YOU operating an existing venture?

What items on this list have you revisited lately?

Where do you think you may have an opportunity to push the envelope to increase your earned income level?

When you ponder your opportunities, what further questions arise for you?

SElearninggames has set up a Brain Reaction to help us get at some of our key questions.

You can link over and add your question to the list of questions we are generating.  And rate the questions that others have generated.

We can use this blog to explore our questions in greater depth.


Redesign Theme Emerging = STORY

March 20, 2007

“You are in a galaxy far away … your job is to save the world…”

The Selearninggames Redesign Team is off to a fun start. [cf. previous post] The early emergence of the story-telling redesign theme is very cool – because story-telling is a classic game design principle.

Question: What is the simplest redesign thing we can do to make it clearer “how to” participate in making the game?

Answer: Clarify the goals by “telling me a story about what we are doing here.”

Story as Game (Re)Design Principle

Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals) provide us with a basic definition of “story”: there is an initial situation; then there is a sequence that leads to change in that situation.

A story includes things like: plot, character, and patterned repetition of key elements. We (us human beings from earth, not necessarily those guys on other planets in other parts of the galaxy) use story-telling to process information and make sense out of stuff.

S & Z tell us that story-telling plays out in game design in two different ways:

  1. Embedded = you play inside the story that the game-makers made up
  2. Emergent = you make up your own story as you play (but – you are still playing within the rules of the game that the game-makers made up)

The embedded story is fixed and pre-determined. Every player gets the same story. The end of the story is the same for every player.

The emergent story arises out of your action choices in the game. Your choice leads to a different outcome. The end of your story depends on your choices during the game.

Emergent stories arise from player interactions that are both “coupled” and “context-dependent.”

  1. Coupled = game elements act together in ways that a single element cannot (one action creates creates a change that creates another change in the overall system of the game)
  2. Context-dependent = changes are not the same every time (changes depend upon what else is happening in the game system at the moment of your action choice)


The Role of Story-Telling in Game (Re)Design

A fundamental building block of narrative game design =

game goal.

The goal guides players in understanding the significance of their action in context.

Our “Bee” Redesign Team echoes:

For Kevin Jones, the objective of telling a story is to make the goals of this making-the-game game more clear. Making the game goal more clear will help to clarify “how to” participate.

Playing a game means interacting with and within a space of possibility that has narrative dimensions.

When you start playing the game — your story begins.

For Steve Sherlock, the beginning of the story is our desire. Our desire to make the making-the-game game happen.

The idea of story-telling as redesign principle raises a bunch of more questions for me. What kind of story do WE need?:

Is our story about making the game?

Is our story about “how to” make the game together?

Is our story about what will happen in the making-the-game game?

Is our story about what will happen when we play the game “after” we make it?

How can we tell a story about a game who’s very essence is the concatenation of all of our stories?

How can we tell a story about a game that we keep on making – a game that never ends?

My version of the story:

our making-the-game together game is

a story we need to tell ourselves

That’s a different story.

The story that S & Z tell about stories in game design is a story about story in a game that somebody else made for us.

The story we need to tell is a story about a story we are telling ourselves.

A story about a game we are making for ourselves.

Here’s my Quick & Dirty:

Game Goal = improve profitability for individual nonprofit earned income ventures

Game Concept = game goal is accomplished thru discovery and application of strategic pattern solutions to profitability problems hidden in collective real-world experience

Game Design = collaboratively player/learner-made

That’s not a “story.”

How ‘Bout this “Story”:

Once upon a time, there were over 500,000 nonprofit organizations in the U.S. alone who operated (or wished to operate) an earned income venture. Unfortunately, less than half of these ventures were “profitable” (i.e., generated NET income to support their charitable missions).

Some of these social entrepreneurs believe that the clues to solving the mystery of earned income venture profitability lie hidden in our collective real-world experience. These social entrepreneurs believe that making an elearning game together can help us harness our collective intelligence. The goal of playing the making-the-game together game is to increase the profitability of our own individual earned income ventures.

Our first step in making this learning game together is to use free Web2.0 tools (like wiki and blog) to share our common profitability questions and discover our common profitability solutions. Out of our sharing, we make the core content and rules of this game for ourselves — out of our real-world experience.

Our first step story:

  • share our individual questions
  • discover our common questions

Our second step story:

  • share our individual answers
  • discover our common solutions

Our common questions and our common solutions are the game content. This content is not imposed on us — we tell each other what it is.

The rules of the game are the relationships between our common questions and our common solutions. The rules that connect our questions with our answers are not imposed on us — our real-world experience shows us what the connection is. Our story about profitability emerges out of our playing the -making-the-game game together.

The solution to the profitability mystery is the meta-patterns of our common answers.

Your first mission (should you choose to accept it) is:

share your earned income venture profitability question.

[this message will self-destruct if nobody plays][we will all be more profitable if we play together]

Our Game-making Possibility Space

S&Z tell us that playing a game means interacting with and within a space of possibility with narrative dimensions. A story starts with an initial situation, and a sequence that leads to a change in that situation. Our initial situation = unprofitability (or not as profitable as we want to be). Together, we can set in motion a sequence that leads to change in that situation. We can tell our own story about nonprofit earned income profitability.The possibilities for how OUR story will unfold are endless and/or we don’t know what they are yet. Looks like we feel like we need to narrow it down. Looks like we could narrow it down with the story we tell ourselves.

Our “Bee” Redesign Team workspace wiki page is set up in a Question/Answer Game

external image CUTEBEE.GIF

format. Please join us.

What are YOUR questions?

What are YOUR answers?

What’s YOUR version of the STORY?

Initial Playtest Results — Collaborative Next Step Iterative Design

March 10, 2007

Positive: concept/theory

Not-so-positive: engagement/participation

Call for a “Bee” Team to take Next Step Iterative Redesign

(“Plan ‘Bee’ is to make Plan A work”)




78.9% say YES.

Making an elearning game together CAN

help nonprofit social entrepreneurs

solve the mystery of earned income venture profitability.


most Selearninggames wiki visitors


So far:

Selearninggames is ‘engaging’ on a conceptual/theoretical level, but not engaging on a level of participation in making the game. We’re not having fun yet (in fact, it sounds more like work).

Profound questions were posed.

what does making the game “together” mean?

what’s a good source of real-life data?

what does playing “Flood It” have to do with social entrepreneurship?

is it the game? or is it MAKING the game?

The Selearninggames concept has been referred to as a “breakthrough” idea.

“This game could be about developing a game to design a game to design a solution that our non-profit could employ as its social venture”

“Building a game in which players look to achieve the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] would be unreal.”

“I think the essence of fun in MMO’s is working with other people to overcome challenges. Can we figure out how to replace the fun of killing monsters with the fun of slaying real world challenges?”

One cool example of actually playing the making-the-game game can be found in the comments to my earlier post (where myself, Bernie DeKoven, and Steve Sherlock play with making a Question/Answer + Duck-Duck-Goose game).


Results like these guide our iterative next steps.

Concept/Theory is good

My theory is that social entrepreneurs over the past 10 years have built up enough collective experience/collective intelligence to solve the profitability problem – we just don’t know what we know!

We can make a learning game together to discover what we know — apply what we learn in the game — and improve real-world profitability for individual ventures.


Game Goal = improve profitability for individual nonprofit earned income ventures
Game Concept = game goal is accomplished thru collaborative discovery and application of strategic meta-pattern solutions to common profitability problems hidden in our collective real-world experience
Game Design = collaboratively player/learner-made


Building blocks of the concept:


  • Together, nonprofit social entrepreneurs know everything any one of us needs to know – we just don’t yet know that we know it.
  • The strategic meta-pattern solutions to our common profitability problems are hidden in our collective real-world experience.
  • Patterns are common solutions to common problems that have been proven effective over and over again.
  • Games are inherently ordered by a pattern language – therefore, a game is a natural structure for us to think together with for the purpose of discovering our hidden patterns.
  • MAKING a game (even more than playing a game) facilitates higher-order, big-system analysis of the relationship between our common questions, our common problems, and systemic consequences.
  • Multi-player/learner communities are capable of massively parallel problem-solving.
  • Problems solved in the virtual world can be applied to change outcomes in the real world.
  • Results of real-world application can be fed back into the game, making the game better (and more useful) as player/learners play.


Here’s how I see it “playing out”:

Design Phase: player/learners engage with free Web2.0 tools (wiki and blog) to collaboratively create game content and rules of play built out of collective real-world experience.

Development Phase: put the tech to it: features and functionality of game engine, learning management systems, and business intelligence technologies mobilize the player/learner-made game content and game rules.


Design Dilemma: Over-design/Under-design

Selearninggames wiki to date is poised the horns of that dilemma: it is both.

The question about what to do and how to start making the game together draws a fine line in the sand.

Selearninggames is striving to straddle that fine line between:

  • enabling us to do-it-for-ourselves (make our own game together)
  • telling you what to do (make the game for you)

external image podcast_merholz.jpgPeter Merholz
“Designing for the Sandbox” (jump to about minute-10 on this podcast), and others, have suggested that the designers’ role is to set the stage with a vision, values, tools and context; then embrace the chaos: people will make something useful of it for themselves.

I also read somewhere “let them build it and they will come.” They came, but didn’t engage in building something useful yet.

Qualitative and quantitative feedback tells us that Selearninggames is “under-designed.” Visitors to the wiki don’t know what to do, don’t know how to get started, and therefore, have not participated (re: page edits, discussion comments).

Redesign challenge: facilitate player/learner engagement and participation in making the game together … tell us what to do without “telling us what to do”

Interestingly, there has been a higher level of “backchannel” participation – communication in private messages or in other forums. Correspondingly, there has been more blog comments than wiki participation; more wiki discussion than wiki page edits.

Redesign challenge: encourage the backchannel into the collaborative open space … get us started without “telling us how to start”

Selearninggames may also be “over-designed” in the sense that the concept/theory is too much in the forefront. (in my own opinion – may be what makes it sound like more work and less play; so if you want more concept/theory details, just take a look at the wiki!). Paradoxically, it is the concept/theory that has attracted the positive attention.

Redesign challenge: set an attractive stage: present concept/theory with vision, values, and context — without erecting a barrier to participation


Call for “Bee” Team: Next Step Iterative Redesign

My Photo

Jane McGonigal suggests an approach based on how “I Love Bees” worked to engage a multi-player community in participation.

Despite a lack of instructions, and nowhere to turn for direct answers, players across the world self-organized into small groups to approach the problem from different angles.

These small groups proposed various solutions. Some were incorporated into the rules about how to play the ‘large-group’ game (indeed, some solutions initially rejected were later adopted as the game evolved). Armed with these solutions, players made sense out of a collection of Web2.0-delivered GPS coordinates and times. These GPS/times data revealed clues about virtually coordinated real-world action steps to unlock the mystery posed by the game.

Our Selearninggames “Bee” Team

This is what I’m talkin’ about:

I am talking about a small collaborative core team to generate the next iterative redesign of Selearninggames wiki and blog tools.


Make it clearer “how to” participate in the making-the-game game.

  1. Find that fine line between under-design and over-design
  2. That will actively engage broad-based, cross-community participation in the making-the-game game

This is not what I’m talkin’ about: I am not talking about a “seed” participant group. I am talking about resolving a tool design problem.

I read somewhere that a successful wiki needs to get a jump start from a small group of dedicated participants who “seed” the engagement and participation of others. I thought that such a seed group might emerge, rather than be artificially constructed; it didn’t. I thought this emergent seed group might grab hold of and resolve making-the-game game design questions themselves; they didn’t.

It’s a tool design problem we need to solve – there is no point in attempting to seed participation, until participants have a clearer idea about “what to do.”

What does the “Bee” Team look like; how will it work?

(Heard on NPR this morning: “Plan ‘Bee’ is to make Plan A work”)

The “Bee” Team looks like:

The “Bee” Team is one small group (6-12 ?) composed of like-minded folks approaching the wiki & blog redesign goal from different perspectives:

  1. nonprofit social entrepreneurs
  2. gaming
  3. elearning
  4. Web2.0 community-building

How will the “Bee” Team work?:

The “Bee” Team will work collaboratively with Web2.0 tools.

Our Redesign Goal: make it clearer “how to” participate in making-the-game game

I have set up a “Bee” Team workspace page on the Selearninggames wiki for us to get started. We can work directly in the wiki; we can work on this blog (maybe even set it up for multiple authors?); we can use Skype for collaborative conference calls and IM conferences …

Please comment on this post:

Let me know what you think about this small group redesign approach. Will this work to break the engagement/participation barrier to nonprofit social entrepreneurs making an elearning game together that solves the mystery of earned income venture profitability?

Please let me know if YOU are interested in being part of the “Bee” Team.

Add yourself to the “Bee” Team wiki page, or

email me: sdickinson at columbus dot rr dot com