San José Citizens Play Innovation Games to Prioritize 2012-2013 Budget Proposals

On January 21, 2012, more than 100 community leaders from San José, CA, played a specially designed version of Buy a Feature, dubbed Budget Games, to reveal their priorities for the City of San José’s 2012-2013 budget. This is the second year that the city of San José, CA, has worked with The Innovation Games® Company to bring citizens, community leaders, and city officials together for a priority setting session to kick off the six month budgeting process. (Read about last year’s results here.)

San José, CA, like many cities across the U.S., is facing another year of budget shortfalls, with an anticipated deficit in the General Fund for 2012-2013 of $80.5 million. The city faces difficult choices as it starts the budgeting process and wanted input from its citizens on what city programs and services matter, along with feedback on cost-savings and revenue-generating proposals to fund those services. Not satisfied with surveys and other traditional market research techniques (click here to read about Feedback Fatigue), the Mayor’s Office asked The Innovation Games® Company to once again create and produce a serious game that would enable the city to get actionable, rich information from its citizens.


Budget Games vs. Buy a Feature

The Budget Games played by San José citizens work much like a typical Buy a Feature game — with one difference. In a traditional Buy a Feature game, players have a set and limited budget and reveal their preferences through purchases during gameplay. The Budget Games adds in the ability to increase the budget for all players through unanimous votes for cost-savings or revenue-generating proposals, such as a 1/4 cent sales tax increase or a reduction of staffing at fire engine companies. This mechanism allows city officials to gauge the community’s priorities for city services, along with their tolerance for initiatives to fund those services.


In Action

During the event,  community leaders from across San José gathered at City Hall, along with 30+ Innovation Games Trained facilitators, San José, CA, council members, the Mayor, City Manager and many subject matter experts, such as the Fire Chief, members of the Police Department, Budget Office and others. Across the room, a dozen tables debated, negotiated and ultimately came to a consensus on what their priorities were.

The conversations were often difficult and not always fun–not surprising since the game’s topic is so important. As Innovation Games Trained Facilitator Robert J. Stephenson observed after the event, “What struck me is the earnestness of the citizen volunteers. The general collaboration and civility did not come easily …  It was not all fun-and-games, but it was done cheerfully for a good cause.”

The Innovation Games team is currently post-processing the game results for the city and will be publishing more details about the event and the game results in the coming weeks. The San Jose City Council will begin studying the budget in mid-February, and the mayor’s budget message will be released in March.


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San José Citizens Play Innovation Games to Reveal Budget Priorities (Video)

On January 21, more than 100 community leaders from San José, CA played a specially designed version of Buy a Feature, Budget Games, to reveal their priorities for the City of San Jose’s 2012-2013 Budget. This is the second year the city of San José, CA, has worked with The Innovation Games Company to bring citizens, community leaders and city government together for a priority setting session to kick off the six month budgeting process. San José, CA, like many cities, is facing another year of budget deficits–a shortfall made worse by the State’s slashing of redevelopment agency funds.

In this coverage from CBS Channel 5, Mayor Chuck Reed, Council Member Pierluigi Oliverio, TIGC CEO Luke Hohmann and community leaders all comment on the difficult decisions facing the city and how the community can come together to tackle it.


San José Voters Take On Balancing The Budget With Innovation Games

Audacious Gaming

The January/February 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review caught my eye with a series of short articles on audacious ideas. Some of the ideas are really audacious, and challenge you to think differently about the world. Others strike me as pretty mundane. And others could go much further with a dose of Innovation Games®. And not to be denied, in this post I’ll also add our own audacious idea on using Innovation Games can change the world.Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2012 Cover

Pay for Performance

I understand — and generally agree — with Bruno Fey’s and Margit Osterloh’s assertions that “pay for performance” compensation models have serious flaws. However, sometimes there is no other way to accomplish an organizations’ goals without some kind of pay for performance scheme. Consider my company. The excellent growth we’re experiencing in Europe suggests that we should hire a European Business Development manager. Since we sell mostly to executives, that person must be experienced. Which means he/she will want a fat salary that he is likely worth — and one we can’t afford. Performance-based pay to the rescue! By offering a commission plan based on results, we can safely grow our business. And sales people love simple plans that put money in their pocket. So, for me, the more audacious idea, which is surprisingly not all that audacious, is to thoughtfully approach job and compensation-design with an awareness of what your company can safely afford and what truly motivates your workforce.

Patient VCs

Bruce Gibney and Ken Howery from Founder’s Fund have an entry about how VCs should  “learn patience” and invest in companies that show real progress. While their article sounds nice, I don’t believe a word of it. I think VCs are just like any other buyer: they buy with their heart and they justify with their head. If they see a start-up they like, they find a way to fund it. If they don’t like the idea, no amount of demonstrated growth or proven results will convince them otherwise.

Fortunately, true commitment in a start-up has nothing to do with the VCs who might invest. Instead, the true commitment of a start-up is found in its employees and customers. When the employees gives up, you’re done. When the early customers don’t come back, you’re done.

I speak from experience. There have been plenty of times when my team should have quit. Like the time we had zero money for payroll. Or the time a key client threatened to cancel their company’s enterprise license because they were justifiably upset that our system crashed at 2:00am Pacific time and no one fixed the server until 8:00am. Which was a real problem since they had planned a large number of games out of their European office. I could go on, but why bother? Most every successful company goes through such challenges.

What matters is how the start-up team finds a way to overcome these challenges. The day we were going to run out of cash a large customer listened to my dilemma and pushed through a new contract for enough money to cover payroll in one day, for which I will be eternally grateful (and if you work in a F500 company, tell the truth: could you push through a contract in one day?). My European client rescheduled the game, and we improved our network monitoring and management systems by moving to Rackspace (full disclosure: and apparently Rackspace likes us too, as they are a customer).

My point? A patient VC is nice. A VC who is not just patient, but who genuinely believes in your idea is more than nice. But a more audacious idea, that frankly is not audacious in the least, is building a team devoted to solving your customers’ problems as best as you possibly can. In the process you might find yourself living a truly audacious idea (at least audacious by Silicon Valley standards): a start-up that doesn’t need venture capital.

Using Innovation Games for Tough Conversations in the Conversation Project

Ellen Goodman’s article on the Conversation Project resonated deeply with me: we need to have thoughtful conversations about how we die. And motivating people to do this, and radically improve health care, strikes me as an inspiring, audacious goal. And while I think many people find the prospect of these conversations scary, or painful, I believe that by using Innovation Games® we can share conversations on how we die in ways that are engaging, uplifting, and even fun. Here are three games that you could play as part of the Conversation project.

  • Knowsy®: Businesses make the mistake of thinking they know their customers’ priorities – until a failed product reveals their misunderstandings. Families make similar mistakes, assuming they know the priorities of their loved ones nearing death. Knowsy makes learning the priorities of others fun. And we can brand Knowsy so that business can learn the priorities of their customers through play (details here). By playing Knowsy on serious topics like death, aging, and health care choices, we can foster the crucial conversations that lead to better outcomes.
  • Product Box Death: ask participants to imagine their ideal death – and then build a box to sell that death to their family. In the process, people creating the box will have the chance to explore their own feelings. And the projective teochniqueofthebox and the result will help them share this conversation with others.
  • Remember the Future Afterlife: ask participants to imagine that they have died and that they are looking backwards on their last 6 months of their life. How will they have lived? What choices will they have made? By “remembering” their death, participants can have better conversations about their life.

I hope that Ellen or a member of her team will find this post, and take me up on the audacious idea that serious games can help create the conversations promoted in the Conversation Project, as I hereby commit that The Innovation Games® Company will create, free of charge, a version of Knowsy for the Conversation Project that can be used to foster conversations on life priorities.

What are your audacious gaming ideas?

San José Budget Games 2012

On Saturday, January 21, 2012, The Innovation Games Company and the City of San José , CA, will host the second annual Budget Games event at City Hall in San José, CA . The specially-designed version of the Innovation Game Buy a Feature was first used in 2011 to help the Mayor’s office get actionable feedback from community leaders. Unlike other methods (such as rank-choice voting or surveys), Budget Games encourages collaboration and negotiation and provides insight into the how and why behind decisions.

Community leaders and San Jose, CA residents participate in the first Budget Games on January 29, 2011.

The 2012 San José  Budget Games will be part of the City of San José Neighborhood Associations/Youth Commission 2012-2013 Budget Priority Setting Session. More than 100 community leaders will participate, along with officials from City government and agencies and more than 30 Innovation Games Trained Facilitators and observers.

Residents of the City of San José  who are interested in participating can register here.

San José Neighborhood Associations/Youth Commission 2012-2013 Budget Priority Setting Session
Where: City Hall, San José, CA; 200 East Santa Clara St, San José, CA, 95113, Wing 118-120 Committee Rooms
When: Jan. 21, 2012; 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM
What: In-Person Budget Prioritization Exercises
Who: 100s of community leaders and San José, CA, residents. 30+ Innovation Games Trained Facilitators and Observers. 30+ city leaders and subject matter experts.