Using gamification to improve health – (part 2 of 2)

This is my answer for the second written assignment of the Gamification class I’m taking through Coursera. The full question is available here.

Describe in general terms a gamified system that could effectively motivate behaviour change to improve the health of city employees. Specifically, explain how the system would effectively incorporate intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, or both. Your answer should address the fact that this is an internal gamification project, targeted at the institutional goals of the city government. The system can use any technology (or no technology!), so long as the resources required seem justified by the scope of the opportunity.

(via Cornell University Library archive)
(via Cornell University Library archive)


This gamified system aims to motivate employees to be more healthy, and benefit the organisation by reducing healthcare costs. The aim will be explained to employees at the outset. “This is your chance to do something for the organisation, and for the city.” Understanding an activity’s meaning beyond the individual is a powerful form of intrinsic motivation, called relatedness under Self Determination Theory (SDT). Employees are invited to opt in to the program, as to be in control of one’s own life is a powerful form of intrinsic motivation, called autonomy under SDT. By framing the internal gamification system in the context of the organisation’s goals, and inviting employees to opt in, we increase relatedness and autonomy, and so improve intrinsic motivation levels.

We want to encourage employees by making it fun to be healthier. Not every individual is motivated by the same thing; by offering a range of fun types, users can choose what suits them best.

  • Employees are issued with a smart tracker, like Fitbit, to record their activity level each day
  • This offers the user feedback: it’s fun to know how well you are doing every day
  • On an individual basis, employees will set their own personal challenges and targets in a way that suits their own level of fitness. (again, autonomy under SDT)
  • Points and badges are awarded for accomplishment. Intrinsic motivation through achievement is called competence under SDT.
The pyramid of Gamification Element, via @kwerb
The pyramid of Gamification Element, via @kwerb

Individuals may also chose to participate in optional social fun. The system supports self-organised smaller group activities, as well as official organisation-wide larger variants.

  • Competitions compare activity levels amongst friends and colleagues, conferring status upon the victor. (again, competence under SDT.)
  • Status is an important extrinsic motivator for some users. Introjection is the process by which these extrinsic motivators can become one’s own.
  • Competing can also be fun in and of itself.
  • Cooperation involves groups working together to achieve targets or complete challenges.
  • Cooperation could be a challenge, (earn a team badge for a million steps), or could be in competition with other teams, (“team of the month”).
  • Cooperation can also be fun just in itself. Working together is fun.
  • Cooperation and competition are especially valid for an organisation’s internal motivation system, like the Windows 7 Language Quality Game.

Results of quarterly health checks will show employees how they have changed over time. Rewards tied to progress offer a powerful extrinsic motivator. If the individual sees benefits to their own health, it may improve their motivation to continue. Identification is the process by which one adopts an external motivator because of its perceived value.

Lastly, as an internal gamification system, individuals’ efforts should be related to progress towards the overall aim of the company. The quarterly healthcare spend should be used as an ongoing mega-score. An avatar of the average employee showing the average weight loss serves a similar function. Showing progress towards the overall aim ties individuals’ progress into the wider narrative of organisational success.


I’ll be posting my thoughts about the course here under this tag. Use the hashtag #gamification14 on twitter to join in the conversation.

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