Games and contests typically include:
- Board games—for the table-top or the computer;
- Card games;
- Computer simulation games or contests;
- Crossword puzzles or other word games;
- Games of chance, such as raffles; and
- Essay, design, or poster contests.
Games alert people to a broad range of issues, give them information, and pinpoint their transportation priorities by asking them to make decisions and tradeoffs. Games that involve choices—for instance, placing game pieces to indicate acceptable development densities or spending play money for industry or environmental protection—help clarify priorities, identify the range of positions, and aid agency decision-making.
Contests encourage participants to bring in new and fresh ideas.
Games and contests involve a broad variety of people who might not otherwise participate in planning and project development processes. No one is likely to be an expert at a custom-made game, so everyone starts at an equal level of skill; people who are neophytes in transportation planning play together with those more knowledgeable about planning and project development. For example, games that elicit value tradeoffs are much more effective than the "indifference trade-off method," a complex, abstract process involving measuring preferences, assigning weights, and mathematically determining priorities. Few other participation techniques match games and contests for light-heartedness, playfulness, and liveliness.
Games and contests are interactive, requiring players to make conscious efforts to participate. In every game or contest, a player or contestant must understand instructions and then interact with other people playing the game or engaging in the contest. This interaction is rewarding and fruitful and makes participation a pleasure.
Playing a game or entering a contest is often educational. Participants may explore history or transportation issues or learn about regulations, transportation construction techniques, or geography.
Games and contests generate publicity, because they grab the attention of people in a busy world, then provide a useful way for them to focus on an issue. They engage people quickly and involve their thoughts during the time it takes to play. They give a sense of accomplishment, leading beyond simple advertising. A major utility company used contests to promote its health plan options and health club programs by giving cash prizes to winners with the best T-shirt design.
Games are used in training agency public involvement staff to help them better understand the issues from a lay point of view. A number of computer games give players a chance to create new towns, complete with transportation lines, budgets, and impending natural and fiscal disasters. An urban planning computer game shows the interrelationships between urban growth and city management and investment.
Games and contests sometimes change an agency’s image in the community. Agencies that have been thought of in the past as outsiders uninvolved in the community are seen in a different light when they sponsor a game or contest.
Contests generate ideas for implementable projects. In St. Louis, Missouri, the Sierra Club sponsored a contest involving high school students to develop projects for which enhancement funds could be applied.
Games and contests are exploratory, stressing possibilities for change in the environment, transportation, and the places we live. They get participants to understand different perspectives and concerns by opening up opportunities.
Games are risk-free for participants. People are often willing to play a game in which they encounter the potential impacts, because there are no real-life consequences. Yet, by being involved, they see an issue from a different perspective—one that may be completely foreign to them.
Games and contests get parents involved through their children. Many children are interested in games and become engaged easily.
Games are played by interested community people, officials, or other stakeholders. Games and contests are distributed as widely as necessary to engage people who need to be aware of issues or themes and to open up communication lines. A game of chance, such as a raffle, reaches a large group of people and makes them aware of an issue.
Certain games are easily played at regular community meetings. Simple board games or charades are easy to play with any group. Role-playing board games can provide a central focus for a special meeting.
Computer games appeal to a limited group of participants. Computer simulation games should be geared to a wider audience than just the computer literate. Exciting, colorful graphics, icons, and simple instructions that walk users through the steps are key. They should entice play by people who may be unfamiliar with computer capabilities and are distrustful of computers. Computer games focused on role playing are helpful for people who would particularly benefit from seeing other perspectives. These include, for example, using a computer to illustrate what different floor area ratios would mean in terms of development density or to show how close various transit alignments would come to neighborhoods.
Contests are often designed for special audiences. Participants who have considerable knowledge of technical issues are reached through specially designed contests. Contests that require abilities in art or poetry attract people with these special skills. Children enjoy tactile games and toys.
People participate as individuals by playing a game or figuring out a crossword puzzle. They also design posters or submit ideas for contests.
For meetings, small group board games with visual implements foster interaction.
Involving children requires outreach, since children do not generally attend meetings. Schools offer one of the best ways to reach children—through classes, extracurricular activities, or field trips. A school class won a contest sponsored by a major supermarket chain and developed a board game full of environmental tips. Such groups as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or Camp Fire Girls are another good resource.
Agencies use games to learn people's priorities by incorporating ranking games at meetings.
Agencies use games and contests to stimulate interest in planning issues or publicize project development. Contests are effective in reaching those not traditionally involved.
Games facilitate effective communication between an agency and a community.
Agencies use games for training, which helps staff understand their potential for public involvement processes. Similarly, Pennsylvania DOT created "Citizen Lane," a board game used to train DOT employees on public involvement in project development, from preliminary design through construction. The one-hour game uses six sets of color-coded question cards for the phase of project development. The cards cover "incidents"—for example, what to do when 400 people show up at a room capable of holding 50—and "issues"—questions that challenge players to deal with potential major problems in a public involvement process. The "issues" cards require the six players to brainstorm together for an answer. The questions cover material included in the DOT’s handbook on public involvement. Agency personnel have been extremely enthusiastic about participating in workshops using "Citizen Lane." Such training efforts help staff understand what tools are useful and how games and contests that are engaging, fun, and easy to learn can contribute significantly to a public involvement process.
Names of contestants and game players can form the basis of a mailing list for agencies to contact interested parties and supply further information. Permission should be obtained prior to placing anyone’s name on a list.
Contests are designed, promoted, and led by people who have a clear vision about the goals—whether the contest is for publicity, education, or more specific transportation planning options. An organizational leader is needed to support the contest through publicity; distribution, receipt, and tabulation of forms; and awarding of prizes.
Games require trained leaders who understand the game’s goals. A leader must be enthusiastic and fully understand the process. Either agency staff members or outside consultants lead games. Guidance through a game may be required, even if the game is extremely well-developed. After the game, the leader must skillfully guide people through discussion and evaluation.
Games or contests are often designed to be played by individuals or in groups, sometimes with help or kibitzing from a friend or relative.