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Recently, a ground-breaking conference on gamification was held in San Francisco that drew hundreds of participants. What, you ask, is gamification?

Gamification is taking ideas from games and using them in other contexts to encourage people to take certain actions. Fitness apps are a good example of this. On the one end of the scale, there are apps like Fitocracy, which awards you points for working out and lets you compete with friends. On the other extreme you have apps like Zombies, Run!, which has you listen to a story as you run; every once in a while, zombies will attack and you have to run as fast as you can. Once the danger has passed, you can return to jogging. (Some of you may recognize that this is actually interval training.)
You may be wondering what this has to do with legal aid. The idea of gamification definitely sounds like it’s a bit out there, but if you think about it, it really is just an application of behavioural psychology. Now that’s something that we’re really interested in. We spend a lot of time trying to explain really long and complicated processes. We know that some people will drop out of any online process, legal or otherwise. There could be a lot of reasons for this – from the stress of a situation to getting distracted by the family pet – regardless of the reason, we need to know if there are ways we can tweak how we present information to encourage people to keep at it and not give up.

San Francisco

How do you motivate people to do things that they know they should do but can’t quite make themselves do? In general, I think most people who come to us start out very motivated; they want a divorce or they need to help a friend find help with their legal problem. But the fact is that most legal issues can’t be solved in one sitting. They take time and, as that time passes, things crop up in their lives that affect how motivated they are.

One of the experts in motivation is BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford and a keynote speaker at the San Francisco conference. To oversimplify his message to one sentence: for someone to do a certain behaviour, they need to be motivated to do it, have the ability to do it, and then have the thought to do it. In our case, we’ve put a lot of work into making sure that people have the ability to use our resources. With what we’ve learned about the theory of motivation, we have a good starting point for making our resources more engaging, which should hopefully help people stick with them to achieve what they set out to.

Emperor_Joshua_A__Norton_ISan Francisco Fact: Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico, was one of San Francisco’s most famous residents. He declared himself Emperor of the United States in 1859 and lived out his life in San Francisco as a local celebrity and even issued his own currency, which was accepted in the city.

He was once arrested by a police officer who wanted him institutionalized. There was a public outcry and the Police Chief ordered Norton released saying, “that he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line.” After that, he was saluted by any San Francisco police officers who saw him in the street.

–Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator

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