Serious fun: Boosting awareness of public services through gaming

July 15, 2022
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Almost every parent’s been there - pretending a spoon is a plane to get their child to eat vegetables! While not normally described as such, this practice is called ‘gamification’ and it has uses far beyond making dinnertime easier.

Research shows gamification is effective in motivating people to adopt new behaviours. Some companies use gamification to increase brand awareness and loyalty, while in the public sector healthcare providers have used games to encourage healthy eating and lifestyles. Likewise, the principle has been used to reduce speeding in Sweden, train emergency services personnel in Singapore, and increase people’s use of digital public services in different nations.

UNDP and our fellow UN agencies worldwide have used gamification to great effect. The UN Pulse Lab Jakarta utilized the language game Translator Gator to translate English words into six local Indonesian dialects, for use in academic writing and documenting social projects. Recently UNDP’s Mission 1.5 application encouraged people around the world to consider how they can personally help mitigate climate change’s impacts.

Games are a great way of helping people be forces of positive change.

Building demand for services

Inspired by these successes, UNDP Uzbekistan’s Accelerator Lab (Acclab) has collaborated with the Ministry of Justice, EU and UNDP joint project ‘Improving public service delivery in rural areas’ (IPSD) to create a ‘city building’ mobile game prototype. This game is intended to raise the public’s awareness of and engagement with public services.

Now’s the best time to launch this application. Uzbekistan’s public services are becoming more diverse and more efficient, in line with the Government of Uzbekistan’s commitment to make citizens the public sector’s priority, while public demand for services keeps increasing. More and more people want to learn how to access services faster and easier.

There was a time when registering a marriage, getting a business license or retrieving personal records required multiple visits to public offices, filling in excessive paperwork, and often a lot of travel. Today we are ever closer to public service access needing a visit to just one of 207 Public Service Centers operating throughout Uzbekistan, including in isolated rural areas, or a quick ten minutes spent on the online Unified Portal of Interactive Public Services.

Nearly 80 percent of Uzbekistan’s population are now internet users, connecting mainly through mobile phones. This means mobile applications are the best means of both promoting and delivering public services – in particular for engaging young adults who make up most of Uzbekistan’s population, and who require services to establish their businesses, households and lifestyles.

The challenge: Build a city in a day!

After considering various approaches and ideas, we decided the best way to engage young people in learning how public services build communities, is to have them do just that – build a city from the ground up.

In the mobile game we are now developing and playtesting, to be launched by the end of this year, players will be their city’s mayor and try to build a green, sustainable urban space filled with happy, fulfilled citizens. Completing this game will require no small amount of intelligence and planning!

Our application will inform players of the range of public services available in Uzbekistan, and the importance of each one. Services replicated in the gameplay will include connection to public water infrastructure and electricity networks, provision of building permits, cadastre services, and others. Following the game’s instructions players will learn what’s involved in service delivery, including processing time, costs and required identification and documents.

Naturally the game will signpost to public services available online at, and at the Public Service Centers operating across Uzbekistan.

Learning through fun

This game will not just inform players of which public services exist, but also get them thinking about their role in building e-governance, strengthening gender equality and environmental sustainability, boosting employment, and creating living and working spaces.

The triggers embedded in the game, like questions asked to players, minimum building construction requirements and the game’s reward system, are designed to expand how people think about public services. For instance, a player won’t be able to construct a commercial building unless minimum ecological requirements are met, like creating green recreation spaces that offset carbon emissions.  

A city’s heart is the people who live and work there. Their quality of life – fulfilling employment, clean living environments, and equal rights and opportunities regardless of gender – relies on simple access to public service assistance. As such, each decision a player makes as mayor will influence their city’s ‘quality of life’ or happiness index. While we’re entertaining people, we also want them thinking how they can use public sector assistance in their lives.

What comes next

Once finished in Russian and Uzbek languages, our prototype will be tested by 100 students and public services users. Their feedback will show to what degree the game’s intended messages have been delivered, and help further refine it before it goes public.

After the game’s launch we will measure its impact through indicators including number of downloads, active users and how many times the game is played, responses on social media, and how often it has encouraged use of online services. These indicators will measure not only the application’s reach and impact, but also show gamification’s potential to engage Uzbekistan’s citizens in other ways.

This game is part of broader collaboration between Acclab and the IPSD project, who share a commitment to improving lives of vulnerable persons including women in rural areas, the elderly and people with disabilities. Alongside this prototype game, other experimental initiatives include two ‘Innovation Hot Spots’ in the Jizzakh and Syrdarya regions where citizens can give feedback on public services, and using this input when designing mobile public services for the same regions. We will measure these initiatives’ successes, and scale them up to benefit all Uzbekistan’s citizens.

Please keep an eye out for our city-building mobile game – coming online soon!

Prepared by Adkham Kuchkarov of Accelerator Lab, Rimma Mukhtarova and James Brindley