Alternative 13 News: a New way to Involve Young Citizens in NGDO Cooperation Work Through Social Media and Gaming
Anesvad is a Spanish Non-Governmental
Development Organization (NGDO), independent and aconfessional whose aim is to promote
and protect health as a fundamental human right. At present it is developing
projects in 19 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In April 2012 Anesvad launched
a project called Alternative
13 News with the purpose of finding
new ways to involve society in international cooperation projects. This
involvement would go beyond the traditional financial contribution and would
aim at testing new communication strategies in the area of cooperative work; such
as exploring the use of new technologies and social media in this way; and looking
for new means of communication to reach young people.
This project was part of “Conexiones Improbables”, a platform where Anesvad opened and showcased its
projects to citizens and organizations. This is an example of a new way and
strategy that many social organizations are using to connect with citizens
Alternative 13 News was an Alternate
Reality Game (ARG) that lasted for 3 weeks. From a fictional situation, these
games make the player feel he/she is experiencing the event as real. Alternative
13 News was an experiment that sought to explore new forms of awareness, in
this case the right to health. New forms of communication that generate complex
context-based knowledge on topics that affect every person on his own and
ultimately move to action, all in a fun and interesting way.
In this case, Alternative 13
News consisted of a news site that collected new and information feature reports
related to the right to health. Fictional news were projected into the future,
the year 2013; and the objective for the players were go to through the
situation of being deprived of the right to health.
This fictional news allowed
them to experience the reality that millions of people live every day in
developing countries. To increase its plausibility the game started with fiction video news conducted by popular and well-known journalists;
the news site had advertising banners as any webpage; and there were winks to
contemporary events such as the news related to Wikileaks.
Players enrolled in the Alternative
13 News platform had to stand up for several types of challenges. First,
challenges to act and defend their rights, such as signing a petition
to remind the government that it must respect international conventions
including the right to health; Second, challenges to become journalist and
write stories, like one about the resale of drugs in a neighborhood in the city of Barcelona or another one about how the city of Santander suffered an infections due to the lack of drinking
water; Third, challenges to
investigate and search for information, like finding a cartoon in the news that had to do with the current health news, such as how budget cuts are affecting public
health services. As participants met challenges, points were given.
There were also other collaborative
challenges where players had to join to solve a series of riddles to uncover a
hidden plot (e.g., Who Killed the Judge B. Perez? Or Where is Sara Beramendi?). And
also some dilemmas and challenges in the form of collective decision-making, which was resolved
by a vote by all participants. For example, if the conditions of a general
48-hour strike were accepted.
Social organizations and NGOs
are increasing social media use to reach citizens (Guo and Saxton 2013; Waters
et al 2009; Nah and Saxton 2013) and this project is a clear example of such
development. During those three weeks, Alternative 13 used social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube to Wordpress and Blogger blogs) to make
content more dynamic. The news site was updated as the challenges were issued.
This experience resulted in 167
registered users of which 65 resolved one challenge at least. Most of the players
were students of Advertising and Communication degree at the undergraduate and
graduate levels. For the three weeks a
total of 548 challenges were solved and 1,100 private messages were exchanged
between players and the game masters.
According to these data,
more than 10% of the players were heavy contributors, people who followed the
game from the beginning to the end and finished the game by completing most of
the available challenges. These figures are considerably hither than those
revealed by other research works on the subject, where heavy contributors do not go
beyond 1% participants.
The question was whether it
was possible to create an online project to raise awareness on the Right to
Health, aimed at young people, and to prove it an attractive and interesting
experience. The answer was positive both in quantity terms (number of articles
written, connection time to the web site and scores), and qualitative terms (for
the quality of the articles written). The knowledge generated among
participants in the project may have contributed in varying degrees to create a
desire to change these situations, encouraging the involvement of citizens in
transforming and changing their social environment. Eventually, it was shown
that a fictitious situation in the past may become reality in the future. If we
look at the current state of affairs in developed countries like Spain, the
effects of the economic crisis and the slow disappearance of the welfare state
are transforming a fictional situation in a far more real experience.