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Civic Media Project

Eric Gordon, Author

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Alternative 13 News: a New way to Involve Young Citizens in NGDO Cooperation Work Through Social Media and Gaming

José María Herranz de la Casa

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 (Herranz 2014). 

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.

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