City of San Jose

Business problem:

Serious games used:
Buy A Feature

In 2011, the City of San Jose faced a serious budget shortfall, not an unusual situation for many cities over the last several years. What was different in San Jose’s case was the city’s decision to take an innovative approach to involving the community in shaping the new budget. Mayor Chuck Reed decided to run a serious game, Buy A Feature, to ask citizens which programs they would fund or cut.

San Jose worked with Innovation Games to run this exercise. Both sessions were very successful, involving dozens of community members. City government officials were also on hand to act as subject matter experts, answering questions about the nature and impact of various programs. Participants were very excited about playing Buy A Feature in this fashion.

Not only did citizens provide direct feedback to the city government about programs that were important to them, but they had an opportunity to talk to each other about the type of San Jose they wanted to collectively create. Participants had to listen — really listen — to what others had to say. They had to uncover the points on which they genuinely disagreed, and points where they agreed. They had to discuss what the likely outcomes of programs (or their absence) would be, and how those outcomes fit into their picture of a future San Jose. In other words, these exercises profoundly re-defined the democratic dialogue over some very important, very substantive issues.

Building on this initial success, the City of San Jose has run the same type of sessions in both 2012 and 2013. In other words, the modified version of Buy A Feature is now a regular aspect of how the city government works with citizens to determine the future of San Jose.

For more information…
Description of the second game, from the Innovation Games web site.
Short video overview of the budget game.
Local news coverage of the second game.
Results of the exercise
Forrester Reseach blog post on the first game.

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