Here’s how the Economic and Political Weekly used a game-based model to start a conversation about reservation policies on Twitter.

First published in 1949, the Economic and Political Weekly presents commentary on a wide range of issues. It’s authors range from political activists to Nobel laureates. The journal’s digital team participated in the Digital Identities workshop powered by Google News Lab and received one-to-one support to implement an experiment to increase engagement for Engage, its new digital initiative.

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Engage is a new digital initiative by EPW

Like any story, a game also has a beginning, middle and end. You make your way from the beginning to the end by solving a series of tasks and receive rewards in the process. Games also use simple exercise to introduce the rules of engagement. Whilst there are a finite number of beginnings and endings, every participant feels their journey is unique, which motivates them to stick with the game. Can this logic be used by publishers to create meaningful audience engagement?

In May this year we conducted a three-city tour of the Digital Identities workshop powered by Google News Initiative. This was our second visit to India after a success of the 2017 session in New Delhi. The theme was impact journalism. The team from the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) took part in the Mumbai workshop. First published in 1949, EPW has become ‘something of a global phenomenon’ presenting commentary on a wide range of issue. Its authors range from political activists to Nobel laureates.

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The Digital Identities workshop in Mumbai

We ask participants to bring an idea they can develop into an experiment to run after the workshop. Earlier this year, EPW launched Engage to make their research accessible to a wider audience. The goal is to offer their readers data-driven insights to help them make informed decisions on issues that are polarising communities in the run-up to the elections next year. They have a wealth of data and are in a unique position to offer perspective and debunk myths. But like every other publication, EPW is not immune to reader apathy.

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How I Fled ISIS and Spent Christmas With A Swedish Circus (src here)

In 2016, The Local, an online news website with a presence in nine European countries, participated in the Swedish edition of our workshop. We helped them develop a game-based narrative to co-create the following news story with an online audience at the height of the refugee crisis — How I Fled Isis and Spent Christmas With A Swedish Circus. The editorial team conducting the experiment found that it was possible to ask audiences to have a meaningful say in the storytelling process without compromising editorial integrity.

EPW have used this logic-model as a starting point to run three sprints led by Deputy Digital Editor — Vishnupriya Bhandaram. Each ‘game’ begins by EPW introducing a theme to their audience on Twitter. Subsequent levels require readers to make choices — using the Twitter poll feature — to unlock rewards such as graphics and animations. These rewards are an opportunity for the EPW to offer nuance on social media. The game ends with a data story published on the website.

On July 25, the day of the Mumbai Bandh called by the Maratha Kranti Morcha to demand reservation in jobs and education, EPW started a conversation in the afternoon to discuss reservation policies for India’s marginalised social groups. EPW does not take a position, but offers readers facts.

As the story evolved, the audience unlocked graphs that showed access to education and jobs by Marathas compared to Brahmins as well as OBC (Other Backwards Castes). This culminated in an article on affirmative action policies in India. The game had 110 participants on Twitter. Overall, there were 232 interactions (shares, likes and reactions) of the article via the social sharing tools on the website.

Each sprint has been a valuable opportunity for the team to learn how to present complex and often contentious issues in an accessible manner. ‘We really have to think about how and why people want to be engaged. Furthermore, we’re starting to see social media, especially Twitter — as a space for creating thoughtful interaction and driving traffic to the website,’ says Vishnupriya.

Moving ahead, the team will continue to develop their game-based narratives. ‘Game-based storytelling definitely helps in generating interest in research and more importantly, making the reader feel that research data applies to them,’ says Shireen Azam, Digital Editor for EPW.

These early results are helping them refine their presentation style on social media and on their website. They are also experimenting with their tone of voice — continue to be engaging without resorting to click-bait style narratives. Like any good game, they will also introduce an element of unpredictability — offering multiple endings and unexpected rewards. This includes exploring the use of other channels like Instagram and Facebook.

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Digital Identities powered by Google News Initiative is a free workshop is open to independent journalists, editorial teams, fact-checkers, product owners, community managers and hyperlocal publishers. Since 2016, we’ve engaged more than three hundred journalists, many of whom have conducted radical experiments and produced powerful stories. From Canada to India, these stories have been published on platforms that have a combined reach of a 100 million and they continue to inspire national conversations on issues such as gender, integration and politics.

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