How the UNSSC is connecting learning to behavioral change through gamification

How the UNSSC is connecting learning to behavioral change through gamification

The UNSSC, the United Nations System Staff College, has partnered with The 2B Collective, to develop the My Sustainable Living Challenge (MSLC): an innovative gamified learning path, designed to nudge behavioral change towards sustainable living.

We talked to the UNSSC after the launch of the MSLC to discuss the overall experience, which gave us an insight into the results, real-life experiences, and successes.

How UNSSC is achieving their goal

The mission of UNSSC is to address the learning and training needs for the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. An important agenda that contains the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and belongs to everyone in the world. It’s only with collective action that the ambitious agenda can be realized. The UNSSC wants people to not only start thinking differently but also start acting differently. They felt that there was a gap between these two things, thinking and acting. Moving from transmitting knowledge to inspiring behavioral change is challenging, especially when discussing sustainable development.

 My Sustainable Living Challenge

To bridge the gap, UNSSC collaborated with experts from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to create the My Sustainable Living Challenge (MSLC).

My Sustainable Living Challenge is a global initiative aimed at encouraging individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyle practices that contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The challenge invites participants to make small changes in their daily lives that promote sustainability, such as reducing energy consumption, conserving water, and adopting sustainable transportation methods. Through this initiative, the UNSSC hopes to start a global conversation about sustainable living and foster a sense of individual responsibility for creating a more sustainable world.

In the fall of 2022, the first challenge went live for 373 participants. For six weeks, people from all over the world went in teams through the gamified learning path to reflect on and take action toward living their lives more sustainably, while also connecting with other like-minded people from across the world.

Community as the key success ingredient

Sandhya Balasubrahmanyam and Samant Veer Kakkar, program managers for the MLSC at the UNSSC, both look back at a successful first run in 2022. One element of the experience stood out: connecting the participants to form a community.

“In order to cause a genuine behavioral change, we believe that the collective is a key ingredient. The MSLC provided us with some insights that validate this approach.”

At the start of the program, the teams consisted of people who did not know one another. Yet over the course of the program, this altered. Teams developed a sense of community because of the importance of collaboration during the tasks. A clear example of this is the creation of WhatsApp group groups through their own initiative. In these chat groups, the participants discussed the results of their challenges and shared ideas for sustainable living.

A real-life example:

One of the participants was on holiday during one of the challenges, in a remote area with no WIFI, and was struggling to participate in that week's challenge. The challenge made her feel a strong sense of community with her teammates and she convinced her teenage daughter to share her precious WIFI hotspot so she wouldn’t let her teammates down. Eventually, she was able to complete the challenge without failing her team.

This demonstrated that both the competitive and community elements of the challenges motivate people to engage fully with the challenge.

Smart Moves

Recognition has proven to be a very motivating factor for people. UNSSC has done this successfully by sending an additional email at the end of each challenge week. In this email, the best-scoring team and the winners were highlighted. Also, they featured a number of exciting and motivating comments shared by participants in the gamified platform. This small gesture gave people the feeling of being seen and recognized.

Another smart move of UNSSC was the introduction of a social media toolkit. This kit consisted of images and templates for Linkedin messages. The social media toolkit had quotes such as: “I completed the MLSC” or “I was the champion of the week”. This made it easy for people to share their experiences and it gave them, again, recognition.

What did UNSSC learn from this first run?

  1. "Mostly, we learned a lot about less is more. Writing the content for the learning program, we felt that there was so much that needed to be said and included in the challenges. But during the creation process, we learned the power of less is more. It is a lesson for future programs that we need to push ourselves to do that even more."
  2. "During this run, we chose some sustainable prizes which were shipped to the winning teams and players. But even when a product is made from renewable resources, buying new stuff and shipping it to participants all around the world conflicts with our view on sustainability. Therefore, in future programs, we will offer different prizes that are really profiting sustainable development. Think about planting trees or donating to charities in the name of the challenge winners."

  3. "We got feedback from one person that the challenge was too easy and they did not learn anything new. We were quite happy to hear this because it teaches us about our most important target group. It shows us that targeting people who are already super aware and involved in sustainable living is not the way for us to trigger behavioral change. For the MLSC, we should be aiming to target a broader and more diverse group of people who are interested to live more sustainably and are not experts already."

What's next? A bright future!

How does the future look like for MSLC?

In this first round, 373 people were activated. The next run will be launched on World Environment Day on 5th June 2023. And this time, the UNSSC is targeting an even wider audience and aiming for an even higher number of participants.

With  the support of the UN Environment Programme, the MSLC will be made available to a 1000 participants in 4 languages: English, Spanish, French, and Russian. This will enable even more people to be activated by the My Sustainable Living Challenge, all over the world.

For extra info about the next challenge, check the UNSSC website.

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