Skip to content

The Open Data Game Surprise

I take my hat off to PwC Wellington and Auckland for appreciating the value of data and being bold enough to try new ways to help others learn about it. They provided a great space, food and drink for another successful Open Data Game night, where we played Datopolis (created by the Open Data Institute). As is always the case, those that came raved about the experience.

Datopolis logo

There are some people out there who would be disappointed if they knew just what they had missed out on. We have held 4 Open Data Game nights now, and as with anything there are no-shows but everyone who does come ends up having a memorable night of fun and accidental learning.

If you think you’re too professional to play a game, you’re wrong.

If you think you can’t learn anything really valuable from just a game, you’re wrong.

If you think a game can’t relate to real life, you’re wrong.

It’s a real “Catch 22”, people don’t come because they don’t really understand the fun and learning they will have, but the only way to know that is to come and find out. I have to be honest, I’m passionate about open data but even I thought “seriously, an open data game! How boring will that be?!” But I was very surprised, this game is cool

So here’s the spoiler… If you haven’t played, I’m going to tell you a bit about what you’ve been missing out on. By doing so, if you ever do play, you will not experience the surprise of realising this as you play for the first time, but too bad.

The game experience

Photo of people around a table playing the game

First of all you have to use your imagination (and for those hardened professionals, imagination is an essential resource for innovation). So you flex your imagination muscle and imagine you live in a town called Sheridan. And like any real world place, events happen in Sheridan that have a detrimental impact on the town’s economic, environmental and social wellbeing.

Your job is to build tools to counter those impacts and keep Sheridan a comfortable place to live and out of crisis. To build those tools you need data (but you don’t need to know how to use data to play the game). Some data is private and can’t be shared, other data you can choose to make open or closed (not able to be used by anyone else).

Throughout the game you will:

 - Have to choose whether or not to open data for others to reuse
 - Discover a heap of ways data can be used
 - See how many times open data gets reused for different tools
 - Negotiate – to exchange data or tools or to get data open
 - Be given a role that may have a bias towards one outcome, economic, environmental or social
 - Be challenged in a crisis to help the town out of crisis, even when it goes against your role
 - Discover there are more than one way to be a winner
 - Discover that everyone may end up being the losers (and no-one wins)
 - See how government regulations can free up or hamper innovation
 - Discover yourself around the table with a mix of people from consultants, to entrepreneurs, public servants, students – all having fun together
 - Find yourself wanting more data open!

All in all the game is a great tool to help a wide range of people better appreciate the importance of open data and collaboration. It’s a great tool because you learn, or are reminded of important lessons through participating in a genuinely fun way.

As someone whose job it is to raise awareness of open data, I’d much rather play Datopolis than present at a conference. More fun for me and definitely more fun for my target audience!

If you want to experience the open board game, or if you have experienced it and want to borrow a set to share with others, either tweet us at @opendatanz on Twitter or email us at