By Clemens Gros, M&E Specialist and Innovations Focal Point, UNICEF Ghana
Each year, some 12,000 children in Ghana die from pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases. Hand washing with water and soap (HWWS) is proven to be the most cost effective health intervention to reduce both the incidence of diarrhoea and pneumonia for children under 5 years. However, less than 1 in 8 Ghanaian households practice HWWS.
To address this problem, UNICEF Ghana has initiated a new collaboration with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. Together with UNICEF’s partners from the Government of Ghana, civil society and academics, they will create a new, highly engaging game that helps children learn about HWWS and take meaningful action to reduce the risk of diseases.
The Power of Games to Trigger Behaviour Change
A growing body of research and evidence shows that educational games and other experiential learning activities are effective in transferring knowledge and inducing behaviour change. Many practical examples already illustrate the value of game-enabled participatory processes, such as the game ‘Humans versus Mosquitoes’. It has been used extensively to teach health risk management decisions and associated consequences to parliamentarians, youths and managers in development agencies across Africa and the Americas.
A ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’ to Address Health Risks in Ghana
At the recent inception workshop, convened by UNICEF from 11-13 February, 2015 in Akosombo, southern Ghana, participants worked through an intensely interactive set of tasks to identify and examine options, coming to a consensus about the parameters of the game so that it can have maximum impact among schoolchildren and other at-risk sectors of the population. The purpose of the game is to educate about HWWS and prompt children to become peer-to-peer educators about hand washing with soap.
“Hand washing with soap is called a ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’ for many good reasons,” said Susan Namondo Ngongi, the Country Representative of UNICEF Ghana. “With this collaboration we want to unleash the potential of games to transfer knowledge and trigger action so that every child, woman, and man knows why it is important, when and how to do it”.
Workshop participants included representatives from the Government of Ghana (Education Service, Health Service, Ministry of Local Government, Community Development, and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency), as well as civil society partners, and UNICEF staff.
UNICEF’s partner organization Right to Play actively contributed to the workshop by sharing their participatory educational games for school children. Directly following the workshop, Right to Play organized a school visit for the game development team. Observing playful learning activities, the developers could experience local games played by children and how Right to Play uses games for learning.
A New Kind of Collaboration
Through the programme cooperation agreement with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Center, UNICEF Ghana taps into the innovative potential of an organisation that is recognized as a thought leader in the space of serious games for risk management. Their team has developed and deployed games in a wide range of contexts, from climate risk management in rural Tanzania to a participatory gaming session at the White House in Washington D.C.
The Climate Centre also offers rigorous analyses of serious games and their impact through more than a dozen books, book chapters, peer-reviewed articles and other publications.
The inception workshop in Ghana was the starting point for the iterative development process led by the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. Their expert game designers will create the game experience and materials, in close collaboration with UNICEF Ghana and its partners, and with frequent play-testing sessions with Ghanaian children.
From ‘offline’ to ‘online’
The final prototype of the ‘offline’ game is expected for November 2015, playable with locally available materials even in the remotest parts of the country. The development process will include robust metrics to determine the effectiveness of the game in triggering behaviour change and will be evaluated accordingly.
While game materials will be tailored to the Ghanaian context, the game design will be made publicly available for free and can be adapted to other country contexts. An ‘online’ version, playable on affordable smartphones and tables, and via the Internet, is envisaged for 2016.