The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released an iPad app to help citizens learn more about the agency’s mission. Users participate in disease “outbreaks,” which they must try to stop before the disease spreads. Players are given information that mimics real clues that CDC detectives have used to solve real outbreaks.
The use of technology to engage the public is not a new idea. Many agencies, most notably NASA, are using social media to communicate with the American public. Other agencies have released apps, but the CDC’s gamification of disease control is a significant step forward for government:
“The goal is to use new technology to provide an engaging, interactive way for users to learn how CDC solves outbreaks, thereby increasing general knowledge about real-life public health issues,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “This application allows us to illustrate the challenges of solving outbreaks and how our disease detectives work on the front lines to save lives and protect people 24/7.”
In the game, participants also become familiar with health tips, definitions and information about epidemiology, which is a science used to investigate outbreaks and to monitor patterns, causes and effects of diseases on the public. Users advance in rank as they earn points and can post their results on Facebook and Twitter to challenge other participants.
“This is a great learning tool for science teachers, teens, young adults, public health enthusiasts and mystery lovers,” said Carol Crawford, branch chief, CDC’s Electronic Media Branch. “The three introductory scenarios are based on actual events EIS officers have solved. We also plan to add new outbreak cases.”
Read iPad users can solve public health outbreaks on the CDC website.
The CDC has a history of unique approaches to public outreach. In 2011, the agency launched a campaign called Zombie Preparedness. U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Ali Khan said this about the campaign: “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”
The agency did receive some negative press for this exploit, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. According to the Washington Post, the CDC Twitter account grew from 12,000 followers to more than 1.2 million overnight. The agency’s website crashed when 30,000 interested readers tried to access the site in a single day.
Whether or not you agree with the strategy, the CDC’s mission to engage with the public has been successful, and it’s earning the agency new fans every day.
How is your agency engaging with citizens? Let us know in the Comments section.