Datopolis is a board game about building things - services, websites, devices, apps, research - using closed and open data. It was designed and developed by Ellen Broad and Jeni Tennison at the Open Data Institute

It's set in a town called Sheridan, which is gradually declining as shops close, teachers quit, hedgehogs go extinct and pollution rises. The tools players build contribute to making Sheridan a healthier, wealthier, happier place to live.

There's a short version and a long version of Datopolis. The short version is useful for team workshops and away days - it can be played within 20 - 30 minutes, and gets people comfortable talking to each other and negotiating to build tools with data. The longer version is for people who like to play board games - it has added role cards, bad things happening in Sheridan and generally more complexity.

Why a board game?

Board games communicate complex ideas in simple ways. They're tactile, social, offer fresh ways of communicating what can be fairly uninteresting themes (trading wheat and sheep anyone??), and sometimes, if they're good, Kim Kardashian might buy one.

Open data can be a little... exclusive. If you're working with data, talking about data, or in an area where more open data could be useful, then it's easier to grasp. If you're interested in access to information, or transparency and accountability, then you might have come across open data. But if you're not already on board (hehe) with open data, you may need other ways to understand its role and impact. A board game is one way of capturing interest in open data, without people necessarily realising they're absorbing knowledge about open data. Also, it's pretty clear board games are hip right now. They're in Hackney!

If we can pull one off that isn't awful, it's a great story, a novel way of talking about open data, and fits in with the ODI's myriad approach to illustrating the benefits of open data (from Data as Culture to videos to white papers and world class research to open data training). It's also a physical thing we could give to people we like - or who we want to like us.

What message should an open data board game get across?

An open data board game should be about more than simply releasing open data. The release of open data needs to be connected to benefits. A physical board game journey might involve clearing datasets for release as open data, achieving a certain data quality, and ultimately connecting data sets with a start up, SME or government to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.

The more we have played datopolis the more we have found it can help convey complex ideas, for example you can use the game to demonstrate:

Why not try the game for yourself, and see what you can learn.