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Alternative 13 News: A New way to Involve Young Citizens in NGDO Cooperation Work Through Social Media and Gaming

José María Herranz de la Casa

Anesvad is a Spanish Non-Governmental Development Organization (NGDO). It is an independent group and a confessional whose aim is to promote and protect health as a fundamental human right. Currently, Anesvad is developing projects in 19 countries in the continents of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

In April 2012 Anesvad launched a project called Alternative 13 News with the purpose of finding new ways to involve society in international cooperation projects. This involvement would go beyond the traditional financial contribution and would aim at testing new communication strategies in the area of ​​cooperative work (Herranz 2014, 7)—such as exploring the use of new technologies and social media in this way; and looking for new means of communication to reach young people. This project was part of “Conexiones Improbables,” a platform where Anesvad opened and showcased its projects to citizens and organizations.

Alternative 13 News was an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that lasted for 3 weeks. It consisted of a news site that collected information feature reports related to the right to health. Fictional news items were projected into the future, the year 2013; and the objective for the players was go to through the situation of being deprived of the right to health. This piece of fictional news allowed them to experience the reality that millions of people living in developing countries go through every day. To increase its plausibility, the game started with fiction video news conducted by popular journalists.

Players enrolled in the Alternative 13 News platform had to stand up for several types of challenges: 

  1. Challenges to act and defend their rights; such as signing a petition to remind the government that it must respect international conventions including the right to health. 
  2. Challenges to become journalist and write stories (e.g. the resale of drugs in a neighborhood in the city of Barcelona;  how the city of Santander suffered an infections due to the lack of drinking water).
  3. Challenges to investigate and search for information, (e.g. finding a cartoon in the news that had to do with the current health news). Participants were rewarded with points as they met with their challenges. 

There were collaborative challenges where players had to join others to solve a series of riddles in order to uncover a hidden plot (e.g. Who Killed the Judge B. Perez?; Where is Sara Beramendi?). They also faced some dilemmas and challenges in the form of collective decision-making, which was resolved by a vote by all participants. 

Social organizations and NGOs are increasing social media use to reach citizens (Guo and Saxton 2013; Waters et al 2009; Nah and Saxton 2013) and this project is a clear example of such development. During those three weeks, Alternative 13 used social media (Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube to Wordpress and Blogger blogs) to make content more dynamic. The news site was updated as the challenges were issued. 

This experience resulted in 167 registered users of which 65 resolved one challenge at least. Most of the players were students of Advertising and Communication degree at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  For the three weeks a total of 548 challenges were solved and 1,100 private messages were exchanged between players and the game masters. According to these data, more than 10% of the players were heavy contributors, people who followed the game from the beginning to the end and finished the game by completing most of the available challenges. These figures are considerably higher than those revealed by other research works on the subject, where heavy contributors do not go beyond 1% participants. 

The question was whether it was possible to create an online project to raise awareness on the Right to Health, aimed at young people, and to prove it an attractive and interesting experience. 

The question was whether it was possible to create an online project to raise awareness on the Right to Health, aimed at young people, and to prove it an attractive and interesting experience. The answer was positive both in quantity terms: number of articles written (178), connection time to the web site (11 minutes on average) and scores; and also in qualitative terms: for the quality of the articles written, although more of them weren’t journalist. Players who engaged more, connected to the web several times a day and two of the goals of the experience were reached. First, try to empower the players through the fictitious situations: the aim was to achieve real and effective involvement of the players in real causes some challenges, and was achieved following the model of the 'micro-volunteering.' Second, develop a collaborative game: all the players got 80,543 points and 36.643 points were achieved by individual challenges and 43.900 were achieved by collaborative challenges.

The knowledge generated among participants in the project may have contributed in varying degrees to create a desire to change these situations, encouraging the involvement of citizens in transforming and changing their social environment. Eventually, it was shown that a fictitious situation in the past may become reality in the future. If we look at the current state of affairs in developed countries like Spain, the effects of the economic crisis and the slow disappearance of the welfare state are transforming a fictional situation in a far more real experience.


Herranz, J. M. 2014. “Different Ways to Reach Transparency and Trust through communication Management inSpanish Nonprofit Organizations.” In ICT Management in Non- Profit Organizations, edited by J.A. Ariza-Montes and A.M. Lucia-Casademunt, 36-55. Hershey: IGI Global.

Guo, Chao and G.D. Saxton. 2013. “Tweeting Social Change: How Social Media Are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy.”Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1): 57-79.

Nah, Seungah and Gregory D. Saxton. 2013. “Modeling the adoption and use of social media by nonprofitorganizations.” New Media & Society 15: 294-313.

Waters, Richard D., Emily Burnett, Anna Lamm, and J. Lucas 2009. “Engaging stakeholders through social networking:How nonprofit organizations are using Facebook.” Public Relations Review 35 (2): 102-106.
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