Leveraging Gamification Techniques and Strategies as a Means of Improving Border Security Data Collection

Joseph Coulter

Executive Summary

Gamification concentrates on the application of game elements to non-gaming contexts and has served as an emerging trend towards engagement and data collection. This thesis seeks to apply the methods and procedures of gamification systems towards the data gathering processes utilized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as part of its maritime border security strategy. It focuses on what makes gamification work, as well as how the ideas and methods of gamification can be applied in the e-government sphere towards improving the interaction between global shipping communities and CBP.

The research comprised within focuses attention on improving data collection for the Importer Security Filing (ISF) program, a core data collection system for containerized maritime cargo within CBP’s layered enforcement strategy. The ISF program includes requirements for the trade community to provide advance data regarding cargo in transit so that CBP systems and personnel may review the information prior to its arrival to destinations within the United States. These reviews are in turn used to identify freight that may represent a risk and to inform the application of CBP resources towards physical cargo examination efforts. Despite financial penalties associated with non-compliance, some shippers still do not provide the necessary information. Internal policies of CBP related to how the agency responds to parties that fail to provide required ISF information does not create significant incentive to follow guidelines. Rather, the tendency to issue penalties only to repeat violators of reporting requirements, those who fail to use “reasonable care,” or parties “significantly late” in the filing of ISF information, may reduce the perception of urgency and the incentive for timely participation. This thesis aims to evaluate an alternate method that may serve as motivation to data transcribers within the trade community to provide the required information, as improved participation in the ISF program among trade personnel will increase the effectiveness of CBP’s border security strategies.

This thesis reviews the concepts and ideas of gamification. It looks at research associated with the psychological elements in use and evaluates how people think. Among research reviewed are the work of Csikszzentmihalyi on flow state and Deci and Ryan on human motivation. Their writings serve as the foundational research regarding the efficacy of gamification and the rules that make it function.

The thesis also reviews the theory of co-production, the use of activities by both public service agencies and private citizens towards the development or improvement of government enterprises, and evaluates the applications of gamification elements towards enhancing the e-government sphere. It seeks to apply the principles of such theories to the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and looks to existing gamified public safety and security programs as examples of how to make gamification work for the ISF program.

Evaluations are conducted of existing applications of gamification methods employed within global security arenas. Methods to enhance the e-government space and engage the public to provide data beneficial toward government operations, specifically those related to public safety and security, have been employed with some success in locations such as Australia and France. Gamification efforts have also been used with much success in private sector environments. Websites, such as Linkedin and Facebook, as well as apps and programs, such as Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero and Nike’s Nike+, have shown the effectiveness of utilizing gamified features to create action among a target audience. The use of gamification within the context of ISF aims to increase trade community participation via DHS web-based systems by inviting the active participation of citizens in the delivery of services in a similar manner. The success of this endeavor is dependent on the active participation of citizens and private-sector interests in these platforms, further incentivized through the inclusion of motivational factors.

The review of existing CBP data collection systems and requirements, as well as a study of the organizational strategies, psychologies, and application techniques, point to the feasibility of gamification features towards solutions to concerns regarding motivation, accuracy, and efficiency of persons providing cargo and supply chain data to CBP. By encouraging trade entities to provide more detailed and potentially more complete information about the transit of containers, the intention and risk of the cargo, and of involved parties, the incorporation of game elements in ISF data systems may improve the ISF program’s performance. The thesis recommends the implementation of these features into existing CBP maritime data collection programs used by trade entities. It advocates for the application of gamification principles to existing CBP systems utilized by low-volume importers as part of a pilot program to evaluate overall effectiveness of the methods. Unlike larger companies, small-scale importers are more likely to use CBP systems, rather than proprietary technology, to transmit cargo data to the DHS. Since this group is more likely to utilize a CBP-owned system, it also represents the easiest group to impact with a gamified system. Thus, the simplest solution toward employing gamification is to create changes that impact this smaller contingent. In doing so, CBP not only creates a system that works toward enhancing maritime border security but also creates a template for future growth and enhancement of methods.

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