The City Resilience team

The City Resilience team

The City Resilience e-learning team

This is the learning team of the online program on the fundamentals of City Resilience units, formerly known as disaster management. When the subject matter expert (SME) submitted the content, originally built in PowerPoint (PPT), I knew we had to discuss the program further. In the first meeting, we had already agreed we could break the program in four parts, if not five, make it more engaging by designing a few characters to walk you through the program, and that PPT would not cut it. With a plan in mind, I developed 2-3 characters to host and facilitate the learning and called for another meeting to present the strategy and production plan. She approved it all and like the characters so much that the scope went from three to 13. Long story short, here they are. Each one represents a business unit, and will tell you all about what they do, why they do it and how their work fit in the grand scheme. Fun and informative. 

Okay, team photo. Everybody say, safe!

The characters started on paper, as usual. I have added a few of the original sketches below. The original plan was to get them animated in Blender, but production time would never allow for it. The solution was then to rig them in Photoshop and animate them in Character Animator, which proved to be quite okay given the limitations; and the time it saved when redoing the animations were invaluable.

Contract Management Fundamental

Contract Management Fundamental

The Contract Management Fundamentals is one of the animation-based trainings I did with cartoon characters. Instead of reading chunks of text, two senior contract experts, John and Kate, pictured above, explain to the learner everything they need to know to get started in this field. After a number of changes and with the project changing hands, eventually we moved the production from Blender to Adobe Character Animation. Understanding the limits the new system imposes, with a few workarounds the production did become easier and faster.

“Some people say our voice sound flat or even… robotic! Can you believe it?”

That is John, prompting learners they are about to hear a computer generated voice-over throughout the course. And he is right, there are many users that can’t stand a robotic voice. But with the AI-based text-to-speech getting better and better, the usual resistance to computer generated voices is getting less of an issue.

Code of Conduct – Code Ninja version

Code of Conduct – Code Ninja version

Welcome aboard. Here’s a project for you.

When I first joined this organisation I’m with, one of the first tasks I was given was to review the e-learning version of our Code of Conduct (aka. the Code). This project was started by another fellow designer, more senior, they had been in this back and forth with the subject matter expert (SME) for over an year. At some point, the project is parked. It lands on my desk with the instruction, “see what you can do”,  but apparently no high expectations. 

Let’s roll back a little. Code of Conduct, put simply, is the rules of the house. In such a large organisation you have several divisions, branches, units, teams and thousands of employees, and getting SMEs from all business units to agree on what should be included in the learning program proved to be a challenge. After struggling with unclear instructions for months, I asked to see the sponsor. My plan was to get the direction straight from the one leader that would decide whether this project was going any further. She tell me how frustrated she was, the CEO was putting pressure to develop a more updated version and with the project running for over an year they still had nothing. Feeling like tip-toeing on a mine field, I remind them she did have something, but still chose to bin the project and start another, even though the first was so close to be finished. In a few minutes we listed the reasons why that project was parked and I asked, “if I address those issues, do you think you could approved the project?”. With that one out, the CEO would be happy, she would tick that box, and employees would have an updated, more engaging version of the training. With a yes for an answer, I thanked them and left, quickly.

Tell me, how much do you already know?

As previously mentioned, the package was almost finished, the original instructional designers had done a great job to put the content together. My job then was to make it more engaging, easier to digest such a dry content. The plan was simple:

  1. Check existing knowledge.
  2. Add game elements to the learning program (also referred to as gamification or serious game).

For checking existing knowledge, I literally ask, right in the beginning: how much do you know about our Code of Conduct? There are currently many thousands of employees that work in the organisation for many years, some for decades. May will already know the Code rules by heart, forcing them to go over the entire program every year was an issue often raised. So, I asked. If you said you already know the Code, you are giving a Code Ninja status and go straight to the scenario based questions. Get them correct and you are good to go. However, if you get one wrong, you revisit the relevant section of the Code. Get two questions wrong, you lose your Code Ninja status and go through the entire content, like everyone else who did not choose the ninja option.  

Although there was a lot of background work in the configuration, such as accessing the content, navigation and point system, achievement badge collection, the bulk of the work had already been sorted. I changed the look and feel, created an user interface for the game components, fixed the logic and went back to present the new version of the program. Same same, but different. To my luck, and everyone’s relief, the course was approved and published right after.

The first impression

In the first quarter after the e-learning program was launched, in May 2019, the report showed the vast majority was satisfied with the new version (98.7% said good or very good); they thought the knowledge gained  would be useful (94.1%) and that they liked the way it was delivered (88.8%). Also, compared with the previous version, the response rate to the satisfaction survey went from average of 7% to around 54%.

Yay, happy end. Good night, you can go now. 

Or can you? Little did I know, this was chapter one for many to come. But that is a story for another post.


The proof is in the pudding.

Below, some feedbacks collected through the satisfaction survey.

LOVED being able to skip right to the question, the layout and scenarios were also contemporary and attractive. Great job designing this course.

Anonymous learner

This was, by far, the best formatted code of conduct training I have done, awesome that you can skip to the quiz if you want to.

Anonymous learner

Love the ninja option. So much better for those of us who are well versed in the Code

Anonymous learner

Time-saving, and very easy to understand.

Anonymous learner

Being in learning and development roles throughout my working life, and more recently online learning, I really appreciated and loved this course. It looked modern and relevant, choice of imagery and mix up of the storyboard slide layout was excellent to keep the learner engaged. Even the details of choosing names that reflected a certain age and demographic was perfect. Well done, a pleasure to complete. I wish all Council online courses look at this great. I also loved when I got it right you still provide me the answer, just in case it was a fluke. Well done, loved it!

Anonymous learner - fellow designer apparently :)

Decode the Code

Decode the Code

We’re all in this together.

This was to be the second official iteration for the Code of Conduct (“the Code”) e-learning program. Unlike the previous version where you read a story in the scenarios and made a choice, in this one, a cartoon character will tell you their stories and ask you for advice. If you give the characters good advice, we move on. Give them a less than ideal advice and we’ll visit the content of the Code, to remind us of the organisation’s expectations and preferred behaviour. In a way, similar to the classic “choose your own adventure” stories.

Even though there aren’t winners or losers in this training package, for every choice you make, the game logic will still grant you points for both good and not so good decisions. The big reward would be the time you will save when collecting more good points. The ‘Code Ninja’ mode, added in the current version, is still present. The program lets you choose whether you want to see the entire content, or just face the scenario-based quiz questions. This option, in particular, triggered many positive feedbacks. There are thousands of employees that have been working in the organisation for years, some decades, and will know the Code by heart. I find it is only fair to respect their existing knowledge and build from there.

The teammates you encounter along the course. Each one will play a role in a story they tell you. You then decide what to make of it, whether it is okay or not, even if further action could or should be taken. 

Issues that are seldom black and white.

With the characters telling you their story, you don’t have to go through large chunks of text to understand the scenario before making a decision. Plenty of research out there will indicate videos can increase engagement and characters can increase relatability. The scenarios deal mostly with grey areas, some where there isn’t 100% right or wrong answers. In this gamified experience, we go for better choices rather than absolutely correct ones.

The rationale behind it? I like to think that workplaces are, in general, complex. It is made of people, and people are complex (Cynefin anyone?). I understand it is more than just that, with governance and its policies, a management strategy that will not always match the environment needs, but that is beyond both my reach and the scope for this project. So, what then? After some reasoning, I managed to persuade the subject matter experts (SMEs) to blur the line between right and wrong answers on some of the scenarios, and I would score them accordingly. Each time you choose an option that is not the preferred one by the organisation, but it is not wrong either, an extra screen will let you know that, while we respect your choice, there are other ways to handle the issue; and perhaps further thoughts could be considered. 

The end of a saga

In the past few years, I’ve been lucky to be involved with some important learning programs, such as this Code of Conduct. That’s the rules of the house, what is acceptable and what’s not, it sets the expected behaviour for every single employee, internal, permanent, part-time and what have you. This version with the character animation would be my third and latest iteration.

Over the past two-ish years, there has been many conversations over the content and how it should be presented, adjustments, updates, fine-tuning etc. From concept to completion, every stakeholder involved was consulted, most even got to play the gamified version during production. Every single one of them provided a very positive view of the program, in a constant loop of feedbacks. All milestones approved with flying colours; all but the last, the final sign-off to publish the content. This one got stuck for a few months before a bomb lands on my desk; the project has been canceled. Once an executive decision is made, a descriptive process follows and the adoption is enforced top-down, with little to no latitude for interpretation – typical of a rational system, with complicated strategies. Efforts are appreciated, support is offered at team level; we vent a little – thanks for listening – shake it off and move on. Next?

I just completed the game and loved it! So nice to see something different. some comments from my perspective: I think the goal is clear as there are hidden messages throughout which links back to the Leadership Blueprint behaviours. It’s very easy to navigate (…), and the dashboard is a great idea, as it’s a constant reminder of where you’re at. So clever, well done you.

Penny M.

Senior Learning Designer, A/ Leadership Team leader, BCC