5 lessons the Third Sector can learn from Pokémon Go

2 Ago , 2016  

Text: Arturo Coego | Versión en español

Okay, if you do not have a clue about what Pokémon Go is, please follow this link. Mental, isn’t it? Truth be told, I was very excited when I heard about the latest version as I was one of those teenagers addicted to this game in the late 90’s.

Those videogames for Game Boy had an entertaining plot, but the app developers have found a better equation: Basic version of a nostalgic game (Pokémon) + New Technology available for smartphones (Augmented Reality) = Success. Some links to illustrate the magnitude of this new big thing: Pokemon Go is now more popular than porn on the Internet, or  Niantic’s app becomes the fastest game to exceed 50 million installs on Google Play.


These guys are not checking the weather forecast, they are visiting a Pokéstop equipped with Lure Module, a virtual item that attracts pokémons.

I have to say that first I tried to resist the temptation. I already knew that Pokémon is quite an addictive game, so I tried to ignore it. Fail. I changed my mind after some friends showed to me the updates from the old version.

As soon I learned what a pokéstop is or how the game rewards your physical exercise, I started to think about how this technology can revolutionise the way to understand the Third Sector. So I downloaded the app and started to play, stopping only when the data of my phone run out. These two weeks have been productive though: I achieved interesting goals aside from catching 800 pidgeys and rattatas. I have actually identified some key ideas about how Pokémon Go can be an inspiration to charities and social enterprises and I would like to share them with you.

1) Augmented Reality (AR) changes everything

It was a cool prediction years ago, a fantasy reserved only for a few geeks and tech trendsetters. However, now AR has become a mighty potential tool for charities and/or social enterprises, not only to imagine new products and services, but also to shape a new approach to design internal and external communications. All the stakeholders (clients, communities, partners, workers, volunteers, donors, public authorities, universities, businesses, etc.) are invited to this disruptive approach: AR is a perfect example of cross innovation.

Pokémon Go was the first AR app to hit the mainstream, but who knows if your charity or social enterprise can be the next one. Dream big and lead the way.

2) Mapping meets a new dimension

What if your council launched an app built on top of Google Maps to bring you the opportunity to rediscover the resources of all the charities in your city? Oops wait, that sounds boring. What if you can rediscover those resources while you are playing and getting small but nice rewards? Hold your horses, rewards? Yes indeed. Pokéstops give pokéballs, potions or eggs to those who visit them in the Pokémon world. What if a charity or social enterprise works in a similar way and gives you little prizes when you visit them and make a small donation? Discounts in local and ethical businesses? Or maybe some vouchers for the gym or the supermarket to buy healthy food? This technology can be useful even just to spread your mission, vision and values and recruit volunteers. There are endless opportunities out there.


Pokéstops give pokéballs, potions or eggs to those who visit them in the Pokémon world. What if a charity or social enterprise works in a similar way and gives you little prizes when you visit them and make a small donation?

3) Gamification actually works

Of course it does, just look around: Pokémon Go has conquered the streets. People go for a walk, a run or a ride deliberately to catch a bunch of these cute creatures, it is mad. Gamificationthe application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contextschanges behaviours, numbers don’t lie.

Katherine Knight, Marketing Director at Intelligent Health, writes in Nesta about «how gamification can be used to dramatically increase physical activity and improve public health». Katherine knows what she is talking about as her company created Beat the Street, an award-winning project based precisely on gamification.

Maybe your charity or social enterprise can find here a new path for positive innovation: Games provoke action.

4) There is a whole new approach for your fundraising scheme

Charities still need to keep exploring ways to liaise with private and public sectors through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, but AR brings this to the next level. Projects like Neighbourly are successful because they know how to connect the dots between the Third Sector and its stakeholders in order to create win-win alliances.


Many businesses have already started to try new strategies in relation with Pokemon’s AR technology.

Fundraising is all about having not only a great project but also about designing a good story-telling strategy and finding the right people (e.g. partners, donors). Choose your potential audience and build bridges between them and your charity. What makes Pokémon Go innovative and impactful is the fact that it has been able to connect space and message in real-time. Face to face (F2F) fundraising can evolve in a similar way, why not? Now there is clearly a new bridge (AR), make it yours.

5) Augmented Reality (AR) requires a new legal framework

Let me introduce Boon Sheridan to you. Boon lives in Holyoke, MA. Boon lives in a place that was formerly a church, but in the world of Pokémon, that location is a gym i.e. a place where users train their pokémons.


This should be fascinating indeed, but this is a fact: Niantic‘s Pokémon Go imposed a key virtual place in his home. Nobody asked Boon if he wanted a Pokémon Gym in his property.

 Thus, it isn’t hard to empathise with Boon when he highlights the importance of improving the legal framework of AR apps. 

Katja Bego, data scientist in the technology futures team at Nesta, writes about Boon and the still ambiguous legal side of AR: «Though Pokémon Go and the growth in AR are still at an exciting  early stage, we need to keep an eye on developments in the industry so we can address these future issues before the platform becomes too dominant and established to regulate«.

The Third Sector has a great opportunity to take a step forwards and grow through this kind of technology, but must be careful with legal loopholes. You know what they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Take your chances and make innovation happen, but never forget who you care about: Your stakeholders.

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