WhatFutures is a Massive Multiplayer Online Game played entirely through WhatsApp, where participants compete against each other in small teams to complete a series of challenges. The beta version was rolled out in 5 countries, Kenya, Bulgaria, Finland, Hong Kong and Australia. Almost 500 young people participated in the 10-day long game. See the launch trailer here.

The idea  

The game was designed in partnership with the OpenLab, a Computer Science Lab in Newcastle University. It was designed to secure youth volunteer input into IFRC Strategy 2030. The platform, WhatsApp was chosen to ensure that a diverse voice of young people, including those living in developing countries, could be heard.  WhatsApp also provided a space where creative input and inter-volunteer dialogue could be achieved. As far as we are aware, such an initiative utilising Whatsapp has not been tried previously.

The story below outlines the results of the trial we conducted between the 9th and 18th of June 2017.  A global rollout targeting more than 100 countries will be conducted in September 2017

Some facts about this pilot

“The game was played in teams of four or more, who worked together to respond to three set challenges about charting the risks, opportunities and changes of 2030.”

A variety of In-depth conversations took place during the game, players not only discussed their fears about the future but also connected with other young volunteers from different countries and different backgrounds. Here is just a taste of what happened;

In order to help players explore emerging issues and upcoming trends, different conferences were set up. The conferences were larger WhatsApp groups where players could interact with other teams on specific issues. The conferences focussed on four key areas; technology, environment, society and politics. See below some examples;

Challenge 1 – Make a news story from 2030? 

Each team produced a news story about the biggest challenges facing their communities in 2030.

Check out the best three;

Entrant 1

Team 79

Bulgarian Red Cross

Australia wins the Winter Olympic Games?! – this entry presents a compelling and positive view of the future using 360 video to make its case

Entrant 2

Team 283

Hong Kong Red Cross – Branch of the Red Cross Society of China

If we don’t foresee the trends that are growing faster we may end up stuck in this future.

Entrant 3

Team Future Now

Kenya Red Cross

A lively morning talk show from 2030 with a dial-in caller, a resident expert and a penchant for music recorded before 2017

Challenge 2 – The innovations of the future

What are the opportunities of tomorrow? Based on the challenges explored in their first task, teams had to develop and create an advertisement for a product, service or initiative that is driving change in 2030.

Our favourites;

Entrant 1

Team Our Red Future


Bulgarian Red Cross

Beautifully designed and a simple concept that has insight. Deliver aid and happiness with just one ride

Entrant 2

Team Future Niners


Australian Red Cross

A beguiling radio voice and a fantastic ad at the end with a theme song some of you may recognise.

Entrant 3

Team 79


Bulgarian Red Cross

Is VR the future of volunteering? This initiative could probably double our volunteer base.

Challenge 3 – Future responders

How would a massive Red Cross and Red Crescent operation look in 2030, what has been working and what are the challenges? Players were asked to create a report from a disaster scene in 2030.

Entrant 1

Team 330


Bulgarian Red Cross

New diseases spreading around the world due to climate change? A health innovation developed by a Red Cross and Red Crescent startup is saving millions.

Entrant 2

Team Future Now


Australian Red Cross

Oceania regions go underwater and affected communities can’t rely on Internet-based communications. Since Australian Red Cross went through different futures masterclass sessions in 2017, they were prepared for this scenario.

Entrant 3

Now Team Alpha


Kenya Red Cross

A meteorological unmanned vehicle crashes into a building, can we blame machines for this incident? 

Entrant 4

Team Chuhal


Bulgarian Red Cross

20 highly trained Red Cross and Red Crescent teams are spreading 2,000 drones for a massive rescue operation.

Hot takeaways

Approx 90 pieces of original video, audio and image content were created by the young volunteers from the 5 countries, allowing unique local perspectives on global issues.

The huge volume of conversations, dialogue and debate that occurred both in the teams and in the wider conferences, yielded substantial insight nearly 30,000 messages were transmitted by the youth volunteers during the course of the game, giving insight into diverse issues such as climate change, migration and refugees, corruption, income inequality, religion and conflict.

Open Lab scientists are engaging in thematic analysis of the conversation data, and using algorithmic conversational analysis techniques to pick out and highlight the hopes and fears of young volunteers about their future and the change they believe Red Cross and Red Crescent will have to undergo in the coming years. Qualitative analysis approaches are also being used to draw out key messages from the data.

Engagement with hard-to-reach audiences was a complete success

Rural volunteers in Kenya or in urban areas of Hong Kong can be extremely difficult to reach and to engage with from a global perspective, the game was highly successful at attracting a diverse audience directly and maintaining a substantive dialogue, an outcome that most other previous attempts have failed at. Throughout the game many of the players became Facebook friends or connected in other social media channels, whilst this is difficult to measure it is clear for some at least this initiative has opened up new lines of communication with other volunteers.

What’s next?

As part of the feedback collection to evaluate the game experience, the game designers and players had a live learning moment right before the last challenge, WhatsApp eased the process of sharing insights that included; improvement areas, in-game mechanics, concerns, suggestions and positive aspects. Furthermore, an exit survey and individual interviews with the most active players will help adjust this beta.

The IFRC and the OpenLab are now preparing a Global roll out where all the learnings from this pilot will result in an optimised, engaging and attractive game that will see sunlight for the first time in September 2017. For more information about the initiative please contact innovation.team@ifrc.org for queries related to the game, please write to admin@whatfutures.org

Stay tuned!

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