Gaming the tax system: A creative approach to engaging citizens

Research on the attitudes of Finnish citizens towards tax shows that Finns are some of the happiest taxpayers in the world. A survey carried out by the tax administration in Finland found that 85% of Finnish citizens trust the Finnish tax administration; 96% think that taxes are important because they fund the welfare state; 79% are happy to pay their taxes and 93% do so on time. Even though the tax rate in Finland is well above the EU average, these figures have been improving, despite the fact that 68% of our taxpayers also think that the Finnish taxation system is hard to understand.

I like to think that this means that, as a tax administration, we have been doing something right so far. However, although these results are positive at the moment, there’s still room for improvement and no room for complacency. New taxpayers are born every day and people’s attitudes may change in the future. At the moment, 74% of Finns feel that they’re getting their money’s worth for their taxes, but 52% would be willing to pay even more, if the money would go to an important cause. All tax administrations could do a lot more to make the effects of taxes and what they help the society to accomplish, visible. If people remember that they’re paying taxes for the good of the society and everyone in it, and can actually see the results, they feel more positive about it.

Making the benefits of taxes visible isn’t always about the message, but also the way you deliver it – Tax administrations are usually pretty good with numbers and graphs but they aren’t always known for their easy-reading material. Literacy in Finland is high in relation to global comparisons, but even in Finland there are 370,000 adults who have serious shortcomings in their reading skills. And in other countries in the world, the literacy rate is worse than the rate of people using internet or mobile devices.

That said, would even the clearest reading material provide compelling information for taxpayers? We could be more creative in reaching people, especially the younger generations. So, how about learning about the importance of taxes as a by-product of a captivating game? (Yes, I really believe that taxes and captivating can be used in the same sentence.)

Gamification is quickly becoming a norm in service design in the private sector. There is even a professor of gamification in Finland. In addition, an educational platform and pilot project from the EU, TAXEDU, seeks to educate young European citizens about tax and how it affects their lives through the use of games. But, tax administrations are not yet making use of gamification.

Tax features in existing games – income tax is a highly unpopular space on the Monopoly board, for example. But what if games could help present taxes in a positive way, instead of an unpleasant inconvenience? Not only could gamification be used to educate people about all the good taxes do, it could also be used to engage citizens in a tax administration’s service design.

So, here’s a tip for all the gaming companies out there: There are lots of interested tax administrations all over the world – and even more that should be interested – with an extensive ‘customer base’ and marketing channels. There’s a lot to play for.

Timo Laukkanen

Timo Laukkanen

Timo Laukkanen is Process Director at the Finnish Tax Administration (FTA).
Timo Laukkanen

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