Dungeons and Dragons and Data

I’ve run a number of presentations recently introducing teams at various organisations to the Open Data Maturity Model. A number of organisations are starting to apply the model to help them benchmark and improve their open data practice. It’s being widely used across Defra here in the UK and ODI Queensland have turned it into a series of workshops to help public sector organisations in Australia.

It can get a bit boring running the same sessions repeatedly, so I often look for a different way to approach things. The maturity model also covers a lot of ground and there are some elements, such as having a good open data policy, a standard release process, and a data asset catalogue which I think are more foundational.

So, when I recently ran a session to introduce the model to some ODI staff I decided to try a different approach. We played Dungeons and Dragons and Data. Here’s how I ran the session.

Goals and structure

The aim was to introduce attendees to the basics of the model but do it in a fun way.I hoped to introduce some key areas that could quickly improve an organisations open data practice.

The ODI are a geeky bunch, so I decided to frame it in terms of Dungeons and Dragons. Instead of improving our open data maturity scores, we were creating characters, levelling up their skills and collecting treasure!

The session consisted of:

  • introducing the characters skills (maturity model activities)
  • choosing names for their characters
  • asking them to fill in their character sheet with their stats (the results of a maturity assessment)
  • going on an adventure, with me as the Dungeon Master, to work through a few exercises as small adventuring teams
  • handing out treasure to the teams that did the best

The adventure was intended to:

  • introduce the idea of a data asset register and start populating one for the organisation
  • sketch out a light-weight data release process
  • identify existing data that was public or open whose publication could be improved
  • decide on the next steps, e.g. how to introduce this to a wider audience (slay the dragon!)

Feel free to adapt or reuse the Dungeons and Dragons and Data slides. Here’s a copy of the adventure map and also a version with runes. And yes, the runes on the map do actually translate.

And here are the Dungeon Master’s notes for each step of the adventure

The Wizards Library (Asset Catalogue)

You meet a wizard who has a vast library of spells (datasets) collected from across the land. They’ve been collected by his team of apprentices and acquired from adventurers such as yourselves. Unfortunately a band of goblins broke into the library and, whilst looting, made off with the scrolls that identified which spell was which.

The wizard knows that there are some minor spells which anyone could read. But some that are very dangerous and people shouldn’t have access to. He needs your help to organise his collection.

An asset catalogue needs to be of use to the organisation to:

  • inventory its data
  • identify areas of overlap
  • identify areas of improvement
  • identify owner
  • identify source

It’s not really a data catalogue as its intended to support strategic decisions, so needs a slightly different collection of metadata. Divide the group into teams of four.

Tasks. Ask them to:

  • Think about what needs to go into the catalogue? Say, 5 minutes
  • Collaborate around a template catalogue you’ve provided already. Ask them to populate the catalogue and add additional fields that they identified but which aren’t in yours. Say, 10 minutes
  • Then have a discussion about whether they think the catalogue is useful and how.

Rewards: 100gp each for helping the wizard. Scroll of open data impact for the team cataloguing the most datasets.


The Maze of Governance (Data Release Process)

After continuing your journey you see high stone walls barring your path down a rocky ravine. It’s the vast maze of governance which traps unwary travellers. From inside you can hear people who are lost and trying to find their way out.

Your realise that from a vantage point on the side of the valley that you could call out to the people in the maze to guide them to safety.

Can you help release the lost travellers and also chart your own course through the maze?

A good release process will help with prioritisation, have review stages and sign-off where necessary. Involve checking of the data before its release and a plan for ongoing release of that data. It should be clear where the organisation will publish data, e.g. to a website, portal, github by default.


  • Discussion: What information do we need to use to decide whether to prioritise a data release? (& is that information in the catalogue?). Say, 5 mins
  • In team, ask them to sketch out a lightweight approach for releasing data in a shared document. Say, 10 mins

Rewards: 500gp each for helping people through the maze. A grateful adventurer presents the team with the most complete process with a +10 sword of PDF cleaving each.

The Thorns of Curation (Improving Data Publication)

Further down the road you meet a a sad looking man. He’s the head gardener of the Garden of Thorns. His once beautiful garden has run out of control, and the King is shortly to visit.
It turns out its hard to stay on top of a garden that is entirely made of thorn bushes. And these are magical thorns: prick your finger and you fall asleep. And once planted they can’t be cut down.

Can you suggest some ways for the gardener to tidy his garden and make it look presentable?

This portion of the adventure works for organisations that have released some data, but want to get better at it.

Tasks: Using the asset catalogue, look over how data has been published.

  • Identify 3 actions that can be used to improve how the data is published. The constraint is that you can’t add more technology: no creation of APIs or infrastructure, focus on things like metadata, documentation, etc.
  • Identify whether there are discrepancies, e.g. are they using a common release process? Do they have open data certificates? Is there a common default licence?

Rewards: The gardener gives everyone 100gp each. The best helpers will each get a +5 Staff of Metadata curation.

Slaying the Dragon

The final part of the adventure is slaying the dragon, Tiamat. Tiamat has many heads, each of which breathe a different type of flame. Fighting the dragon involves identifying which head to cut off first.


  • Discuss what the next steps will be, e.g. how to get others to start using the catalogue?
  • Which skills (activities) should the organisation be trying to level up first?

Rewards: 1000gp each from Tiamat’s treasure vault. A few lucky people will also find a +5 Helm of Awesome Suggestion


OK, so this is might not work for all audiences! But the structure here could be easily adapted to cover additional steps in the journey, based on the needs of the organisation. It also offers a way to engage people in thinking about data management, governance and release in a slightly more creative way.

Reuse and adapt as you see fit!

One thought on “Dungeons and Dragons and Data

  1. Great stuff Leigh! This is now getting very meta – inspired by @SGatesHQ in QLD, run through some ODI geekdom-of-the-highest-order in the UK and we’re looking to implement for our first annual refresh back in QLD =p

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