"Serious Fun" and Learning in Developing Countries: A Participatory Game

Sunday, February 17, 2013
Room 210 (Hynes Convention Center)
Janot Mendler de Suarez , Boston University Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, Boston, MA
Humanitarian and development practitioners are confronting an irrefutable challenge: the past no longer elucidates the future.Global warming, urbanization, population growth and environmental degradation are increasing the threats posed by floods, droughts, tropical cyclones and other natural hazards to lives and livelihoods. How can we accelerate learning and dialogue in a changing world among very diverse stakeholders?  How can we help subsistence farmers, humanitarian and development workers, government officials, scientists, donors and other key players to navigate the complex range of plausible climate risk management choices and outcomes? 

Over the last decade, knowledge-sharing processes have become dominated by a frustratingly unsatisfactory format: the dreaded sequence of PowerPoint presentations followed by usually insufficient time for questions and answers. We can do better. A different approach is needed, an approach that enables inexpensive and creative experimentation in order to trigger breakthrough learning and improve our decisions at the pace and scale demanded by burgeoning climate challenges.

In this session, the audience will be actively engaged in an innovative approach for learning and dialogue: Participatory games that help us “inhabit” the complexity of climate risk management decisions, using system dynamics modeling to frame ways to explore, then test a range of plausible futures. This approach has been successfully tested in over 100 events in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, convened by a range of organizations including the Red Cross, Oxfam, Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, and the World Food Programme – mobilizing dialogue and collaboration on climate change issues from adaptation to hurricane preparedness, urban resilience and microinsurance.

Well-designed games, like risk management measures, involve decisions with consequences. Through games we can learn how systems work, and the game-based system rewards us as we learn. Players inhabit, enliven and interpret these systems through play, and are compelled to learn how a game works for the sake of pleasure, discovery, competition and just plain “serious fun”.

During this intensely interactive session, participants will take the role of disaster risk managers, confronting choices about how to invest scarce resources to deal with threats and opportunities posed by random but somewhat predictable weather. Individual decisions will have collective consequences. There will be winners and losers, with prizes (chocolate) for the winning player and the winning team!