Serious games for learning, collaboration and knowledge exchange

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a Flood Resilience Workshop designed to help inform best practices in flood recovery. One of the distinctive parts of this session was that the substantive part of it was based around a board game. The Flood Recovery Game was built to facilitate dialogue with flood recovery stakeholders. With representatives from the Environment Agency, major insurers, Fire and Rescue, academics and more — it definitely delivered.

The Flood Recovery Game is a ‘serious game’ – serious as it is a learning and debate tool. There were several modes of play, all getting players to consider different scenarios and how they would deploy scarce resources. Money, emergency services, volunteers, council workers and recovery workers could be deployed to address the scenario. As the game developed, those resources became more scarce — and were deployed in different forms.

The games begin!

For the entire morning, we worked through The Flood Recovery Game in groups. The game started off with in quite an idealistic response. Resources were fairly unlimited — and you could deploy what you wanted. It reminded me a bit of those card games where all players pitch a response to a given scenario. The winner is chosen by the rest of the table, voting on their preferred response. The game starts to ramp up difficulty where resources become ‘spent’ and you start to earn random resources back. At this point it’s important to collaborate, especially when you have an uneven hand. At one point, I had lots of money and workers – but no council workers or emergency services, I just had to support the plans of others – but to their success!

I think my favourite modes of play came later in the game. At that stage, resources become finite and you don’t get them back (even at random)! At these end stages of the game, you get to role play one of the key stakeholders – the council, business, insurers, flood groups, NGOs, emergency workers and others. This is played on the second side of the board (see below) and gave much more opportunity for bartering resources.

The Flood Recovery Board Game. The game is based on cards that are played in response to flood scenarios.
The Flood Recovery Game

Reflecting on the game

I really enjoyed working with the others on my table. I was along to bring an ‘educational perspective’ – I’m still not 100% sure what that meant — but my geographical background and experience with local political really helped me get stuck in. I even won the first part of the game (😉). Collaborating with a student, an academic, a representative from Fire and Rescue and an insurer made for really interesting dialogue. Some of the participants noted that it was an excellent conversation starter and wanted to try it outside the Humberside region (we’re not bad for flood awareness apparently!).

One of the more useful aspects of this game was the opportunity to identify gaps – and perhaps, opportunities (see below). For example, our group identified a potential to leverage Fire and Rescue data to help Insurance Companies priorities their response to vulnerable customers. With some legal consideration or consent – that data could make all the difference in a disaster. There is even potential for that idea to leave the session — and there is an example of how the session also worked as a form of knowledge exchange. It allowed academic knowledge to breach the walls of the university to a place it could impact people, business and government.

Flip chart paper pads to identify gaps in flood response
GAP! Identifying gaps

Games in my practice

Developing games like this take a lot of time – and money too! Fancy printed boxes, boards and game cards don’t come cheap. For this reason, I’ve never had the inclination to develop something like these, even though I’ve always believed them to be pedagogically effective (considering teaching at this point). The quality of the discussion from playing the Flood Recovery Game, however, has made me consider their potential for teaching critical thinking. I’ve seen many structured approaches for debate, teamwork and so in from a business context — there is clearly educational potential too. I’d certainly like to see a criticality game – may provide an alternative approach to just another workshop.

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