Article reposted from The Energy Transition CommUnity website, with the approval of authors Nayeli Gallardo and Marco Costa.
Policy is complex and sometimes polarizing. Games are fun and sometimes insightful. Could a serious game make policy matters easier to understand and more engaging? It is definitely worth a try.
The Energy Policy Programme of the CommUnity by InnoEnergy organized a two-day training on a serious game called the Scenario Exploration System (SES) together with the EU Policy Lab of the Joint Research Center on September 27th and 28th in Brussels, Belgium. The trained CommUnity members then facilitated this game to a wider audience in October 2019 both at the EIT Connect in Budapest and at The CommUnity Days, in Berlin. The key lessons from those events highlight the value of the SES for energy professionals in general and are worth elaborating on.
Any game needs players, and in SES the players are stakeholders such as government entities, green and conventional businesses, and non-profit organizations. To play, participants need to get into the shoes of their role. This requires them to clearly identify a long-term vision that will guide their actions throughout the game. For many who played the SES at this event, getting into a role they never envisioned themselves in (for example, a car manufacturer) offered unexpected insights and even increased empathy. For the Energy Policy Program members, the shift from a player role in Brussels to a moderator role in Budapest and Berlin provided another layer of perspective.
Policy, like games, is dynamic. While policies can often seem like a direct, top-down mechanism, the interactions in the game made it clear that it is a two-way street. In the SES, each player has a set of action cards according to their role and can use one during each round. Which one they use, of course, depends on what else is happening in that round, and other players–including the government–take that into account before making their decision. In the end, it was clear how all players are not only affected by policy, but influence it, too.
In the world of policy, as in the world of games, alliances are powerful. While playing the SES, participants quickly learned that collaborating with other players yielded better results. Particularly, they learned that aligning with the vision of the public voice was helpful. They also experienced firsthand that history matters. Decisions made in past rounds weakened or strengthened relationships in the present round, affecting players’ ability to take action together.
As a serious game, the SES has some meaningful, policy-relevant themes. Trends such as urbanization, commercialization, and new governing systems have perhaps become familiar to many, but understanding their impacts on particular stakeholders is a more complicated matter. In the SES, each scenario includes key trends across 5, 10 and 20 years. These shape the landscape of the game and affect the decisions players make, compelling them to grapple with these themes and translate them into concrete actions given their role and vision.
In the full version of the game, the participants experience two scenarios, one slightly more positive and one slightly more negative. It was interesting to see how the dynamics of the game changed, while the participants kept the same role. One example is the NGO character, that generally is seen more positively during a negative scenario and can be more easily backed by the support of the public. However, when in the more positive scenario, its influence was less relevant since other players like traditional business or even green business had a more prominent role in the game.
The SES helped players not only to have fun, but also gain a more nuanced understanding of policy. It fulfilled its purpose at both events by helping participants understand the complexity of policy making when many stakeholders need to be taken into account. As policy is a key element of the energy transition, exposure to its complexity is very valuable for energy professionals. The InnoEnergy CommUnity will be hosting more of these SES sessions in various locations throughout Europe during the coming months. If you are interested in these or other activities of the Energy Policy Programme, or would like to join our growing team, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.