Breaking the Silos towards knowledge co-production in Real World Labs using Serious Games

directed-project-Screenshot 2024 01 15 at 19.34.32

The Directed project has four Real World Labs (RWLs) which are bringing together multiple stakeholders across disciplines, sectors and professions to work together to strengthen their resilience to disasters and adapt to climate change. Each Real World Lab will utilise different interactive methods and tools to facilitate communication, build relationships and co-produce knowledge among stakeholders.  RWL hosts are encouraged to explore and experiment with such tools with support from within the Directed consortium. The Risk-Tandem Framework is guiding efforts in the labs towards enhancing risk governance through co-production, while each lab will contribute to the co-design of a Data Fabric to enhance information accessibility and systems interoperability across stakeholders.

The ‘Breaking the Silos’ game (de Ruiter et al. 2021) was applied during the Risk-Tandem training workshop with Real World Lab hosts and other Directed consortium members, at the Erftverband headquarters in Bergheim, Germany on the 21st of September 2023. The game is designed to increase Disaster Risk Management (DRM) practitioners’ awareness of the complexities of natural hazards, their impacts and risk reduction measures while supporting a shift from single-risk to multi-risk thinking. The game was originally conceived as a face-to-face game but as a result of COVID-19 restricting its testing and application, it was then designed to be played remotely using a MIRO board and videoconferencing software. The application of the game in the Directed project was played face-to-face and we reflect on its set-up, gameplay, and learning for moving forward with RWLs in the Directed project.

Game set-up

The moderator presents a simulated disaster situation and asks participants in the game to take on a range of professional roles usual within a disaster situation. With leadership from the Game President and guidance from the Game Minister for Finance, the stakeholders must agree on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures to respond and recover from the impacts, while preparing and mitigating future impacts from multi-hazard impacts, within a budget of 30,000 coins.  A test run of the game was played online to familiarize the moderator, Minister for Finance and the President with their roles and explore the best transition to an in-person setting within the workshop.

The stakeholder roles were completed in pairs, including the international aid and emergency response representative, the agricultural representative, national housing chief, engineering, the national flood agency coordinator and citizen representation. The game board with the fictional map of the country (divided into different cells or areas) was placed on a pinboard at the top of the room with all participants sitting in a roundtable setting facing the board.  The materials for each role were taken from the original MIRO board and printed out including 1) the role description, highlighting their expertise and existing relationships, 2) specific hazard or exposure knowledge (via maps or otherwise) and 3) DRR measures including the time for implementation, the cost and any constraints or interdependencies with other measures.

directed-project-Screenshot 2024 01 15 at 19.44.36

Game play

After the stakeholders familiarised themselves with their roles and DRR measures, the moderator presented the first storyline. The country was impacted by a high-intensity storm, affecting eight areas in the country, resulting in 52,800 people affected, 640 buildings affected, as well as 4 hospitals, 3 airports and one agricultural area. The stakeholders were given time to think about the measures that they wanted to implement, and some used this opportunity to move around the room and discuss with other stakeholders. The President then started a roundtable discussion asking each stakeholder to exchange thoughts on measures and make proposals.

directed-project-Screenshot 2024 01 15 at 19.37.19 1

After a contentious discussion, tough leadership from the Game President and continuous number-juggling by the Minister for Finance, the stakeholders came to a collective decision. They decided to reconstruct the four hospitals and three airports, evacuate the impacted population in six areas, reconstruct buildings in two areas, implement nature-based solutions (NBS) in two coastal areas, construct one dike, a flood early warning system along two areas in one river catchment and plant normal crops in two areas. The recovery objectives were met, and 5000 additional coins were provided for round two.  Unfortunately, the measures implemented did not protect against the extreme flood that followed the first disaster eleven months later. Some of the measures, including NBS were not effective within the timeframe.


By loading the video, you accept YouTube’s privacy policy.
Learn more

load Video

Extracts from Breaking the Silos Serious Game

The game was expected to take two hours to play two rounds and a debriefing session, however given additional deliberation needed to reach consensus on the DRR measures for round 1, it was not possible to complete round 2 in the timeframe. The game play demonstrated the power of knowledge and the set-up made it more difficult to share information, when compared to the MIRO board in the online version. In round 2, it was envisioned that the President would be supported by a mediator and that all stakeholders would have easier access to all the knowledge from different stakeholders, and create a more inclusive space for co-producing knowledge and developing consensus.

Learning for Real World Labs

Enabling non-hierarchical collaboration

The facilitation style of the President was hierarchical and top-down, while the individual stakeholders had uncompromising demands, creating a chaotic and disruptive atmosphere in the room. The time and financial pressure of the situation forced the President to ignore request of multiple stakeholders and focus on meeting the recovery needs to keep in budget.

Participants recognised the pressure on the President to absorb all the information and debate it while balancing different interests and rules. The game was realistically designed to show the power of the President to support the favoured interests of certain stakeholders, namely the agricultural representative. This resulted in the agricultural representatives taking a back seat in the discussions. 

Participants agreed that this captured reality and playing the game affirmed the need for creating more continued spaces for multi-stakeholder collaboration. Multiple participants noted that if the information had been transparently shared before the meeting, and if there had been more time for bilateral discussions and knowledge exchange between stakeholders and the President, it would have enabled a more democratic decision-making process. Another suggestion was to involve and prioritise relevant agencies in the final decision, for example, the national flood agency for flood-hazard DRR.

“… we need lower hierarchies and direct channels of communication instead of centralised communication to find better solutions.” (RIFS)

Experiencing reality through play

Participants enjoyed playing the game, finding it a fun and engaging way to learn about the complexity of decision-making for DRR. Playing the game ignited interest in the RWLs hosts to engage in such interactive exercises with their stakeholders, through games or otherwise. The game helped participants recognise and better understand the different roles at play in disaster risk management. However, it was noted that some actors were missing, such as the private sector. Citizens’ concerns were also largely ignored –especially when they became ‘difficult to talk to’. Participants could feel the pressure on decision-making, amplified by the limited time, constrained funding, multiple hazards, interdependent DRR measures and varied multi-stakeholder relationships and preferences. 

The President played the game during the test round and found that Zoom acted like a filter for stakeholders to hold back on talking over one another. Although it is a game, it was effective in demonstrating the strong opinions, emotions and preferences people hold after an event.

“The game mode is not that unrealistic, it is accelerating our mindset to a position we would naturally be in because we experienced this disaster or could provide information.” (TUBS)

I got into gaming mode and it was all about winning. I had less tendency to look at it as real and the need to compromise and find a solution.” (Region Hovedstaden)

As a result of the serious game the Directed Real World Labs have expressed interest in simulation exercises for large-scale hazard events to better understand communication channels, data flows, decision rules and resulting actions. The Danish RWL added that this game could be used for such purposes, but it would need to be very context and location specific, so each actor can compare it to their own situation. Models and tools within the project could support such developments, e.g. SaferPlaces (a flood simulation and management tool, within the Directed Project). This may also involve expanding the specific roles e.g. insurance sector, hydro-meteorological agencies. 

Proactive citizen engagement

In the game-play, the citizen representatives were very demanding and created a tense atmosphere in the room, and were subsequently cornered out of the final decisions. Participants highlighted the emotional aspect of the game and resulted in discussions on how to best involve, listen to and support affected citizens in their RWLs.

“During our workshop I see these kinds of discussions and they are emotional, and the game captured this realistically. What is not realistic from our case is that the engineers ignore the citizens.” (Erft Verband)

The Danish RWL explained that it is not always helpful to involve citizens in the direct decisions during an event. Their RWL stakeholders need support on how to provide clear communication, information and guidance to citizens on how they can support the response and recovery efforts. For longer-term planning, it was emphasised that a mediator is needed to engage with affected citizens or their representatives as well as actors to support their health and emotional needs e.g. mental health services.

Information availability and use for decision-making

The participants reflected on both the challenge to digest information in a short period and the feeling of lacking information to make decisions. During the game-play roundtable, the stakeholders rarely used the available evidence to convince the President and justify certain measures e.g. the citizens had indigenous knowledge on observed flood events and droughts that was not used.

“I found it overwhelming, the number of hazards we need to consider, and how many different solutions we have.” (52 North)

Participants found it useful to go and talk to different stakeholders to collect information, but it was easily forgotten when they left, demonstrating the need to visualise the information at the same time. One participant expected that in reality you would receive more information about the damage extent to make better decisions about the costly protection of the hospitals and airports. Another participant emphasised that a clearer process was needed to ensure all the information was used, and voices heard to reach consensus on the selected measures.

This learning will inform the Data Fabric development, which would aim to bring the evidence together and create a collective or interactive view to support decision-making. 

Strengthening communication

Playing the game highlighted the need for strong communication and knowledge-sharing systems among stakeholders to ensure information flows when hazards are imminent and for longer-term planning. This is something which the Data Fabric is aiming to address in the RWLs.

  “It is not enough to have the phone number of someone with a risk map, you need them in the room and be able to share their skills to interpret the information.” (Region Hovedstaden)

Participants reflected that you can easily rely on the information that is being accessed by the actors you already know and collaborate with, agreeing that you need to invest in strengthening the weaker relationships and communication channels to understand what knowledge, data and resources they have and how to include this in your decision-making. The RWL approach aims to do this by bringing together familiar and unfamiliar stakeholders to co-produce knowledge during the planning phase, which can build the foundation for better collaboration during emergency situations. 

Overall the game provided a useful tool to un-pick the challenges surrounding disaster risk governance and demonstrated the need for more knowledge co-production for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation decision-making. Playing the game reaffirmed the value of Directed Real World Labs to create an open multi-stakeholder space for continued dialogue, knowledge exchange, learning and action to strengthen disaster resilience. The Risk-Tandem framework and the Data Fabric being developed and applied in the Real World Labs will help sustain the multi-stakeholder collaboration.

For more information on the Breaking the Silos Game

Game instructions and resources:  https://zenodo.org/records/5879891

Scientific publication: de Ruiter, M. C., Couasnon, A. A., & Ward, P. J. (2021). Breaking the Silos: an online serious game for multi-risk DRR management. Geoscience Communication Discussions, 2021, 1-21. Available at: https://gc.copernicus.org/articles/4/383/2021/

Written By:

Dr. Lydia Cumiskey, MaREI Centre, University College Cork and Janne Parviainen, Stockholm Environment Institute, Oxford

With thanks to Dr. Marleen de Ruiter (Institute for Environmental Studies, VU Amsterdam) for providing additional guidance on applying the game in the Directed project.