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Participatory Session: Degrowth transition game session: exploring green growth and degrowth inspired futures and pathways

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1. Topic of the session

Since the so-called economic 'crisis' there has been a notable proliferation of narratives around and prefigurative experimentation with various alternative social, technological, economic, and/or social-ecological ways of thinking or doing that challenge the default or used »green growth« future of the post-political capitalist paradigm. While a wider acknowledgement of such 'seeds of change' may inform and open up a wider set of possibilities of and pathways toward resilient, good or charming Anthropocene futures, there are many persistent challenges associated with the imagining, salience, experimentation with, institutional support for and scaling of such path-deviant and potentially transformative forms of social and systems innovation; as there are with imagining, conceptualizing, fostering, governing, assessing and evaluating degrowth/commons future(s) and transformation dynamics more broadly.

How can we think beyond the traps of utopian, dystopian or status quo scenarios and visions and imagine and pre-experince alternative (open-ended) futures and pathways? Within the context of social/sustainability transformations, how can we meaningfully conceptualize and pre-experience dynamics between disruptive (social, system) innovation on the one hand, and path-dependency, co-optation and incumbent forms of power on the other? How can innovations reconfigure local and global institutional landscapes and actor constellations in specific place-based, sociohistorical and political contexts? How do and can theories of change and knowledge about alternative and intervention options inform and shape our images of the future(s) and our transformative ambitions and strategies in the real world? Such challenging questions call for new strategic methods, tools, heuristic frameworks, forms and sites of intervention and co-creation. I propose a 'serious game' based session where we can explore them in practice.

Responding to the challenges of postnormal times, new directions in participatory foresight hold the promise of opening up and empowering more alternatives-oriented futures-inquiry and futures-making; by enabling the smaller and larger scale pre-imagining and exploration of dynamics of change and near and distant future possibilities, and in turn informing the development of strategies, pathways, policies, designs and experiments. Especially promising recent trends here include serious games, network-based foresight and experiential futures. Games in particular, in the words of Jim Dator, may be »the closest we can come to actually doing politics repeatedly, and to pre-experiencing alternative futures so as to have a wider understanding of what might be viable preferred futures.« Gaming offers a wide range of distinct modalities of playful, experiential and embodied learning, making research dissemination and generative engagements with images of futures, pathways, and dynamics of change fun and engaging. Examples of gaming the future(s) in the context of sustainability transitions include prototypes such as Transition Ingredients Cards, Utopoly, the Sarkar game, the Theories of Change game (a successful group-based live role-playing game with board game elements used at the 3rd biennial Transformations conference in 2017 in Dundee, Scotland), and the JRC Scenario Exploration System (a serious game designed to engage stakeholders with foresight scenarios and help them engage in systemic thinking, discovering and creating alternative futures, and creating novel engagements between stakeholders).

The game to be used in the participatory session is based on an urban sustainability transitions game prototype developed by the session organizer with multi-level visionary front-runner stakeholders during a game co-design and playtesting workshop in conducted in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. The game prototype may be characterized as a gamified visioning and backcasting card- and board-based role-playing game. It presents a unique format that facilitates the co-creation of future visions and, on the basis of these guiding visions, the pre-imagining and experiencing of dynamics (e.g. co-optation) between degrowth and commons-oriented actors and initiatives and powerful regime actors and system drivers.

2. How the session speaks to the conference

The game session speaks to the conference in a number of ways. The game design and play-testing entails interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives and multi-stakeholder deliberation, which corresponds to calls within the degrowth movement and broader for post-normal modes of science. The session will introduce gaming in a hands-on way as an upcoming method to facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement with future visions, alternative models, theories and pathways of change - which are in conventional forms of knowledge dissemination and multi-stakeholder engagement far too often inaccessible.

How it will be conducted (700 words)

Structure of the session:

1.) Lecture (on the possibilities of combining alternative models, theories of change and transdisciplinary foresight, with a focus on methods of scenarios, backcasting, serious games, network-based foresight and experiential futures; 15min)
2.) Introducing the game concept (introducing the game and describing the game prototyping and facilitative material development process; 15min)
3.) Game play-testing (in several groups of up to 8 players; 90min)
4.) Discussion (sharing results, reflections and feedback; 30min)
Game description:
Pre-developed scenario cards which contain fragments of possible futures (based on research into commons/degrowth and green growth inspired alternative models) will be used by the groups of players to inspire the on-site co-creation of two compound visions operative as distinctive future contexts – a 'used' Green Growth future, and an 'alternative' Degrowth/Commons future. While the future scenarios will depict very different outcomes, some elements of the scenarios will be similar. For example, in both instances, carbon emissions targets are strictly speaking met – the core underlying question and goal of the game is to imagine how they are achieved, what are the consequences (e.g. 'externalities') of certain models instituted and actions, and what are the transformation dynamics involved.
These two future contexts offer the future context for two backcasts. Players start with a gamified backcast (i.e. working from a future vision towards the present) based on the co-developed green growth future vision; when complete, it is followed by a playthrough based on the degrowth/commons future. Both respective backcasts are segmented into 3-4 stages with are optionally marked by different transformation milestones defined by the players. During each of the playthroughs, some players take on the role of degrowth and commons-oriented actors or practices while other players represent powerful regime actors or system drivers. The backcasting process is supported by cards pre-developed on the basis of interviews with multi-level stakeholders and interdisciplinary research (with additional empty cards for on-the-spot additions) that mark:
- Obstacles/barriers and drivers/opportunities for change
- Narratives of change subject to co-optation to varied degrees
- A mix of status quo and degrowth-oriented social innovation and systemic innovation
- Game-changers (such as events, interventions, demographic trends, natural disasters, or pressing socio-political challenges; e.g. economic crisis, the concept of the Anthropocene, a 'real utopias' film movement, economic growth taken down from SDG-s and replaced by _____?; a first ever sustainability transitions innovation olympiad)
The game operationalizes path-dependencies, co-optation dynamics, and innovative social/ systemic interventions as game mechanics. The team players collaborate among themselves and employ strategies in order to realize their particular vision of the future against the other.
Expectedly, the game will be further iterated upon and tested in several prototyping play-testing sessions prior to the conference. Two game experts have agreed to participate in the conference game development, dr. Joost Vervoort (Utrecht University; co-designer of the Seeds game used at Transformations2017 conference) and dr. John A. Sweeney (Center for Postrnormal Policy and Futures Studies; co-designer of the JRC Scenario Exploration System game). Various additional collaborations with other potential partners and opportunities for playtesting will be sought. The degrowth conference organizers and other interested parties are warmly invited in co-developing the content (scenario cards, obstacles, opportunities, social innovations, system innovations, game-changers) and the overall concept of the game. An open call will be issued and a collaborative team will be established for this purpose using digital means (e.g. Slack, Loomio, GoogleDocs) and local playtesting. The game will be modified in due time to enable self-facilitation in an intuitive print-to-play format for conference use specifically – i.e. accomodating its format and making use of the unique opportunity it presents. An integral part of the game is the documentation of the developing visions, game narratives and backcast pathways so they can be reported and discussed.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 16:00
Duration: 02:00
Room: Nöjesteatern (Piano bar)
Track: The Pluriverse: Articulating alternatives to development



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