using a role-playing strategy game to explore a public problem

A workshop on civic engagement and technology that I attended today was unusual in one important respect. We played @Stake, a card game developed by The Engagement Game Lab, which was one of the conveners of the event. A handsomely produced and cleverly designed game, @Stake randomly distributes roles and secret objectives to the players, who then discuss strategies for a hypothetical nonprofit and win small rewards for seeing their objectives included in the final plan.

The cards made me a CEO concerned about my organization’s financial condition, a statistician eager to make more use of data, and an artist volunteer. With my fellow players, I had to develop and choose strategies for addressing various challenges, like how to get more community members involved in our nonprofit or how to make better use of technology.

I came in fourth out of the four players in my group, but I learned a lot about the topic and had fun. Role-playing and trying to win helped my learning, I believe. The fictional roles made me think seriously from perspectives other than my real-life position. The competitive aspect made me really concentrate on these agendas. And the structure of the game rewarded both competition and cooperation. (Basically, you scored higher if you could get other people to include some of your agenda in their proposals. No horse-trading was allowed, so it was all about persuasion.)

I see lots of potential for using this kind of game in serious strategic planning.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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