Imagine this: You are a civil servant tasked with organising public consultations about the touristic potential of your city. You should figure out, where the municipal investment and political support is best placed, which stakeholders are open for cooperation, which parts of the city hold an untapped yet potential. You need to map the system. Now, which group would best serve your needs? A small group of local activists, who make it their priority to be a part of municipal discussions? Or a diverse group of local youth, academia, small businesses, NGOs, and general public? Although it might not seem like a choice you can really make, it most likely is.
This week, we have hosted a feedback session on consultation game design in Rustavi, Georgia. Rustavi is a special place in many ways. For the last year they have been developing their municipal innovation hub tasked with testing and implementing the most effective solutions in urban development, spatial planning and community engagement from all around the world. In March 2018, we met do kick the process off with urban foresight sessions, which helped establish a list of priorities and provide scenarios for further public discussions. The board game should now help the municipality engage unusual suspects in a meaningful discussion about the city’s future and more.
The problem with public engagement is common for many cities all around the world. Although many of us believe that we as citizens should be consulted about the topics that concern our cities and ourselves, we rarely show up to the actual consultations. The gap between declared values and actual behavior should come as no surprise to anyone. And examples are many. In Georgia, to quote one, 57% of the population believes volunteering to be an important characteristic of a “good citizen”, while less than half of them (23%) actually volunteers. There can be many reasons for that, but majority of them could be summarised with one sentence: The barrier of entry is too high. This is why Rustavi is now going to test using a board game to engage people who otherwise would not have voiced their opinions nor shared their ideas.
Rustavi. The Game. with its open-ended format allows the municipality to host public consultations regarding almost any topic of their choice. The game creates a safe space for any stakeholder (no matter the age, sector, level of education or economic status) to share their understanding of the problem at hand as well as their ideas for solutions that they deem viable. In multiple previous iteration of the game, municipalities managed to gather rich feedback from their local communities and clearly this is also the goal for Rustavi. Their game, however, has one significant twist built into the process.
Typically, with the use of consultation games, the entire content of the game is discussed with and provided by the game designer. In Rustavi. The Game. there is one set of cards that will be handed over blank.
As one of the rounds of our game, participants are asked to list their solution ideas for previously identified problems in specific city area. With the money they earn in previous rounds, players must implement their solutions, which are inspired by these from all around the world – solutions that were introduced elsewhere and have proven effective. These solutions have to be researched and summarised by civil servants as prep for the consultations – the goal being to broaden the discussion and actively engage departments responsible for the topic at hand.
Since we are no fans of blind guesses, our partners from the University of Columbia are designing an Impact Assessment Framework that should allow Rustavi Hub to not only measure the impact this type of consultations has on the local community, but also on the internal procedures within the municipality. Time will tell, which one takes the lead.