Just out: Serious games as a catalyst for boundary crossing, collaboration and knowledge co-creation in a watershed governance context


Thanks to the wonderful work mainly of Steven Jean and Wietske Medema I am glad to be part of the above paper that appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Management (Jean et al., 2018, JEMA, 223, 1010-1022). You can have a look here: Serious Gaming, Boundary Crossing and Water Governance


Novel methods for enhancing collaboration and interactions are required to ensure that stakeholders and governments are able to develop a shared vision that supports sustainable watershed governance. Particular attention must be placed on integrating stakeholders who would otherwise have limited decision-making power. By crossing professional, ideological and jurisdictional boundaries, stakeholders’ perspectives are more likely to change than when staying within those boundaries. This process, known as boundary crossing, requires boundary objects; either artifacts, people, or institutions that play a bridging role between different boundary spaces. For this study, serious games powered by scientific models are identified as potentially effective boundary objects. A serious game simulation called Aqua Republica was used to organize game simulation events allowing stakeholders to connect in an in-person, informal and novel setting. This exploratory research aims to study the role and impact of serious games as boundary objects to enhancing collaboration and knowledge co-creation. The following research questions are addressed: (1) Do interactions increase over the course of a game simulation event? (2) Does the quality of interactions change over the course of a game simulation event? (3) Are the quantity and quality of interactions affected by pre-existing relationships? And if so, how? (4) How does the relationship between participants change over the course of a game simulation event? As part of this study, four game simulation events were organized that included students, professionals and diverse stakeholder groups working in watershed management contexts across Eastern Canada with 40 participants in total. Participants were divided into teams of 3–5 members and were surveyed and their interactions recorded. An interaction and social network analysis of the audiovisual recordings of each game simulation event indicates that interactions between participants increase in both quantity and quality as the game progresses. The analysis shows that serious game simulations provide an intervention platform not only to facilitate cross-boundary interactions, but also to strengthen relationships between diverse stakeholders, as expressed by an increase in mutual trust and empathy, as well as an improved understanding among the participants of the watershed system and the complex issues at stake.


“Sustainability” in higher education: from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning


In times of systemic global dysfunction, post-truth, alternative facts, cultivated doubt and the erosion of meaning, I found it useful to turn back, once again, to George Orwell’s infamous “1984”.  Well over 10 years ago, in 2004, I co-authored a paper on the danger of ‘doublespeak’ and ‘Newspeak’ in relation to the integration of sustainability in higher education. Back then this was an emerging trend, nowadays, it sometimes signifies a transition in education but more often little more than rethoric and green gloss. For me this is a good reason to re-introduce this paper here with Orwell’s cautionary tale but also with some ideas about how to move forward responsibly. Below an excerpt from the paper which you can find here in its totality:  Jickling and Wals Orwell’s Cautionary Tale

Wals, A.E.J. & Jickling, B. (2002). “Sustainability” in Higher Education from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. Higher Education Policy, vol. 15, 121-131.  SustinHEOrwellsCautionaryTale

“Sustainability talk can, when used by advocates with radically different ideas about what should be sustained, mask central issues under the false pretense of a shared understanding, set of values and common vision of the future.

However, critical thought depends on transcendent elements in ordinary language, the words and ideas that reveal assumptions and worldviews, and the tools to mediate
differences between contesting value systems. And worse still, sustainability talk can
lead us in the direction of Orwell’s (1989) famously satirical notion of “doublethink”
whereby ordinary citizens can increasingly hold in their minds contradictory meanings
for the same term and accept them both (Orwell, 1989, p. 223).

The power of universal discourse in reducing meaning to a minimum is such that, as in “1984”, antagonistic concepts can be conjoined in a single phrase (“war is peace”, “peace is war”) or concept (i.e. “sustainable growth”) (Jickling, 2001). Big Brother’s “Newspeak” was designated not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was
indirectly assisted by cutting down the choice of words to a minimum (Orwell, 1989,
p. 313).

In Newspeak concepts capable of opposing, contradicting or transcending
the status quo were liquidated. As a result of this devaluation of language the people
in “1984” found themselves in a state of linguistic dysfunction which was exactly
what Big Brother wanted (Jickling, 2001).

Seen this way sustainability tends to blur the very distinctions required to evaluate an issue thoughtfully. When comparing the sustaining of ecological processes with the sustaining of consumerism we immediately see inconsistencies and incompatibilities of values, yet many people, conditioned to think that sustainability is inherently good, will promote both at the same time.”