Public participation is … To make it successful requires key essential ingredients – just like baking a fresh loaf of bread, and in this article we at Day of Adaptation (DAYAD) will share what some of the key ingredients are and share how we use these key ingredients in our climate board game.

Public participation recognizes that individual climate action makes a difference and opens the floor for all people to have a voice in the climate change dialogue. The importance–and indeed urgency–of engaging the public in climate action is at the core of many climate conventions, as inclusive participation in decision-making allows for the development of practical and creative solutions, creates ownership, and facilitates more sustainable long-term action.

In understanding the importance of public participation, DAYAD acknowledges the ambition of the Two Times Faster than the Paris Agreement ambition, driven by the Municipality of Groningen and other Groningen Accord stakeholders. The municipality is one of 112 cities that accepted the EU challenge of achieving carbon emissions (CO2) neutrality by 2030. Their first step in developing a plan to achieve this goal of climate neutrality is to design a set of principles that can help to accelerate climate action towards it. A theme that cuts across these principles required for action change, is public participation.  But we all know from first-hand experience, that changing our own behaviour is hard, let alone influencing the actions of others close to us. So, how can we encourage public participation?  

Planning and executing a successful public participation is just like baking a fresh loaf bread. And it requires some key ingredients. The municipality has put together a set of four ingredients of public participation that, when incorporated together, may encourage a rise in public participation in the campaign. Minions of Disruptions, our climate board game, has elements of this recipe kneaded into its design. 

1. Public Participation is a tailored exercise: There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for public participation. 

Minions of Disruptions has been designed for accessibility by multiple groups of people so that any group can come together to form a team, be it colleagues, a group of university students, or neighbours. With the understanding that each individual within a team is on their own climate change journey, Minions of Disruptions is designed to allow all players to relate no matter what their starting point is. Two versions of the board game were developed to cater to teams in organisations and members of communities. The game has also been adapted from a Dutch context to a rural Kenyan context.

The game provides a setting to invite open interaction and surprises. An example of this is to ask participants via a playing card if anyone helps out at a community garden. This may feel a little confronting at first, but the result can be very different in a safe and playful setting. The interaction provides a little dose of friendly recognition, as well as piquing others’ interest. It is the opposite of traditional prescriptive communication and engagement approaches. By doing so, we also respect space for context specific discussions.

2. Public participation should be inclusive for people and their values: Inclusion is at the heart of public participation. 

The aim of Minions of Disruptions is for all participants to cooperate and work together. A group that may comprise of people with different roles, levels of responsibility, or decision-making power, enters the game on equal playing fields. All hierarchical roles that may exist in real life, are put aside during gameplay. It empowers those that may not have decision-making power in their everyday lives to make decisions within the game, and in areas of society they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to. This gives participants an opportunity to reflect on how actions can be taken in their own lives. For example, an initiative card in the game allows participants to influence policy: Local investment policy attracts sustainable businesses and gives a nice boost to the local economy.

3. Public Participation should be adaptive: Public participation is a learning process in itself. 

Gameplay in itself is experiential learning. A game that addresses a complex and challenging topic such as climate change encourages learning-by-doing, and provides a safe space for dialogue and discussion about a difficult topic. Indeed, an emerging area of work aims to understand how serious games may support social learning. Findings point towards robust post engagement debriefing and evaluation for catalysing learning and influencing behaviour.

Throughout gameplay, Minions of Disruptions prompts for participants to draw on their own experiences and values. They can reflect on their own lives, how climate change is affecting them, and what actions they could employ to adapt. For example, an initiative card mentions saving food at home or the workplace instead of throwing it away. A token is saved if any player keeps leftovers after office meetings or parties!

4. Public Participation procedures should make clear what influence people have: The public should know what influence their opinion has. 

Gameday involves a post-game discussion in which players can reflect on what relevant climate action they can bring to their workplace or community. This facilitates empowerment of action within their sphere of influence and prompts participants to think about other people that might align with their ideas. 

DAYAD, also, operates within a sphere of influence while engaging with other actors and forming partnerships for collaboration. Together the participants unleash their potential power of influence in climate action.

In conclusion, implementing creative mechanisms for citizen engagement has been well-established as a necessary move away from traditional methods for public participation. The ‘serious games’ strategy as an innovative tool for participation has and is gaining attention in the climate change research community.

Public participation in climate action is not a case of too many cooks. So, before the oven gets too hot, let’s bake this bread together.

About the Author

Julia Eichhorn has an MSc in Environmental Psychology from the University of Groningen. She is curious about the psychological and cognitive mechanisms underlying climate change adaptation and behavioural change, and is passionate about building the resilience and adaptive capacity of local communities.

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