11.12.2015 12:42

Serious games at the COP

An enormous flash flood is bearing down on Paris and will reach the COP site in less than 24 hours – what can we do? With only three minutes left to brainstorm and prioritise response actions, my group was stuck in a heated debate over whether issuing a warning or mapping evacuation routes were more important. I couldn’t help feeling that the COP was doomed.

Serious games at the COP
Louisa Whitlock, delegate for the Red Cross

This was not in fact a manifestation of extreme weather under the influence of climate change, but a game session run by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC) in a side event rather more interactive than is usual during the COP.

Most of us who have worked with adaptation and development have had the experience of listening to – or giving! – a presentation on climate change and feeling the attention levels in the room drop with every powerpoint slide. The RCCC have been pioneers in the use of participatory games communicate complex concepts related to climate change in a much more fun and engaging manner, and Ready!, which we played today, is one of their most successful games.

Having finally agreed on our flood response plan, each team had to rank their actions by difficulty. Some suggestions – everyone find floating materials and build rafts – were more ambitious than others – get everyone up on the roof. But in the face of a major disaster hitting a site with thousands of people in attendance, even obvious actions like issuing a warning or organising an evacuation would be far from straightforward.

In a final race against time to complete our actions before the flood hit,  frantically rolling dice to simulate the difficulty of completing each action, we had only a minute to complete as much of our response plan as possible. For a group of people primarily working in the humanitarian and development fields, there was a rather alarming degree of competitiveness on display  in the struggle to get actions completed in the last ten seconds!

These games are great fun to play, but they serve a very important purpose too. The brainstorming process triggered by the game can be used to create an action plan for disaster preparedness and response, and link specific preparedness actions to forecasts of disasters wherever possible. This is especially important given that disaster risk around the world is changing as a result of climate change.

Playing the game with disaster-affected communities can help clarify the most effective ways to prepare for and respond to a disaster. The act of playing – the team work, the brainstorming , the strategising and of course the competitive element – can also help break down existing structures and hierarchies, allowing inputs from groups whose voices may not always be heard when planning in more traditional ways.

Meanwhile, back in the COP, our team managed to get enough points to sound the warning and evacuate the delegates, but failed to divert the flood water, a much more difficult and expensive task. The conference centre may have been disappearing under a wave of imaginary flood water, but we had won the game – my personal satisfaction was immense.

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