26 November 2018

Games and Scenario Planning: at a crossroads

The rise of scenario planning has changed the way organisations think about the future. Until recently, complex issues such as terrorism, the economy, or crime, have been forecast using algorithms, which usually produce a single prediction for the future that turns out to have almost no bearing on reality. Scenario planning is less rigid: it presents a variety of future scenarios to experts in order to form an idea of possible futures and parameters that must be taken into consideration. That means even organisations such as the police can benefit from scenario planning, but how can the tool actually be utilised? As part of the Imaginative Scenario Planning for Law Enforcement Organizations project, Ingrid Hoofd (Institute for Cultural Inquiry) and Joost Vervoort (Copernicus Institute) are studying that exact problem.

“Very little research has been done into the use of digital games for scenario planning”

Analogue games currently play only an incidental role in scenario planning, for example when experts play out scenarios on paper. “Very little research has been done into the use of digital games for scenario planning”, says Hoofd, “and that makes it an exciting field of study. The research into games is currently at a crossroads: we are turning analogue games into digital forms, but we still don’t know what potential such conversion has to offer.” This is because simply digitising existing analogue games is not as easy as it sounds. A game is a closed system, so it is vital to understand which audience to address.

Hoofd and Vervoort also ran into that problem in their project. The police had already been using workshops in which experts played out scenarios on paper, and the project’s goal was to innovate scenario planning by adding digital gaming. However, it quickly became clear that digitising this form of game play demands some much more specific choices. The researchers found themselves asking new questions, such as: who could benefit from such a digital game? And what should the game look like, exactly? Is it enough just to translate a specific part of the problem into a digital game? The participating police officers were enthusiastic about the project, and were open to putting the results into practice.

“Scenario planning is such a broad topic, that just about any faculty could start working on the subject”, says Hoofd. Vervoort agrees: “Games offer the potential to actively experience scenarios and simulations. There are so many possibilities, as illustrated by the application in the hub Water, Climate, and Future Deltas.” The researchers effortlessly list a variety of applications: corporate strategy making, crowd control, criminology, or studying the economy, health care costs, or the effects of an aging population.

The subject also offers room for international cooperation, for example with European universities or NGOs. This project is just one example of this: researchers from the faculties of Humanities, Geosciences, Law, Economics & Governance, and Science are all involved, as are English universities and European NGOs that study criminal networks. As a relatively unexplored territory, the use of digital games in scenario planning offers a great deal of potential, which is already being applied in new collaborative efforts and research applications.