Social and policy simulations, as well as serious games, are participatory processes through which diverse societal stakeholders collectively explore a complex reality and complex challenges. These participatory processes combine both social and natural science insights to foster experiential learning. They enable participants to make sense of the complexity associated with policy issues, and reflect on system inter-linkages and stakeholder plurality. These methods have become increasingly recognised for informing and guiding policy in complex settings, including sustainable development, climate change mitigation/adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Simulations and serious games fictionally recreate a governance setting in which different stakeholder groups are represented. The simulated real-world environments for experiential learning allow participants to gain insights into the complex structure of a problem at hand, including the social interactions among multiple stakeholders with conflicting agendas, problem frames and worldviews. Moreover, different policy solutions and their tradeoffs are discussed and negotiated amongst stakeholders.

Participatory processes have the potential to expand the understanding of stakeholder dynamics, teasing out behavioural pitfalls that may prevent the effective collaboration, coordination, and collective action necessary to foster transitions towards sustainability. Based on our own assessment of the effectiveness of a role-play simulation in the context of climate risk management, as one specific form of a social and policy simulation, we found role-play simulations to have a high potential for fostering social learning.

The EQU team in collaboration with partners has developed a number of such participatory processes, including the Water-Food-Energy-Nexus Game, the Narubu Game of Many Voices, the RESPECT role play simulation, the Phusicos Nature-Based Solutions Governance social simulation, the ABM2Policy Climate Migration Policy Exercise and the RECREATE Vienna Mobility Social Simulation.

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PHUSICOS Simulation 

The PHUSICOS simulation represents a fictional setting (PHUSICOS town) at risk from extreme events and in which different stakeholder groups are represented. It was developed under the H2020-funded project PHUSICOS and aims to simulate the complex governance setting in which stakeholders with various interests and often opposing worldviews and goals make decisions on and implement nature-based solutions (NBS). The simulation is inspired by PHUSICOS sites and their governance settings and challenges they might have faced. The game is relevant to all those working on and implementing NBS, particularly practitioners and authorities, as it simulates the NBS implementation decision-making process. The game is designed for approximately 7-40 players. 

In the simulation, players have the opportunity to prioritise problems, plan and implement solutions, and solve conflicts via negotiations and dialogue. Together, they creatively experiment and test various risk reduction solutions. The game thus sets emphasis on stakeholders’ negotiations regarding the implementation of different options for reducing disaster risk and weighing up their co-benefits and trade-offs. 

The PHUSICOS project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 776681.

Explore NBS governance by playing the PHUSICOS Simulation

Introductory webinar to the PHUSICOS Simulation

The RESPECT role-play simulation in the context of managing climate-related risks  

The RESPECT role-play concept (Lintschnig et al., 2019) uses possible climate risk scenarios to identify a portfolio of feasible risk management measures according to different layers of risk. Risk layering involves the identification of efficient and acceptable interventions based on the recurrence of hazards and the allocation of roles and responsibilities to reduce, finance, or accept risks. The future risk scenarios are integrated into the RESPECT role-play concept in the form of storylines co-developed with key stakeholders in the study region and building on the region’s most recent climate and socioeconomic data. Storylines provide narrative descriptions of plausible pathways that lead to the development of future climate-related risks. The RESPECT role-play concept requires players to work out the responsibilities of public- and private-sector actors with respect to different climate risk management measures provided to the participants in the form of a descriptive catalog. They then need to elaborate - from the perspective of their respective role-play character as characterised by the distributed role cards - upon the effectiveness of the adaptation measures for two contrasting risk categories that differ in their return period and in the level of stress imposed by risk (risk layering).  

The implementation of the RESPECT role-play simulation for managing flood risk in the city of Lienz, Austria, shows the merit of collaborative research approaches as follows (Schinko and Bednar-Friedl, 2022): i) they enable diverse societal stakeholders (policy makers, decision makers, civil society, private sector, households, researchers) to better understand the interacting dimensions of flood risk as well as each other’s risk perceptions, interests, and needs in addressing this climate-related risk; ii) they engage societal stakeholders beyond traditional policy and decision-making communities in informed and inclusive public discussion and debate around challenges of, and solutions to, managing flood risk; and iii) they have the potential to support the breaking down of cultural, political, and institutional barriers to collaboration beyond the level of individuals, enabling more inclusive, reflexive, and transformative stakeholder processes. 

The RESPECT project received funding from the Austrian Climate Research Program (ACRP).

network © Photo 116141980 © Tinnakorn Jorruang | Dreamstime.com

ABM to Policy Simulation  

The Climate Migration Policy Simulation addresses important, yet difficult, questions concerning immigration to Austria. It is based on a hypothetical but potentially realistic narrative scenario for the near future when the European Union and Austria may be in the wake of a (second) migration crisis. A particular focus is on ‘environmental’ migrants who are fleeing economic or ecological conditions worsened by climate change. The exercise is aided by an agent-based model that provides insights into the economic consequences of the migration scenario. Participants take on roles of Austrian political party representatives who discuss policy proposals that would later shape the country’s response to the problem of environmental or climate immigration. The policy exercise is designed to address adversity by including diverse worldviews as one of the critical factors guiding the political debate. The participants will be able to argue for potentially conflicting policy questions such as the status of environmental migrants, financial support for MENA countries, and participation in the Mediterranean rescue effort. The exercise enables these different views, or cultural discourses, to be represented and respected. At the centre of the simulation is a negotiation process that takes place in a virtual “conference centre'' with multiple conference rooms, enabling both multilateral and bilateral negotiations of the specific policy questions. Participants express their preferences via voting and receive feedback (based on their choices) represented through stylised media headlines. Using this kind of setting creates a familiar environment for the participants, similar to what they know from real conference and consultation events. 

This simulation- and model-based policy exercise represents an innovative yet effective tool for stakeholder engagement and deliberation, enabling participants to test and learn the complex consequences of their interconnected decisions in a safe (controlled) environment. The aim is to ensure stakeholder learning through participatory processes that can then be transferred and applied into their real-world decisions. The policy exercise can also be effectively applied to other countries and economies for simulating localised decision-making processes concerning future climate migration scenarios. 

The ABM2policy project has received funding from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

Makarov, V., Bakhtizin, A., Beklaryan, G., Akopov, A., Rovenskaya, E. , & Strelkovskii, N. (2020). Agent-based modelling of population dynamics of two interacting social communities: migrants and natives. Ekonomika i matematicheskie metody 56 (2) 5-19. 10.31857/S042473880009217-7.

Poledna, S., Miess, M.G., & Hommes, C.H. (2019). Economic Forecasting with an Agent-Based Model. SSRN Electronic Journal 10.2139/ssrn.3484768.

Makarov, V., Bakhtizin, A., Beklaryan, G., Akopov, A., Rovenskaya, E. , & Strelkovskii, N. (2019). Aggregated Agent-Based Simulation Model of Migration Flows of the European Union Countries. Ekonomika i matematicheskie metody 55 (1) 3-15. 10.31857/S042473880004044-7.