Playing our way to a more sustainable future

Who doesn’t like games? For sure, we LOVE them! At the School of Business and Economics at UiT, we are testing methods that can encourage innovative thinking promoting sustainability.

Creative games
Creative games Foto: Maite Pett
Portrettbilde av Bertella, Giovanna
Bertella, Giovanna Førsteamanuensis
Portrettbilde av Lupini, Sara
Lupini, Sara
Published: 28.03.22 13:37 Updated: 28.03.22 13:37
Opprinnelig publisert i NTNU
The post is part of UiT's Research corner, where researchers at UiT can disseminate their own research in the form of short, easy-to-understand and popular science texts.
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We are members of the REIS group (Research on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Sustainability) at UiT. Talking with colleagues about our activity, we use fancy words such as action research, participatory approaches, design-based learning theories, business model canvas … but among us, we just call them games!

The start: A game about ice cream

Wall games
The researchers in Tromsø have been testing various games in order to provoke reflection. Foto: Maite Pett

We had a slow and very yummy start with a game about ice cream.

The target group was children, and the game concerned the challenges and possibilities to set up an organic and environmentally friendly ice cream shop. The game included posters and stickers, and the kids just loved it!

Then "the serious" games began

Right after the ice cream experience, a new member entered our group with an exciting PhD project about sustainable transformations in tourism, and "the serious games” began. 

Our goal is to develop a portfolio of games that can be used in teaching contexts, as well as with companies and public agencies. Right now, we have three prototypes.

Mr Wolf

This game consists in a series of 4 workshops over a 3–4 month period. We tested it once in Tromsø in fall 2020: The participants included tourism companies and the local municipality.

This is our Mr Wolf game … if you want to know where the name comes from, you can browse our Faculty’s blog.

The goal of Mr Wolf is to provoke reflections about the value and disvalue that organisations create in relation to various stakeholders, and introduce the participants to a set of tools and methods that can support strategic thinking.

The overarching structure of the game is inspired by the theory of change (ToC), which is relatively well-known in sustainability development contexts but rarely used in business and tourism contexts, and design thinking (DT), which is often adopted to promote innovation.

The participants to the Mr Wolf workshops are engaged in various activities, such as the elaboration of a shared vision, the proposal and discussion of innovative solutions and the necessary intermediate goals and activities towards the vision. To support the workshop activities, we adapted some of the tools proposed by sustainability scholar Nancy Bocken, more precisely value/disvalue mapping and innovation archetypes, and combined them with tools usually employed in ToC, DT, project management and creativity workshops, such as persona cards, roadmaps to change, backward mapping, and GANNT charts.

Among the most surprising results of our test was the focus that the participants had on inclusiveness. Quite a lot of the persona cards chosen by the participants to give voice to the stakeholders included categories of people experiencing hardship or belonging to minorities, such as elderly, sick and poor people, LGBTQ.

Less surprising, but very relevant to our studies, was the result of the environmental dimension of sustainability being downgraded due to impellent socio-economic difficulties deriving from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While the academics are spending tons of ink writing about using the crisis to reflect on what can be improved to build a more sustainable tourism sector, the focus of the practitioners is on surviving the crisis, with little space for imagining a better future.

These were not the only lessons we learned … if you want to know more about them and read a detail description of our Mr Wolf with the changes introduced after the test, you can check out our article in Annals of Tourism Research.

Mr Wolf Jr

Wall games
Can games be a tool in creating a more sustainable future? UiT researchers Giovanna Bertella and Sara Lupini want to find out. Foto: Maite Pett

Mr Wolf Jr is a shorter version of Mr Wolf. It is thought to be used with students and companies. The main idea of this game is to create a space for discussing sustainability across generations. The companies present themselves to the students and describe a challenge that they are facing.

Then, the students engage in some of the Mr Wolf activities to evaluate the sustainability of the company and propose innovative solutions. The game ends with an open discussion among the participants and the company representative.

We tested Mr Wolf Jr once, and the participants were bachelor students who worked with the challenge of producing greens in Svalbard. The students used value/disvalue maps and persona cards to reflect on how the production of greens can contribute to the sustainability of the Arctic archipelago, what are the potentials, and what are the barriers.

The students appreciated the opportunity to meet a visionary entrepreneur and work with a real-life and quite exotic challenge. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, got an outsider perspective on the actual and potential value of his company. Furthermore, he gained new ideas and tools for making it easier to engage stakeholders to evaluate products and actions and reflect on opportunities.

All in all, we consider this workshop a success and, apart from a few small improvements, no substantial changes are needed.

What we learned from this experience was that sometimes students hold simplistic views on sustainability and have limited knowledge about the regional context and the specific challenges relevant to sustainability. We think that using games to make the industry representatives meet the students is important for the region, as it helps uncover what the youth thinks, knows, prioritises, values and wants for its future.

Moreover, it brings together creativity and pragmatism: entrepreneurs confront young people with the intricacy of real contexts, while the youth challenges the assumptions of entrepreneurs.

The Creativity Challenge

Right now, we are working at a game, provisionally named The Creativity Challenge, which can be used with both real and fictive companies.

The main idea is to develop a sort of competition for students who work with traditional and sustainable business models. The game was tested once with the help of a company working with northern lights tourism. The material is still under construction, with plenty of posters, dies, and sticky notes.

A first version of the game will be presented in April at the ØA Conference in Bodø.

What we have learned so far

Well, we have learned that people, no matter whether they are students or entrepreneurs, like to play! Games are great to stimulate dialogue and open possibilities for collaboration. Games must be planned in detail, and a certain level of flexibility must be maintained to adjust them to the participants.

Creativity does not come easily for many people. A lot of effort must be put in making people think out of the box. The latter is probably the most important lesson we have learned, and it pushes us to refine our games and develop new ones because … what can be better than a good game to imagine and start building a new and more sustainable world?

Giovanna Bertella

Associate professor at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. She received her Ph.D. about learning and networking in tourism from the Department of sociology, Political Science and Community Planning at UiT.

She is the leader of the research group REIS (Research on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Sustainability). Her research interests are: management, marketing, entrepreneurship/innovation, tourism and leisure studies (nature- and animal-based experiences, rural tourism, food tourism, events), food studies (veganism), futures studies (scenarios), qualitative research methods, ecofeminism.

Sara Lupini

Ph.D. Candidate at the School of Business and Economics, UiT.

She received her Bachelor in Political Sciences at the Università degli studi di Pisa, to then continue with a Master in international Relations and Diplomatic Affairs at the Almamater Studiorum - Univertsità degli Studi di Bologna, she has a second Master in Peace and Conflict Transformation from the Center of Peace Studies at UiT where she researched Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in Belize.

In 2020 she started her Ph.D. in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, she is a member of the research group REIS (Research on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Sustainability). Her research interests are: management, sustainability, entrepreneurship/innovation, tourism studies (nature- and animal-based experiences, rural tourism, destination management), game-based learning, futures studies (scenarios), qualitative research methods and action research.

Opprinnelig publisert i NTNU
Bertella, Giovanna Førsteamanuensis
Lupini, Sara
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