Transport planners need to play more games with the public to better understand their needs when consulting over future proposals, an event has heard. But playing games does not mean messing around. Instead, specially created card or board games can be enjoyed at public events to help people explore the possible impact of future transport decisions.
Ways in which so called ‘serious games’ can help with public engagement were explored during a ‘Fireside Chat’ webinar hosted by future mobility professor Glenn Lyons of the University of the West of England. Glenn spoke of a transport sector where “demanding issues” need “careful consideration” and where an element of ‘play’ could help to create better plans. “This is not play as a distraction from the important work to hand, but as an aid to that work,” he explained.
Glenn gave dictionary definitions of ‘game’ – engaging in an activity providing amusement or fun – and ‘serious’ – demanding or characterised by careful consideration. “Put the two together and you create a recipe for being able to give careful consideration to a demanding issue in an engaging and fun way: a ‘serious game’,” he continued.
His sentiments were echoed by the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles’ head of social behavioural research Rebecca Posner. “Serious games are a really valuable asset for stakeholder engagement,” she said. “They can help facilitate discussion and increase involvement as people feel more settled.” She said all transport researchers should have a ‘serious game’ in their toolkit.
Rebecca gave an example of a scenario planning game she uses where participants are given a role, such as a national or local government representative or a business owner. They are then presented with a range of actions they can take forward, before discussing the possible consequences in future years.
Transport consultant Mobility Lab director James Gleave described serious games as being a great way of helping to “bring people along with us to create more just futures”. He added: “We all play: (such as) football on a Sunday morning or doodling on a pad, so why not play games in a way that makes work better? Fun is about learning and gives us insight,” he added. “Fun is also about growing: we see this in children who learn through play. In my experience with scenario planning work, this is a good way of collecting evidence.”
James gave the example of a future mobility scenario game where people are asked to take actions at five year intervals in response to specific challenges. “The idea is to get (people) to think of the implications of the actions you take.” He also spoke of using Lego to redesign streets, which can “win hearts and minds, rather than getting people to respond online to a report or policy idea”. Serious games can help professionals face the challenges ahead of us, he added.
Aberystwyth University professor of psychology Charles Musselwhite said that serious games can “put people at the heart” of transport planning and provide “fresh methodologies that complement traditional transport modelling”. He added that such games can help encourage quieter participants at public events to speak up, ensuring that a fuller range of voices are heard.
Arup director of transport planning Clare Sheffield said games should be an important aspect of public engagement, and warned that schemes could fail if greater effort had not been taken to “take people on the journey with us”. “Often the feedback we get afterwards is people were apprehensive, but it was the most fun day they had had for a long time and they felt refreshed and stimulated,” she added. “Gaming creates ideas and frees up people to think differently. Serious games done well can be really beneficial.”