For policy makers, using indicators such as GDP, HDI or IWI is about trade-offs. What are the limitations of using these indicators, especially in a context riven by challenges related to sustainability and growth? Cantor's World, a multi-player computer-based game designed by Fields of View (FoV) and UNESCO-MGIEP, provides participants a first-hand immersive experience of the tension between economic growth and the country’s available natural and human capitals.
Cantor's World is a game designed by Fields of View (FoV), a not-for-profit research group in India, and UNESCO-MGIEP, provides participants a first-hand immersive experience of the tension between economic growth and the country’s available natural and human capitals.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the most popular indicator used to measure a country’s economic progress, and the Human Development Index (HDI) was introduced to shift the focus to people’s capabilities. Both GDP and HDI do not bother about our dwindling natural resources, environmental issues, and its subsequent impact on our future. In order to address this gap, in 2012, a trio of organisations under the UN umbrella introduced the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI), which measures a country’s natural capital, produced capital, and human capital. The IWI is a way to acknowledge and articulate the interconnectedness of the economy, environment, and human well-being.
How can economists, students of sustainability studies, planners, policymakers, and anyone critically engaged with the question of sustainable development understand the IWI? To answer this question, Fields of View in collaboration with UNESCO-MGIEP designed Cantor’s World, a computer-assisted game designed for classroom or workshop settings for students of social sciences and policy-makers. Games have been widely used to understand complex problems as they allow participants to reflect upon their choices, explore and experience multiple outcomes, and learn from failure.
Cantor’s World is built on a model whose source database contains inputs from 140 countries listed by the UN. The source database comprises the data points for IWI, which include produced capital, human capital, natural capital, and the country’s available resources of most of the independent or stock variables used to calculate the wealth of capitals. The game has been designed based on databases on all dependent and independent variables, incorporating both mathematical and in-the-game equations.
A game session involves briefing (explanation of the game’s rules), game play, and a debrief to reflect on the play experience. In the game, participants will play the role of a chief decision-maker of a country. They will set goals in terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The game is played in rounds (each round marks a year) and in every round, players make choices about which policies to invest in. In other words, players can experiment with different policy choices, and experience first-hand the tug-of-war between short-term results and long-term sustainability. The game allows players to choose policies in each term and the impact of policy implementation will lead to changes in stock variables, and further changes to related capitals. As the game engages players to play the role of their selected countries’ chief decision-maker, they will be able to observe the impacts of changes made by them in the gaming platform. This will lead them to understand the theoretical part of their studies on Macroeconomic indexes and policy research methodology. At the end of each term or at the end of the game session, players will be able to map the in-the-game situation of produced, natural, and human capitals of their selected countries with the real world scenario.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Games and simulations have been used to understand complex policy-making problems and explore ways to tackle them. By providing a space for reflection, collaboration, and learning, games allow participants to reflect upon choices, explore and experience multiple outcomes, and learn from failure. Such an approach is especially relevant in a context where there are constant tug-of-wars between economic development and sustainability. Use of games and simulations for public policy is an innovative approach for policymakers, civil society groups, and other stakeholders to have an informed dialogue and collaborate with each other to solve complex problems that we face. Thus we submit, that Cantor's World is an innovative approach that harnesses the power of games to address policy challenges. Recognising the innovativeness of Fields of View's approach, Nesta, The Innovation Foundation, featured FoV's work in 'Smarter Policy through simulations' section.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The game has already been designed and validated and delivered to UNESCO-MGIEP and UNEP. From July 2018, the game is in the process of being integrated into the curriculum of different universities across South Asia. The game will be played by students of economics, sustainability studies, and public policy as part of a semester-long course. The game accounts several aspects of the social science and public policy courses by which the students will be able to map their theoretical studies with the in-the-game mechanism.
The Inclusive Wealth Report 2018 has recently been published by UNEP and UNESCO-MGIEP. The report also includes the game formulation and use of a game as a tool to understand impact of effective policy implementation.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Innovation requires diversity; we need a diverse set of disciplines and perspectives. In line with such a philosophy, Fields of View is an interdisciplinary not-for-profit research group designing games and simulations with researchers from different disciplines, including art, technology, and social sciences. Cantor's World was designed in collaboration with UNESCO-MGIEP which brings economic and policy research capabilities to the table and a worldwide reach as part of the UN family.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The game is designed for masters' students of economics, sustainability studies, and mid-career policy-makers. The game has been released under an open source license to facilitate maximum ease of use. The game is being included in courses in universities across South Asia. The game allows a fun, immersive space for students and policymakers to learn and explore different planning and policy strategies, and experience first-hand the tug-of-war between economic growth and sustainability.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Cantor's World has been validated by UNESCO-MGIEP and UNEP. The game is being used on-the-ground by different universities across South Asia and has reached the intended beneficiaries, who are students of economics, sustainability studies and mid-career policymakers. All the academics who have played the game have acknowledged the impact of the game for learning economic concepts and planning trade-offs; as the game, unlike traditional learning tools, offers an immersive, first-hand experience.
The game will be used by universities worldwide, as the game has been released under an open source license offering maximum ease of use and uptake. The game is set to be used at the UN University in Tokyo, where policymakers from all over the world come for mid-career learning sessions.
Challenges and Failures
A critical challenge for designing such innovations is the lack of skilled personnel, as working in interdisciplinary groups is not everyone's cup of tea. Fields of View has overcome this challenge by networking with partners across government, academia, and civil society.
Conditions for Success
We think that appropriate funding avenues and structures are crucial for such innovations. Research in non-academic settings, and tool-building for public policy does not have adequate support in terms of funding, which leads to other challenges, including hiring and retaining talented people. It is incredibly hard to reach out to and find people who are motivated by factors other than economic incentives, and though Fields of View has managed to attract such people, it is an ongoing challenge.
Games and simulation as a tool to understand and grapple with complex problems can be replicated across different domains, and different geographical and cultural contexts. For instance, Fields of View's games and simulations are being used by local, state, and national-level governments in different domains, including public transportation, energy, disaster management, urban poverty, and participatory governance. In Netherlands, Fields of View's games are being used for participatory neighbourhood governance. These games and simulations have a tremendous potential especially in developing countries in the South Asian and African regions.
Interdisciplinary spaces offer tremendous potential for innovation. Though creating such interdisciplinary spaces, and nurturing such spaces is hard, the benefits in terms of innovation and creativity are huge. At Fields of View, we have researchers whose backgrounds range from technology, art, law, social sciences, and design, and the tools designed at the intersection of these disciplines offer a richer way to address complex challenges we face as a society.