söndag 8 maj 2022

The Climate Change Megagame (the before part)


The Climate Change Megagame Regional Council Board (prototype, may change) is where us politicians will battle things out (show political leadership, allocate money) when we play this game tomorrow!

I was invited to participate in a Megagame (a game with many participants) a month ago. The Megagame was at first a sidetrack, since the main event was planning a visit to KTH by Ola Leifler. Ola gave a great talk at our SF Lab team meeting on May 3: "Reorientating an academic career to become an agent for meaningful change to societal transformation". This is how Ola described himself in the invitation to the talk:

Ola Leifler got a PhD in AI and decision support in 2011. Upon returning to academia 2013, he quickly wanted to realign his teaching (which occupied most of the time) with his personal commitment to sustainability, and create space for research aligned with his values to that end. When he’s not doing academic stuff, he’s a compulsive sourdough baker, a manic organic gardener, medieval hobbyist, and serial boardgamer. There’s probably an acronym for that.

This blog post is however not about his visit, but about his Linköping University course "Megagame-design for societal transformation in the light of climate change". The course has two different course codes and the "second course" (same course but a different course code) is aimed at all engineering students and Linköping University. The course itself is centered on "designing large-scale games for understanding the complexities, power relations and social dynamics related to societal transformations". 

The students who take the course have spent the whole spring term designing the game and it will be played all day tomorrow (8.30 - 17.00). It's possible to play on-site (in Linköping) or online and have signed up to play it online. Blocking a whole day in my calendar a month in advance was tough, but boy am I glad I did it! I only yesterday (Saturday) started to read through all info and rules I have been sent and was blown away by the inventiveness, by the pure fun and by the underlying seriousness in trying to understand how to solve complex societal problems. 

I have more specifically read the 5-page briefing document aimed at "Politicians", because I will be a politician tomorrow (vote for me!). The key sentences that blew me away were:

There is a Regional Council [in the game], home to those playing the three political parties in the region; Forest Muppets, Market Prophets and Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA). These politicians need to form coalitions if they are to support an overall strategy for the region. Influence over the regional governance can be important to promote one’s own agenda.

I hadn't at this point read the mails I had gotten and assumeed (hoped) I would be a Forest Muppet. I'm not. I instead represent Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA) and their position is very interesting because they (we!) would like the region to be self-reliant and therefore promote policies that do not rely on global market solutions for sustainability

The interesting thing is that I have both received enough info to start to imagine, to think and to plan, but not enough to really understand very much about how the game works. Some key pieces of information that has helped me to make sense of things are:

  • We will play in the region Östergötland in the East middle Sweden. The region has about 500 000 inhabitants and is one of the countries agricultural areas. The region and especially the two main cities are also centers for advanced industrial production (e.g. airplanes) and education.
  • Playing different actors in the region, we travel through the next three decades to lay the foundation for a sustainable region characterized by high quality of life.
  • The key challenges in the game is to reach net zero, and then negative, climate impact and adapt to climate change while maintaining or improving the quality of life for the population.
  • Do not try to understand the whole game. Instead, the best overall strategy is to focus on your role and what is relevant for that. Therefore, we will only present to you what is needed to play your part, others will have different priorities and instructions. Talk to them during the game and you will find out. The challenge in the game is to cooperate with the others to achieve your goals.
  • Your specific goal in the game is to promote your preferred policies at the politicians’ board and among the participants to get their support in the election before the final round. You will need to negotiate with other politicians to form coalitions for or against certain policies.
  • Knowing your voters, their desires and challenges is of central importance along your way. Remember the slogan “Don’t ask what the region can do for you but ask what you can do for the region.” The ability to use media to reach out to your supporters might also be crucial.
  • The game is played over 3.5 turns: 2015-2020 (tutorial), 2020-2030, 2030-2040, 2040-2050. Each full turn is about 60 minutes long and divided into an Interaction Phase (≈ 50 min), and then a Team Phase (≈ 10 minutes).
  • As politicians, you will belong to one of three parties: the Market Prophets, the Green Muppets or Make Östergötland Great Again. There are several members of each party, each one with an individual vote. Each party has a set of preferences for which policy they would like to promote, but of course you will also need to be responsive to the needs of the population, researchers and the business community.

There are also many other roles in the game (besides politicians). I can't make out all roles, but there are certainly representatives of the eight municipalities in the region (surely with different agendas and priorities), a business community, a research community, two media corporations as well as role for Nature (Nature represents the natural world that has powers that allows it to react against the human society of the region. It is strengthened by resilient ecosystems, and may punish players as the climate becomes harsher).

This is also very intriguing: Just as real politicians, you get to rewrite the rules of the game [and while we provide you with some examples] you are free to come up with your own ideas. No money is required if you propose new laws.

It is impossible to read the very intriguing briefing/rules without having your thoughts wander in many different directions. My political party will have to work together with one other party to get whatever we want to happen to happen. That made me realize that a very important task is to understand what issues the other two parties don't agree on and make the most of it (splinter and sabotage their attempts to work together). If the other two parties (Forest Muppets and Market Prophets) will not and can not work together, then that's a golden opportunity for my party to work with one of them (probably the Forest Muppets if we can neutralize the Forest Muppet ecomodernist fraction). I have lots of thoughts about this but very hazy ideas of how I can work with others in the game. I understand that "The ability to use media to reach out to your supporters might be crucial", but I currently have no idea of how the two media corporations work and what they want in the game. How do I manufacture "news" that they will be interested in?

I did however do something I thought was very smart and that is to reach out to my colleagues, friends and acquaintances online. I put together a job ad for a position as my policy advisor, i.e. someone who could "help me develop a socio-environmental economic policy platform that will benefit citizens and nature alike" (see below). My idea here is that I am willing to set of time tonight to bounce ideas with someone (or more than one person) about what I as a MÖGA politician want besides and beyond the sparse instructions I have received. This is what I came up with (NOTE: it is now Sunday morning and the position remains open! Interviews will be conducted tonight - read the job ad below for more info):


WANTED: RADICAL HETERODOX ECONOMIST TO DEVELOP SUSTAINABILITY-PROMOTING REGIONAL ECONOMIC POLICIES (that support my political platform and my political career in a Climate Change Megagame). 

I am looking for an unconventional economist/policy wonk who can help me develop policies to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 while simultaneously maintaining (or improving) quality of life for the good citizens of Östergötland. The Östergötland region in east middle Sweden has ≈ 500 000 inhabitants and is one of Sweden’s main agricultural areas. The region and in particular the two main cities, Linköping and Norrköping, are also centers for advanced industrial production (e.g. airplanes) and higher education. 

In order to create a better and more sustainable society for the generous, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth citizens (voters) of Östergötland, it is crucial that we develop a political coalition (under my leadership) that can support our vision of making Östergötland more self-reliant and less dependent on global market solutions. Your goal is to help me develop a socio-environmental economic policy platform that will benefit citizens and nature alike (and that will also maximize my political influence in the region by 2050 - the end of the game). 

While I am not an economist, I have read widely and been inspired by and could imagine developing a socio-environmental economic policy platform that builds on these four radical proposals:

1) Shift from efficiency to sufficiency by immediately performing a carbon audit for the region (baseline data) and then decrease the region's carbon budget by (at least) 7% CO2 reductions year-on-year.
2) Create a local regional currency (possibly algorithmic, for example a GPS-aware currency that loses value the further you go from the geographic region). 
3) Universal Basic Income that is handed out to each citizen in the region but that can only be used to pay for locally produced products and services (see 2).
4) Policies that incentivizes the development of not-for-profit forms of business that instead works towards maximizing (regional) social benefit.
Addad later (but before playing the Megagame):
5) Linköping University needs to urgently educate an "army" of "transition engineers" to help with the transition to a net zero society.
6) Compulsory one year long societal service for 18 year olds. It's possible to choose to do military service, to do unarmed military service (in, say, a school) OR to aim for "planetary stewardship service".

These principles have in particular been inspired by David Jonstad (#1), Alf Hornborg (#2 and #3), Neil Gershenfeld (#2), Jennifer Hinton (#4) and Christian Felber’s Economy for the Common Good (#4) as well as by the writings of many others (Sahlins, Schumacher, Gorz, Graeber, Raworth, Kallis etc.).

If we leave the nerdy stuff aside and concentrate on what is important, I am happy to state that I proudly represent Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA). My political opponents are the Forest Muppets and the Market Prophets. A crucial part of your job consists of helping me identify thorny issues that these two parties ought to disagree on, and then help me find arguments that will help me splinter and sabotage any possible relationship between these parties (so we instead can tie one of these parties to our coalition and to our political platform). Other actors/stakeholders of interest are: the 8 municipalities, the business community, the research community, the two media corporations as well as Nature itself.

You would work in close cooperation with me (regional up-and-coming politician) and with a think-tank of economists and policy wonks (other job applicants). I believe you are imaginative, hardworking and dedicated to your job. You for example don’t shy away from working on a Sunday night (Central European Time) when it proves to be necessary. It is a plus if you live in Östergötland and have local knowledge about the region, but this is not a requirement and it could be that you live in another country or even on another continent!

If you would like to contribute to a better future for your children and grandchildren, please apply to the position by filling out this Doodle: https://doodle.com/meeting/participate/id/en5WxK7d

Please fill out ALL time slots that works for you (the meeting might be more than 1 hour long). Please also send me an email so I can provide you with additional background information (ca 4 pages of text that should be read before tomorrow’s meeting).

PS. Only serious candidates should get in touch! Pie-in-the-sky activists or ivory tower academics need not apply. I am looking for someone who puts the wholesome interests of the hard-working people of Östergötland first, and who is willing and ready to roll up the sleeves and already tomorrow help create a better future together - to Make Östergötland Great Again!

Four concluding notes: 

  1. I just now saw that I have received a link with optional reading materials, Building a Climate Change Megagame (three-part blog series). 
  2. I am asked to dress in a way that will make it easier for other participants to understand who I am. Do you have any suggestions? Since I am a remote participant (through Zoom), I am specifically asked to chose a Zoom background image that makes it easier for others to understand who I am and what I want. Do you have any suggestions? 
  3. I will be not be available for large parts of the day today Sunday (except through text messages to my phone for those who have my phone number), but I will show up tonight if someone is interested in helping me hash out ideas for a socio-environmental economic policy platform! Sign up by answering this Doodle and by sending me a mail! NOTE: You don't even have to live in Sweden to be my policy advisor!
  4. We so much have to make sure KTH students will be able to take this course next year. We're working on it, but it won't actually be me who will make the magic happen but rather Anders Rosén and Jon-Erik Dahlin.


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