As part of a strategy to incorporate future innovation methodologies in government, the Policy Lab team trialled serious gaming in order to co-design the upcoming Sea Bass Fisheries Management Plan for 2023. The serious games invited representatives from stakeholder groups to work through challenge questions and corresponding solutions to identify opportunity areas. The project engaged 1400 stakeholders and provided an opportunity for stakeholders, with low levels of trust, to gather around a table to discuss the future of sea bass.
Project Team
Three Ethnographers; Alex Mathers, Pina Sadar and Solene Heinzl
Five Designers; Eliza Collin, Kate Langham, Matteo Menapace, Sanjan Sabherwal and myself
The Challenge
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and The Welsh Government commissioned Policy Lab to engage with bass stakeholders to understand the impact of the current bass fisheries management plan and co-design the new plan.
Part of the challenge was navigating the conflict between stakeholders and ensuring all groups felt their views were represented fairly.
The Solution
Developed using the double diamond approach, a series of engagements that included lived experience research, a collective intelligence debate, co-design workshops, and a co-refine survey provided the opportunity for stakeholders to share the impact of the current legislation
on their ability to fish for sea bass as well as ideas for the future. These insights were then communicated to the commissioning teams
as recommendations for the new Fisheries Management Plan within four reports and a film
Lived Experience and Collective Intelligence
The Policy Lab team conducted in-depth social research to illuminate the perspectives and experiences of fishers, representatives of enforcement agencies, bass sellers and other sea bass stakeholders. To summarise the interviews and themes which arose, I was responsible for editing a film.
Policy Lab also launched a nationwide collective intelligence debate with stakeholders. Participants were shown 38 “seed statements”, wrote to kick start the debate and were given the option to agree, disagree or pass and add new statements of their own. Including the 38 “seed statements”, there were a total of 711 statements in the debate. This generated almost 140,000 votes in total.
These statements directly formed the content of the game.​​​​​​​
"...shows genuine passion and is a real exercise in listening.”
A representative from Defra’s response to the Sea Bass film​​​​​​​.
Stills from the film.
Co-Design Principles
The purpose of the serious gaming workshops was to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to meaningfully engage in productive discussion to shape the Fisheries Management Plan through stakeholder-led insights.
To do so, we invited recreational fishers, commercial fishers, charter boat skipper/s, buyers/sellers as well as representatives from MMO, IFCA, eNGOs and scientists to ensure there was the opportunity to collectively build knowledge around the fishery and allow people to interact with the decision making as equally as possible. Additionally, creating a space for these individuals to interact encouraged relationship building which was essential due to the prior conflict.
Participants using their tokens to vote on their preferred solution.
Participatory Methods; Tactile Tokens
Approaching the design of the game, I focused on how a participant would experience the materials. The physicality of the process (handling the challenge and solution cards as well as casting votes) aimed to disarm participants and encourage them to engage with the process and other participants.
To begin the game, participants were asked to customise their tokens. This step was designed to transition participants from negative body language to using their hands and opening up to the group.
The challenge and solution cards for the question ‘How should sea bass regulations be enforced?’
Capacity Building
A challenge with ensuring all stakeholders could appropriately interact with the activity was the complexity of the terms used within legislation. Therefore the facilitation was integral to assuring accessibility of the game. The facilitator would read the challenge and solution cards multiple times and assign the solution with the shell, crab, seaweed or prawn so participants could engage with the vote. Where appropriate, stakeholders also invited family members or friends to aid the process. Representatives from Defra were also on hand to explain.
Solution cards were identified through icons, for example, shell, crab, seaweed and prawn. These were purposefully recognisable for fishers so they could quickly and easily share their preferred solution. I believe these icons avoid biases e.g. we initially experimented with numbering the cards although this could have implied that solution 1 was the best and 4 the worst.
Game Materials
To facilitate the game, we used challenge and solution cards as well as participant mats to encourage prioritisation of cards. Tokens were also used for voting and a record poster, which was updated live, highlighted areas of consensus. Following the workshops, the record poster was integral in analysing the group’s preferences however each individual’s preferences were also recorded.
Prototyping and Iterating
We invited representatives from Defra and Cefas to join us in testing. The game was designed to host representatives from each stakeholder group and so the Policy Lab team, Defra and Cefas role played these perspectives to consider how the groups dynamic could impact its effectiveness.
The session informed how we decided to deliver the challenges to improve engagement with the process as well as build a sense of trust among participants. The order of challenge questions was reorganised to start with problems which were less controversial and slowly build the difficulty. Additionally, we also incorporated 10 minutes worth of discussion time per question and provided participants with three voting tokens. The discussion period often influenced how participants proceeded. Sometimes, participants continued to cast all three votes on their most preferred option however, more frequently, participants split their vote between two or three solutions, considering what would be holistically beneficial. Multiple tokens allowed participants to let us know when a mixture of solutions could be implemented or to demonstrate a preferred long-term solution with the option to include a short-term option for now. This allowed us to gain a richer understanding of how people responded to challenges.
Images of how participants voted- the bottom image shows participants choosing to abstain from voting by placing their tokens in the centre.
The discussions were focused around 12 specific challenge questions, which were identified as top priority areas of concern by stakeholders. Participants were presented with 2-4 solutions to address these challenges and were invited to vote on their favourite solutions. They also engaged in a discussion, after which they had a chance to move their votes.
“Overall it was a well run session and conducted in an orderly manner with participants respecting each others’ points of view”
Workshop participant
The data gained from the co-design sessions helped to identify areas of agreement and disagreement on the key challenge areas. However, a lot of the challenges were complex and couldn’t be solved with one single solution. We presented the outcomes of the co-design to a range of internal stakeholders, including Defra and Cefas. The experts’ insights helped us understand which solutions would be feasible and implementable in the short-term and which required a more long-term approach.

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