When we talk about cities and broader areas, such as regions, we should consider the fact that they are places of social interaction; and that they are essentially dynamic. As such, we should always try to innovate the tools and practices we use for understanding such ever-changing and dynamic character.
The Regional Planning class itself, at Polis University, is an experimental studio, which besides the main and important theoretical core, always tries to innovate its tools for making theory more understandable and applicable. Especially in the case of Albania, a Regional Governance level has never been put to power, so planning at this level has never worked. Under such circumstances, territorial planning policies have either worked on the national level, or on the local one. This has left the two levels of governance very far apart, in the absence of an intermediary level. In addition, looking at the aspiration of Albania to become an EU member, regional governance should start forming as it is a necessity for reaching regional funds.
By considering such complicated context, the students participating on this studio, get the chance to work with hypothetic scenarios, where Albania is thought to be organized around 4-6 regions. Then they are asked to formulate territorial policies, which address the development at this level. The interdisciplinary character of the studio, also asks for the students to make relations between their regional policies, and the national and local appliances, in order to reach sustainable development.
Furthermore, the need to undertake risk assessments is becoming an emergency, not only for giving answers to local issues, but also for confronting effects of global crisis and global warming. So in order to understand and then apply such instruments in Albania and wider in the region, the Regional Planning class aims to experiment through serious gaming, which will bring together the challenges of risk assessment tasks and territorial development processes.
The combination of game theory with planning is known worldwide as a very useful tool for stimulating development scenarios and provoking situations, which ask for the broad engagement of different stakeholders for collaborative decision-making, conflict resolution, and resolving complex challenges.
The proposed teaching resource aims to use gaming on the academic process, in order to create a more active learning process for the students. By tailoring “role-playing” on stimulated scenarios the game will make students understand how processes and negotiations for solving complex issues that need consensual process and participation, work on specific situations.
The main game concept can be applied to different contexts and for different purposes, as it is based on the main outcome that you want to reach. It can also be considered as a method of public consultation for solving problems between the real actors, by bringing together on the game, top down decision makers with bottom up stakeholders, so they can freely negotiate outcomes over the game.
On the specific study case proposed within this framework, the students will be the ones playing the game, by wearing the hats of each actor, be it a decision maker or a specific stakeholder. We will work on the Regional Governance level, so the class will be organized on 4-6 main groups (depending on the given number of regions that we will take in consideration) with 4-6 students each. Each student within the group will have specific roles, which coincide with all the responsible parties that operate within a regional territory (decision makers, governing units and other stakeholders such as: representatives of the community, entrepreneurs, private and public institutions, etc.).
First Round of the game will be played on Day 1 and will consist on: (i) division of the students into 6 different groups, one for each region; (ii) within the groups the student will work together in order to understand the regional potentials and possibilities for development; (ii) setting priorities for each development for each region, identifying key actions for cooperation between different regions, and preparing the timetable of all the actions to be taken on a 5-10 years time. Mental maps, diagrams, sketches and mood boards will be produced by each team/region, representing their actions and vision for each specific region.
On the Second Round the students will apply their policies and visions on the game, which will be played on a board- the physical map of Albania. The game will be based on fields of 7 fields of interventions:
- Polycentrism (core areas, center and periphery, distances etc.);
- Infrastructure (roads, railways, alternative roots, cross-border areas, etc.);
- Urban Development (how will cities grow, how to provide sustainable development);
- Rural Development (what will rural development be represented from?);
- Agriculture Development (Farms, co-operative units, consolidation of land, trading spots etc.);
- Protected Areas;
- Tourism Development (Sea, Mountains, Cultural, History etc).
The regional governments and different stakeholders will have to gather and discuss the issue, in order to analyze their actions, take responsibilities and undertake policies for the management of the situations. Paper and cartoon-board elements that suit each of the fields of intervention will help the students to apply their actions on the playing board.
Despite the different stakeholders and governments, three more key-roles will be very important for the game: the timekeeper, the banker and the central government. They will apply taxes, collect taxes and distribute income for each year, and for each activity played during the game. Investors, businesses and other actors will be additional players that will be part of the game, in order to co-operate with the regional governments.
The whole game will last three days and it will work as a workshop within the Regional Planning class. After the students have taken a series of lectures about the basic knowledge over the subject (regional and territorial planning), they will be able to handle the stimulated game. On the 1st day of the workshop they will be introduced with the issue, and will be divided in groups and roles. Then after, they will prepare their analysis based on the region they are representing, and will formulate a vision for each region. On the 2nd day they will play their roles and manage the “serious flooding stimulated scenario”, taking actions and proposing reforms and policies. On the 3rd and final day the groups will have to make a review of the whole process, take notes of the lessons learnt, and evaluate the new situation, after the implementation of the new reforms and policies.
Based on the conclusions made within each group and for the whole 6 regions together, the 6 groups will continue the work during the 1st semester, in order to prepare a regional plan for the development of each region. The game will serve as an introduction to what they will be doing in more detail in the coming weeks and months. Once they have learnt how regions work, what tools can be used and policies that will be applied, and which actors will play crucial roles, they will be able to prepare a proper framework for the regional development.
Other worldwide practices that use such gaming theory and that serve as inspirational experiences, are “Play the City” and “The Making Of” Game Urbanism, which both aim to demystify the complicated character of the territorial planning and decision making, by bringing all the parties on one table. During TDW (Tirana Design Week 2013) Polis University also developed a game experience, namely “Urban Snakes & Leaders”, which was a community game, focused on evidencing threats and problems of different neighborhoods in Tirana, and finding small scale solutions to be implemented by the inhabitants individually and in groups. The metaphor of “Snakes and Ladders” was used to assess the severity of the problems and threats at the neighborhood level, as well as the impact of the actions that are not taken at different levels. Polis University is experimenting and researching on this direction also with the 5th year Urban Planning graduate students, trying to implement gaming theory on the planning processes (with special focus on mobility). This is another example, which Polis aims to engage on the academic process for testing the efficiency of the gaming theory that stands behind it.
Besides being a very proactive and direct learning tool, this practice is also very sustainable; as it holds the capacity to create and test, and it refers to the goal of fostering adaptive capabilities and creating opportunities.