UNICEF Emergency Response Simulation Game
UNICEF Emergency Response Simulation Game
The game was designed for potential volunteers, donors, students, civic groups, and UNICEF staff. The game will eventually become a pubic, open-source tool aimed at increasing awareness about UNICEF activities; developing empathy for its global mission to protect children and their families; and highlighting the valuable role the organization plays in emergency humanitarian relief.
Pragmatic training game to understand the critical decision making required with scarce resources in the field to mitigate disaster.
UNICEF Emergency Response Simulation Game
The UNICEF Emergency Response Simulation Game is a two-hour, immersive experience designed to illustrate the challenges of humanitarian relief work. Players gather in a conference room or similar space, where they are organized into 5 content specific teams. A web application accessed on a computer acts as a guide for play. Through the course of the game, players must work within their team and across teams to complete a collection of various tasks, culminating in submitting a supply plane order to UNICEF headquarters in Copenhagen. The game was designed for potential volunteers, donors, students, civic groups, and UNICEF staff. The game will eventually become a pubic, open-source tool aimed at increasing awareness about UNICEF activities; developing empathy for its global mission to protect children and their families; and highlighting the valuable role the organization plays in emergency humanitarian relief.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
UNICEF is a first responder in times of crisis, yet not many people know exactly how UNICEF carries out its mission on the ground. The organization wanted a tool that would offer insight into the difficulties and intricacies of relief work, as a way to help engage partners, donors and volunteers. UNICEF had already developed a rough prototype of a game in collaboration with New York University that focused on flood relief but they needed a more robust version that would be flexible, scalable and modular and work for various audiences across the world. Playing the game reveals the operational complexities facing organizations like UNICEF or FEMA. The game is intended to provide a bridge for participants to better understand how they might contribute valuable skills and resources in times of need.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
At the core of the design solution is a delicate balance between realistic immersion, and game-like experience. The solution relies on intense coordination and fast decision-making, sometimes with incomplete information, which is a typical scenario that confronts relief workers. The content is drawn from an actual disaster event in 2011 and follows the UNICEF emergency response there. Players are divided into teams that match UNICEF’s standard emergency response clusters: Health, Nutrition, Child Protection, Water/Sanitation/Hygiene, and Supply. On the gaming side, teams are forced to compete for resources within tight budget and time restrictions. Each team is provided one computer and an online web application to use as their primary game interface. The web app includes games tasks, an email system, reference documentation, a news feed, and a countdown timer. Though their success depends on working together, the game is designed to instill a sense of competitiveness through a motivational narrative that compels players to defend and advocate for their team’s specific needs. A facilitator monitors the game from a back-end web application that controls the timing of game components, manages emails, and captures all available data for later analysis.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Game development followed an iterative design process. The team began by running the existing prototype in January of 2012. We then analyzed the experience collaboratively with UNICEF stakeholders and restructured the game experience to be more immersive and engaging – balancing learning themes with gaming mechanics. After rebuilding the game, we ran the new game as a paper prototype with local students. Several key findings emerged including the need for a narrative framework to unify each team around the value of their tasks. Findings were incorporated into the next iteration, launched in June 2012 with participants from UNICEF in New York. The game was run again in July 2012 with UNICEF in Copenhagen. We continue to gather feedback on the game and plan to release updated editions in the future. The emergency simulation game is part of a larger, ongoing collaboration between frog and UNICEF on innovation strategies that will add value to the organization’s work across many fields. We have intimate knowledge of the organization and its efforts to increase program effectiveness through innovation strategies, capacity building and leadership.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Early test runs of the game suggest it is highly effective in simulating a tense, stressful situation - one that will inform players about UNICEF in a direct and immediate way, stimulate their interest in the organization, and increase awareness about the challenges of disaster relief, hopefully compelling some kind of involvement or contribution. The game goes beyond the familiar media headlines about disasters. It exposes players to the complex tasks aid workers face and the difficult decisions that must be made as events unfold. By placing players in a simulated disaster situation the game underscores the harsh realities of an emergency event and increases awareness of UNICEF’s role. Recent events domestically and globally have further highlighted the need for a tool like this. Super Storm Sandy demonstrated how fragile our urban world can be, but also showed how passionately communities can respond. Organizations like FEMA, The Red Cross, and UNICEF have the expertise to manage these situations but need help in connecting with communities, volunteers and donors to coordinate a response effort.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
To make the game as real as possible, we worked closely with UNICEF staff members who are experts in emergency response, supply distribution, and other core areas. They informed the design process and helped create a game that projected people into the context of an emergency situation so they could feel and understand the pressure facing aid workers in often harrowing circumstances. Additionally, we tested the game with students and colleagues (proxies for actual players) to evaluate the experience. This process led to several modifications and improvements. The game will eventually become a pubic, open-source tool, hosted on GitHub. The hope is that anyone can use and then modify the game for any kind of audience.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
The game components are fully digital and designed to be and easily distributable – we observed the power of this approach when colleagues ran the game remotely in Copenhaggen. The comprehensive facilitator manual allows anyone to learn the back-end of the game and run a game session. The hope is that the tool will go beyond its role in UNICEF and become a model for how game mechanics can be used to engage diverse audiences in complex issues like humanitarian work. Built on standard game design strategies such as role playing, competition, and rewards, the game should be fun on its own, while also educating players about UNICEF. This model could be adapted to other humanitarian organizations, civic organizations, and businesses. The game also has a role in management training and team building. The intense demands placed on each team forces players to organize around skills and weakness, identify leaders, and ultimately develop bonds with team mates. In this way, the game provides value independent of the UNICEF content.