Frequently Asked Questions

These are the questions and concerns that most commonly occurred in workshops and events that were a part of research project that created PARTICIPOLOGY.

1. Is a game format the best approach for participation?

Using a board game is just one of several ways to encourage participation on a range of issues, policies, plans or programmes. Before using such a format you need to have a clear idea of your aims and goals of your exercise and how this approach fits into the bigger picture of information requirements and resources.

The use of a board, dice and cards helps change the relationships between those who are involved in the process. In particular, the dice requires people to answer questions based on chance rather than just focus on their usual agendas. This can be very empowering and challenge people’s preconceptions. It can also take some people outside their comfort zone.

2. Is a hypothetical board better than using a real board?

There is no simple answer here. A hypothetical board allows players to participate with some detachment from the immediate issues that affect their own area thus encouraging people to think outside their ‘box’. This can be a ‘safe’ environment to explore a whole range of issues that might usually be stifled by polarised and well-rehearsed public positions.

However, you might want to explore particular issues in your own local area and political context. So then it might be better to use the 'real' landscape portrayed within a visual proxy of an aerial/satellite photograph.

Experience suggests that there is some benefit of starting with a hypothetical landscape as a first step to enable people to think more freely and then use the real landscape as a follow up to enable all participants to benefit from the wider thinking and exploration of issues that occur in the hypothetical board phase.

3. Do I need a facilitator to run my event?

This is an important issue for any participative event. A facilitator is an independent person who should ideally have no stake in the outcome and is there to help maximise the potential voice and exchange across and within the participants. There is usually a fee for this service.

A good or bad facilitator can make a huge difference to the outcome of any participative exercise. Given the resources available, serious consideration should be given to using an independent person. The dangers of using your own people in the exercise is that they may have their own ideas which then may distort the recorded outcomes. Whilst this is a cheaper option, it can create a false economy.

Whatever is decided, it is important that each table has a person charged with ensuring fair discussion and involvement and who is not actively involved in playing. This role might seem relatively superficial but in reality can enrich the experience for the group by ensuring that no one person dominates or is unable to speak.

4. How should the game be played to secure the best outcome?

There is no right or wrong way to play the game. The game and exercise is not an end in itself and thinking about how the results are going to be used is a critical design consideration. Based on our experience of playing, we have compiled the following participation principles to maximise your outcomes (also see the underpinning participation principles for the whole project).

Drawing from our past experience, some key elements that have been valued to date include:

  • Allowing a significant (10 minutes) group discussion of each question
  • Requiring people to write down their answers as a tangible record, which can then be used for reflective or statutory consultation purposes
  • Trying to build some overall accountability for the string of views recorded to each question
  • Role playing different characters to help people think outside their usual boxes

However, you must adapt any rules to your own goal(s), otherwise there is a risk that the game flounders due to its lack of clarity in the process you are working on and the ultimate goal(s) you are working towards.

5. Should there be some competitive outcome?

Most games usually have a winner and some competitive goal. However, there is no reason why you should opt for this as the key is to ensure your game meets your goal(s) and outcome(s). The game must not become an end in itself.

In many planning cases, there are winners and losers from particular decisions and policies and thus this might be wholly appropriate to explore in some circumstances. Here, the emphasis lies in exposing participants to the consequences of particular decisions and understanding who are the resultant winners and losers from particular resource decisions. This could be a really important learning process.

6. Should we create our own questions or use pre-selected ones?

There is merit in designing your own questions as part of the exercise itself. To help, we have produced guidance for you. Furthermore, you can invite your participants to a session to design the questions as it gives the group greater buy-in to the whole process and might help illuminate the issues they want to explore. However, this does have resource and time implications (watch a short video about the development of questions in the Nebraska case study).

By looking at the question banks, you can get an idea of question design and options to help you.

Questions have been designed using real-life issues and they have been grouped by keywords. These may be picked and used to address your own matching issues where appropriate, enabling you to devote resources to designing your own questions where you identify any gaps. A 'pick and mix' approach might be useful here, especially if this is the first time you are using this type of approach.

Designing good, effective questions is a time-consuming process and should not be rushed.

7. How should we record what is said during a game?

This is a fundamental part of any participative process that can often be overlooked, causing major problems afterwards. The formal recording of views and discussion may be crucial, particularly if it is to be used for the development of a formal plan or grant, or where a response is needed to authorities to inform a policy, decision or plan, etc.

The best way to proceed is to ensure that people record their individual answers and supporting justifications to questions/tasks on cards which are then collected. Any further discussions should be captured on paper with clear voting recorded for any shared/agreed priorities or decisions. These can then be collated into a report.

Thinking about how you will analyse and report the process is a vital prerequisite and should involve the policy and decision makers your exercise is going to influence.

8. How long should the game last?

This is not a game of Monopoly! There is clear fatigue apparent in any exercise after 2.5 hours. However, there should be no hard and fast rules. One danger is that the game is shortened, leading to superficial discussion of questions which then defeats the whole object.

There may be value in playing the session over different periods to enable reflection, learning and iteration. Stages might be useful where you secure a group to perhaps design the board and questions (Stage 1) and then play it (Stage 2). This is how many of the case studies were developed.

9. Can I look at examples of how PARTICIPOLOGY has been played?

Yes, there is a case study section which outlines how it has been used, with the organisers in each case providing short videos to help. We are also keen for you to share your own experience by uploading your case studies.

10. How do I report problems with the PARTICIPOLOGY website to you?

There is a discussion forum which is monitored on a daily basis. You can also upload documents on the forum, where other signed in members can respond. In urgent cases, please contact