What are
Social Simulations?

This explainer will help you grasp the most important aspects of the social simulations: Why is it so unique? How to apply it? What are the benefits of using it with your audiences?

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watch the video

Social simulations are experiential processes where a group of participants collectively explores a complex reality

Complex problems require solutions that respect the laws of nature and the needs of people. Bringing together diverse stakeholders in a safe space is essential to exploring various solutions and testing their viability. This is why we design and implement social simulations. 

It is social because it requires the participation of real people who represent different groups and organizations. We call it a simulation because it represents a carefully selected real-world situation or a process, enabling participants to actively operate its key elements and make claims about how they work. This simulated reality is created through the use of game elements (roles, problem cards, pictures, tokens, boards, etc.). 

A special type of simulation, policy simulation (also known as policy exercise) may also be used to explore real policy issues. Unlike social simulation that applies role-playing and stylized settings, policy simulations require that participants assume their real-life roles, work with real-world data, and operate within their own cultural contexts. 

How do simulations work?

All types of simulations offer a combination of science-based and relational problem solving. They include game-like elements to structure communication and feedback mechanisms to trigger reflection and deep learning. For a few hours, stakeholders with various experiences and values take on specific roles (either mock or real), representing different sectors, e.g. research, administration, business, NGOs. They interact with each other in a shared, safe environment that reflects key aspects of the real world. In this simulated reality, they have a chance to find solutions to real problems, confront opposing views, and solve conflicts via negotiations and dialogue. Together, they creatively test new approaches and  instantly face the outcomes of their decisions.

The conversations that occur and the pathways that appear while using simulation enable participants to expand and revise their worldviews. They help surface misconceptions and trigger dialogue and experimentation. The common experience eliminates barriers among diverse parties, enhancing trust and understanding.

With an increased flow of information, participants find it easier to build a shared language and act together towards a common cause. The resulting mindshift leads to creative, inclusive, and resilient solutions, as well as inspires to change and action in the real world.

Achieving the sustainable development goals, adapting to and mitigating climate change, responsible resource management, transforming the energy sector, advancing individual and social well-being, or creating resilient communities are just a few examples of the complex problems for which simulations can be used. They provide a testing ground where educators, sustainability professionals, and policymakers can collaboratively set out future options and a path for getting there.

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Recommendations What our recipients say about social simulations?

  • In the game we covered individual decision making or collective decision making on risk and uncertainty. I think we all learnt that it has to be both. We have to think about our own good, income, good education for us, for our families. At the same time we have to think about our collective wellbeing. (…) So I think it was a big success. It was fun for both the teachers and the students.

     

    REINHARD MECHLER
    IIASA, Risk Policy and Vulnerability program, deputy director
  • The game is great for consulting company teams or for businesses that are working towards and trading in the sustainable development field. The game creates good opportunities for insight into how business is transforming. It can help enrich the dialogue with business related to public-private partnerships.

    GILLIAN MARTIN MEHERS
    Founder of Bright Green Learning @Atadore SARL
  • I participated in the game and found it to be engaging, fun, and surprisingly useful to understand, given a relatively brief period of time, some of the collaboration challenges that individuals and organizations confront in working together in policy contexts.

    PROF. ALAN TOMKINS
    Director, University of Nebraska Public Policy Center
  • Energy transformation will only be a success if we find a way of getting everybody on board. Playing the energy game helped me experience how to create mutual understanding of seemingly opposing roles. The playful joint fact finding made one thing clear: we have to cooperate to find feasible answers to the burning challenges.

     

    JACOB BILABEL
    Thema 1 Founder
  • Half-way through the first round of the game I was totally immersed. PIPES is a realistic, exciting, and fun way to explore the challenges associated with aging and failing civic infrastructure. Playing just a few rounds of PIPES made me realize that my typical approach to decision making can affect other stakeholders in ways that I did not realize.

    DR. ADAM ZWICKLE
    Assistant Professor, Michigan State University
  • Using the game for training students was really helpful. The complexity of achieving all SDGs at the same time in different countries became vividly clear. The students recognised the high relevance of communication and networking on an international level and the importance of broad and sound systems knowledge.

    MATTHIAS WANNER
    Research Fellow and PhD-Student
  • The very strong side of the game is that it makes you “live” these problems (of each parties), which occur in water management practice, hence it is an experience, rather than just talk about issues like this, which makes one more deeply understand the problems about water management. It is also a very good side of it, that one can get these experiences as different actors of the society, therefore it gives you a broader perspective on the problems.

    DR ZSOLT KOZMA
    Assistant lecturer

Catalogue See the simulations we've created

Areas of application Our social simulations provide a wide array of application in the following areas:

The tools were used within numbers of workshops all over the world.

We created social simulations for

Formal Education
Public Policy
Scientists
Business
Artists
NGO

social-simulations-workshops

We create social simulations for Recipients all over the world

Usage Social simulations can be used in the procesess of:

Strategy Development

Strategy Development

Policy simulations provide an opportunity to look into possible future developments, while addressing urgent problems. Based on a real world situation and empirical data, they engage important stakeholders in a collaborative process of building a realistic yet simplified representation of their specific challenge.

Organizational Change

Organizational Change

Social simulations improve communication and cooperation within and between teams. Participants exercise the negotiation skills to reach compromises and collaborate for a common cause, which leads to their commitment to implement a shared vision.

Education,<br>capacity building

Education,
capacity building

Engaged in an experience that feels real, participants retain more information and learn faster. Social simulations turn classrooms into safe learning environments that allow students to test their assumptions and knowledge, and make mistakes without bearing their real costs.

Research support, Experiments

Research support, Experiments

Social simulations can be applied to run experiments in different fields, including economics, sociology, psychology, and others. Using a programmed interface and a wide array of settings helps the researcher to create a controlled environment for an experiment and to include different experimental treatments.

You can get one of our social simulations and easily learn how to use it. See available courses.

We can create one related to one of the SDGs’ issue. Or deliver the workshop for your audience. 

Together we can do sth valuable. Let’s became the project partners.

Learn more about our organisation – Centre for Systems Solutions.

How policy simulations work

  • 1. PROBLEM

    1. PROBLEM

    Today’s world societal, economic or environmental challenges call for innovative approach to strategic decision making that would integrate a wide range of data, insights and tacit knowledge.
  • 2. Different Perspectives

    2. Different Perspectives

    Social simulations provide an accessible problem representation and bring together stakeholders with diverse backgrounds, values, tasks and goals, offering them a unique opportunity to explore the issue from a number of perspectives.
  • 3. Communication

    3. Communication

    Not restricted to any particular mode of communication, the participants engage in brainstorming, consulting or negotiating processes across diverse groups, triggering free exchange of ideas and bridging communication gaps.
  • 4. Complexity

    4. Complexity

    By the step-by-step process of exploring variables, identifying interconnections, testing possible solutions, and observing their outcomes, the totality of the problem is revealed.
  • 5. Creativity

    5. Creativity

    The playful nature of social simulation helps participants discover their creative potential and go off the beaten track. Abstract ideas become tangible, giving way to new original and inspiring pathways into the unknown.
  • 6. Consensus

    6. Consensus

    In the safe environment of social simulation, participants are more inclined towards cooperation, developing empathy and mutual trust. Thus even if debates become sharpened, all voices may be heard, trade-offs negotiated, and a joint strategy adapted.
  • 7. Commitment to action

    7. Commitment to action

    Social simulations help stakeholders to realize their own responsibility within complex systems and understand that they have enough experience, knowledge and determination to use their newly gained insights to face real life challenges.