Playful Participatory Mapping: Co-creating Games to Foster Systems Thinking


  • Luca Morini Coventry University



systems thinking, co-creation, game-based learning, workshop


This paper presents a currently evolving hybrid research, teaching and public engagement methodology that uses game design principles and elements to overcome established limitations of participatory research methodologies and pedagogies (such as lack of transferability of findings and difficulties in comparing outcomes and datasets) through the inclusion of game design elements and a focus on systems thinking. Game design is inherently rooted in systems thinking, which has been highlighted a key competence in addressing the “wicked” problems and Sustainable Development Goals, a linkage which is still weakly explored by research. The paper will discuss the methodology’s theoretical groundings and inspirations, with a particular focus on linking participatory approaches, game design and Donella Meadows’s work on “Leverage Points” for systems-oriented interventions. The paper will then discuss how the methodology builds on and moves beyond established community mapping approaches by working with participants to progressively and co-creatively add more formalised game-like elements and dynamics (simulation, goal-setting, player-mapping, turn-taking, role-playing) that organically scaffold participants in moving towards more abstract systems modelling. Following an articulation of the process and its underlying theoretical framework, the paper will also present brief, reflective accounts of a number of experiments in playful participatory community mapping facilitated over a 18-month period, with diverse groups of participants across different countries engaging with the methodology and informing its evolution. These accounts will showcase how the game design lens has allowed participant communities to develop systems thinking and engage in systems mapping, moving from materially grounded and culturally relevant categories towards more systematised models, which include possible, practical “leverage points” for intervention.