Will playing Prison Architect make you a better sustainable decision maker?

img_5890Could playing a computer game which involves the design, building and running of an American Jail (Prison Architect) help public service ‘decision makers’ make better real life decisions? In particular would it help people to learn how to think differently? Would it help them behave in a way that aligns decision making with sustainable development principles in The (Wales) Wellbeing of Future Generations Act?

This might require a bit of commitment from you to stick with my logic, but here goes: Part 1…

Sub-Sonic Pan Wales Travel. Imagine you are about to step on board the latest high-speed transport link from Rhyl (North Wales) to Neath (South Wales). The ‘vehicle’ will transport you to your destination in safety and comfort, 170 miles in just under 20 minutes. (I know it sounds unlikely, but please play along).

A couple of questions. Would you expect the decisions to build the transport link to have been based upon ‘tons’ of information, testing and evaluation? During this process would you expect the people involved to have tried and tested dozens of scenarios and situations? By working through these many situations they would have identified what does, and doesn’t work, and put things in place to make sure everything runs smoothly.

I’m guessing that the answer is, “of course I would expect this”, you are about be propelled across Wales at about 600 miles an hour. Developing simulations and testing scenarios is an important part of getting things right before you trust them with your life.

Simulations and Scenarios. Using simulations and scenarios to test ideas and develop skills isn’t a new idea. I used to work in environmental protection where we were frequently involved in exercises to test how we would respond if something unusual happened. These were multi agency, complex affairs, and a great opportunity to test how we would behave if something like an Oil Tanker running aground in an area of outstanding natural beauty happened. (Ironically that scenario did actually happen, about 2 months after the simulation exercise).

Anyone involved in organisations linked to emergency planning, civil emergency planning or the blue light services might have experienced one of these events. I think they are a great way to test and learn about how you think, make decisions and act in non-routine, often complex situations. Unfortunately they don’t happen very frequently, and only relatively small numbers (the lucky few) tend to get involved. I suspect that this might be partly due to cost.

New Legislation and a New Way of Thinking. This isn’t something you need to imagine. The Wellbeing of Future Generations (WFG) Act has already been introduced in Wales and places a requirement on public bodies to make decisions that are in line with the principles of sustainable development. It then goes on to specify 5 Ways of Working, which the public bodies will be required to demonstrate as part of  their decision making and delivery.

The 5 Ways of Working
The 5 Ways of Working

Just for the record here are the 5 Ways of Working: (and you can read more about the WFG Act here)

  • Long Term – the ability to balance short-term needs with long-term needs
  • Prevention – acting to prevent problems occurring  to things getting worse
  • Integration – making sure the activities of different organisations don’t conflict
  • Collaboration – working with other people
  • Involvement – working with those affected by what you do

This all sounds blindingly obvious when you read it. Why wouldn’t public bodies want to work in this way? Their primary purpose is to provide services to the citizens, and it’s not like they are in competition with each other…

However if it was as blindingly obvious, and as easy as I suggest, I suspect we wouldn’t need legislation to make it happen. The point of the WFG Act is to make people behave differently (that’s what legislation does) In this case the behaviour change required is to make decisions that are more sustainable.

This poses a significant question, how do you achieve behaviour change that gets people making decisions that fit with the principles of sustainable development and the WFG Act?  That’s a huge complex challenge so I’m just going to focus on the idea that you could develop some of the relevant ‘skills’ by playing a game like Prison Architect.

img_5895At last, Prison Architect In the absence of a computer simulation game called; ‘My Local Council Complying with the WFG Act’, I think there is a place for Prison Architect. Basically the game involves:

  • Designing, building and running a prison,
  • Throughout the game you have choices,
  • Choices are as basic as; do you have a wooden or tiled floor, through to the education and drug rehabilitation programmes offered prisoners,
  • Every choice has consequences,
  • Many unexpected and unplanned things also happen,
  • Ultimately your decision making influences what happens in the prison ‘community’,
  • Is it stable and sustainable or a burning hell? (literally).

I fully appreciate that building and running a prison isn’t the same as running a local council. However, with a little bit of encouragement I’m sure people could relate to the challenges of building a sustainable prison community (or not; the burning hell option is available).

I reckon that Prison Architect offers the opportunity for people to safely test and develop their decision making abilities off-line. If they make mistakes and things go terribly wrong, it’s not a problem. If they have some fun along the way, great. If they take some risks and push some boundaries, they might learn something that will help in real life decision making, brilliant. It’s got to be worth thinking about?

I’m avoiding any in depth explanation of Prison Architect – for the moment. I just want to check with a few associates if anyone would bother to read it.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Simulation exercises have been used for many years to help people and organisations learn how to do things and prepare for unusual events.
  2. Computer software potentially reduced the cost of these activities and increases the range of things they can be applied to.
  3. Linking the activity to a ‘game’ could have benefits of engaging people in some fun while they learn.

img_5897I have to include this. As a taster, here’s the plan of a prison someone build in Prison Architect. Yes, it is the shape of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Not exactly a Panopticon, but how good is that.


About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

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