At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low
Length of process: 
A few hours
Number of participants: 
6 - 8 people per game
Participant selection: 
Self-selecting (usually)
Online / Offline: 
Offline

PlayDecide is a card game designed to support small groups have respectful & fact‑based discussions on public policy issues. No speakers or experts are needed as prepared cards contain all the necessary information. It works best for four - eight people over two hours, but it is flexible.

Description

PlayDecide (sometimes known as Democs) is designed to help participants to take in information in a non-threatening, fun way (the materials are prepared in advance by experts, presented in bite-sized chunks and should aim to represent a variety of viewpoints). Through playing the game the goal is to make that learning meaningful to their own lives and the wider policy context.

The process involves a number of stages:

  • The information on the topic is provided on playing cards which are dealt out in two rounds. Each time, people reflect on their cards and choose one or two that they feel are most important.
  • They take turns to read them out, explaining why they chose them, and then place them on the table.
  • The chosen cards are placed on the table and then clustered into groups. This process should produce a set of key issues relating to the topic.
  • Participants then deliberate a range of responses or policy positions and aim to form a response that everyone in the group can agree with. This stage may involve voting if the group cannot reach consensus.
  • They then fill in a short form explaining the results of the discussion and send them back to the organisation running the consultation.

Participating in a PlayDecide game allows people to respond intuitively to the information presented and, through the resulting discussions, explore their own reasoning and the values behind their choices.

There are now hundreds of PlayDecide kits on different issues which can be  downloaded for free from Play Decide. Game topics range from vaccination to smart cities to football refereeing.

Participants

  • About 6 – 8 can take part in each game but there are no limits on the number of people who can take part in total.
  • Democs games are usually open to anyone to participate.
  • Sometimes particular representatives are sought out. For instance, the Human Genetics Commission, investigating over-the-counter genetic testing kits, was interested in the views of the general public and in those of members of their consultative panel.

Costs

Low:

  • There are existing PlayDecide kits on different issues which can be downloaded for free from Play Decide. Developing a new kit however can result in additional costs.
  • Recruiting participants and analysing the results will also take additional resources.

Approximate time expense

Low:

  • Individual sessions can take between 1- 2 hours.

Strengths

  • Supports people to form an opinion on complex or unfamiliar topics.
  • Can be used easily by any group of people, and does not need facilitation.
  • No external speakers or experts are needed.
  • The game format provides an interactive and enjoyable activity. By being structured as a game, with 'rules' for play it can also feel familiar to people less experienced with discussing issues. 
  • The game format creates space for all people to participate and helps overcome passivity or discussions being dominated by the loudest voice.
  • The method can be particularly suitable for engaging young people - a number of PlayDecide games have been designed specifically for schools.

Weaknesses

  • The group is unlikely to reach a consensus.
  • The results are unlikely to be representative.
  • Can work better with a facilitator.
  • It can be hard to feed the results of a Democs process into decision-making.
  • Democs cannot deliver lengthy deliberation, direct decisions, tangible outcomes or a follow up in itself.
  • Judgements or recommendations are likely to be quite generic, limiting the potential impact on decision making
  • It is time intensive to develop and test a new  game.

Origin

The inspiration behind PlayDecide was a conversation game developed and piloted by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) between 2001 and 2003 called Democs (Deliberative Meeting Of CitizenS). It was designed by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) as an experimental method to provide some of the deliberation of Citizens' Juries and Deliberative Polls but for a wider use.

PlayDecide developed from this, originally  as part of the EU-funded project Decide (2004-2007), coordinated by Ecsite, the European network of science centres and museums. The game was developed "to further science centers’ efforts to be active forums for dialogue on complex ethical issues in science and society [..] as a tool for people to discuss and gain more insights in science and technology issues in response to needs for having a more involved and informed public throughout Europe." 

Restrictions

Democs was developed by NEF, and PlayDecide by ECSITE but now can be used by anyone. 

More Information

More information can be found at PlayDecide.

Examples:

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) discuss their PlayDecide game on a ‘healthy diet and lifestyle’ here. The purpose of the games is to engage young people in the debate on food and health-related challenges, to raise awareness about the related issues, and to identify solutions.

The ESRC Genomics Policy Forum used a game when it identified Synthetic Biology as an area it was necessary to engage the public on but which contained difficult scientific ideas that most lay people were not familiar with. Their report of using a Democs Game can be found here.

The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council used a Democs game as part of a national public dialogue exploring public views on the environmental, social and economic issues raised by bioenergy. Download it here.

Photo CC0 Licence Pexel