Let’s Play the City Game

A blog by Justyna Król, the CEO of Urban Workshop (Pracownia Miejska) and the international consultant for UNDP Georgia

July 12, 2019

Photo source: Urban Workshop

Imagine this: you are a civil servant and you need to organise public consultations on the touristic potential of your city. You want to find out the best placement for the municipal investment, check which partners are open for cooperation and what places in the city hold an untapped development potential. In other words, you want to draw a map of the whole system.

And then you ask yourself a question – who will better suit this exercise? A small group of “usual suspects” who are willing to participate in municipal discussions? Or rather a diverse group of local youth, academia, business, civic society and citizens in general? You may think it’s not really a choice, as your resources are limited. At the city of Rustavi we are on the mission to prove that it’s not only possible, but you may also have a lot of fun along the way.

Rustavi is a special place in many ways. For the last year I have been working with the young, open-minded team at the City Hall of this this post-industrial Georgian town that wants to re-invent itself. With the help from the United Nations Development Programme, the City Hall has been developing the Municipal Innovation Hub to design and test new solutions in urban development, spatial planning and community engagement. One of the tools that we have picked up was an urban board game, developed to engage unusual suspects in a meaningful discussion about the city’s shape and future. 

Lack of public engagement is a challenge for many cities worldwide. The common belief is that communities should be consulted about the topics that concern their livelihoods, though the reality shows that declared values and actual behavior do not necessarily meet. In Georgia, to quote one, 57% of the population believes civic engagement to be an important characteristic of a “good citizen”, though only 23% of people is publicly active. There are many reasons behind this, but the most important one could be summarised with one sentence: the barrier of entry is too high. This is why Rustavi is now going to test using a board game to engage people who otherwise would not have voiced their opinions nor shared their ideas. 

Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

Rustavi. The Game.

If you ever played Monopoly, then you will immediately understand the principle. The difference is that instead of collecting the property, the players trade solutions and ideas for the city development. The open-ended format allows the municipality to host public consultations regarding almost any topic of their choice. The game creates a safe space for any stakeholder, regardless the age, sector, level of education or economic status and, as a result, allows the municipality to gather rich feedback from the variety of local actors.

As one of the rounds of our game, participants are asked to list their solution ideas. With the money they earn in previous rounds, players can purchase solution cards with inspirations from all around the world – ideas that were introduced elsewhere and have proven effective. These solutions are researched and summarized in advance by relevant local civil servants, with the goal to broaden the discussion and actively engage departments responsible for the topic at hand.

Since we are no fans of blind guesses, our partners from the University of Columbia are designing an Impact Assessment Framework that should allow Rustavi Innovation Hub to not only measure the impact this type of consultations have on the local community, but also on the internal procedures within the municipality. With this in our mind, we look forward to play the urban game in other cities in Georgia and worldwide, looking for new solutions and having the best of fun – the one that brings out creative, diverse ideas on how to make things better.