Transcript: What is the Circular Economy Game In the Loop? with Katherine Whalen
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Katherine Whalen [00:00:57] Hi and welcome to the Getting In the Loop Podcast. I'm Katie. And today I'm doing a solo cast devoted to a question I've received multiple times. What is the In the Loop game? If you've been listening to the podcast for a while now, you've probably heard me mention it a couple of times, but it wasn't until I got emails from many of you that I realized I never did a proper introduction about what the game is and why I created it. So today I'm going to share the story behind In the Loop with you. But first, I want to just introduce who I am because I realized that in the podcast, I haven't really discussed that at all either, and some of you have been wondering who's actually on the other end of that earbud or headphones.
[00:01:49] My name is Katherine Whalen and I am currently a PHD researcher at Lund University, which is located in Sweden. I work at a small institute that's part of the university, but it's a little separate institute. It's called The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics. It's a bit of a mouthful to say, but we shorten it often to the triple I double E. At the triple I double E, I'm one of I'd say 50 researchers that are looking at how we can transition to a more sustainable future. I'm part of a four year research program that's right at the tail end. It's called MISTRA REES, which MISTRA is a Swedish foundation, and REES, stands for Resource Efficient and Effective Solutions based on circular economy thinking. So the name might give it away, but my research is focused on circular economy and specifically I'm looking at business models that can be used to help extend the lifetimes of products. The good news is that I'm almost done and I actually just had my final seminar a week ago and it was quite successful. That's sort of the the go no go point before you can do your final defense. I'm anticipating to be finalized with my PHD before summer of 2020. Now, the big question is, what next?
[00:03:29] Back to how did I get to Sweden? You probably can tell from my accent that I'm not originally Swedish. I actually grew up in the United States and I grew up in Upstate New York. So I come from a tiny town that's a little bit south of Canada. I ended up in Sweden via the Netherlands and stick with me - it'll make sense. When I finished my bachelors in the United States, I headed over to do my masters at TU Delft in the Netherlands - the Technical University of Delft. And Delft is where the In the Loop game story begins. When I was doing my master's graduation, I was working with a group of educators and industry representatives that were looking to create awareness about two very difficult topics to explain. Circular economy and critical raw materials. I may refer to them as CRMs in the rest of this episode, so if I say that, then now you know what I'm referring to.
[00:04:42] What is a critical raw material? Well, we've had David Peck and also Alessandra Hool on the podcast before, and I can link to those episodes in the show notes. Essentially critical raw materials are materials that have a high economic importance and are susceptible to supply risk or disruption. So it's quite a multilayered disciplinary topic and it's quite complex because it touches on business, economics, supply chains and logistics. And on top of that, it's ever changing. In fact, anything can be critical. Recently I was on Facebook and I was looking through my news feed and I was seeing a friend who lives in Finland and he had a photo from his office canteen - basically where they they eat lunch. And it was a picture of a fruit basket. Next to it was a sign that said our supplier can not supply bananas because of tropical storm at banana plantation. You can see clearly that there are no bananas in the fruit basket. I would say in this case, the banana is a bit critical because something happened and there's a bit of a supply chain disruption. The EU takes a little bit of a less banana centric positioning on critical raw materials, meaning that they focus on raw materials that are needed to move towards an energy transition. Specifically a more sustainable energy transition. What this means is that -and I've talked about this a little bit on the podcast before Episode 10, I believe is the one that I have talked about supply chains and so do supply and demand for cobalt and lithium and these types of materials- but essentially, everything that we make in a product out of we we make, you know, photovoltaic cells, which are solar panels that can produce renewable energy, wind generators and these produce renewable energy, electric cars etc. They all require materials. And these materials are often critical in the eyes of the EU because what is expected in not so many years for some of these materials is that the demand will exceed the supply. And just to give you an idea of some of the materials that we're talking about, we're talking about ones that you probably have never really thought about since you took chemistry class. These are ones that are on the Periodic Table of Elements like neodymium, cobalt, and gallium. These are types of materials that could be critical.
[00:07:56] We were researching this at Delft because it links very well to circular economy. Circular economy is one of the ways that has been proposed to address this issue, because if we move away from this linear take, make, waste system and instead we move to more of a take, make, reuse, recover system, we can reuse and recover the valuable resources that will be a challenge in the future. However, at Delft, we were having workshops on this with experts and industry representatives. We were also trying to convey this to students. And it's challenging to convey because it's a complex topic that's interconnected with many aspects. And often when my colleagues would try to convey this either in a presentation or at a conference or to a group of students, people would just glaze over and just be like, what are you talking about?
[00:08:59] We were trying to figure out a way to avoid that sort of glazed over look and to bring these topics to life and make them tangible. So to do this, I turned to game based principles. Games have been used for centuries as tools for learning because they provide a risk free setting and there you can experiment different things; they're also really good at illustrating complex, interrelated situations. I also find them to be helpful in terms of engaging people in different topics and to be used as icebreakers. For example, if you have a group of people who are starting a project and they maybe haven't met before or, you know, you're starting a four day workshop or a three day boot camp or something. I just came from one recently, actually. And, we played games to kind of kick off the event. I think that games and this has been shown by the research as well, that they can be really good for, especially aspects related to sustainable development and topics where it is quite complex and there is no black and white solution.
[00:10:12] So by applying game based learning principles, I started the journey of creating what ultimately became In the Loop. And I say started the journey because this was an over two year development process where the game was played and tested around around Europe. Mainly it was tested in classes and workshops with both industry as well as educators. I was also at different events hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Circle Economy.
[00:10:47] The message coming from people who were playing this game was that we needed this game. So I set out to find how actually could provide In the Loop a larger scale, because right now I was actually just hand cutting all of the pieces myself. And I only had a couple paper copies that would last one or two play sessions before I had to reprint it again because it would just get destroyed.
[00:11:39] In the end, I turned actually to Kickstarter and I crowdfunded the game - I had a successful crowdfunding campaign with over 100 backers. At the same time, In the Loop also won a world prize awarded by Voor de Wereld Van Morgen, sponsored by the ASN Bank. As a result, the game is currently in use by organizations all over the world; I think the last count was over 30 countries have received copies of the In the Loop game!
[00:12:40] Now I've given you a little bit of a background to how the game even came to be and why it was created, I thought I would dive a little bit into how it works. And instead of focusing on the rules, etc., I'll provide an overview of the game and a little bit more of the frequently asked questions. In short, the In the Loop game is a serious board game. It's a physical tabletop game. I get the question all the time. Why is it not online? Could you put it online? The short answer is yes, I could, but I love the fact that it's something physical that brings people together because one of the aims of the game is to get people talking about circular economy. And I don't really think you get the same sense of engagement and discussion and triggering conversations if you're sitting behind a computer screen at your desk and maybe playing against a colleague a couple rows over from you.
[00:13:48] The game itself is about 12 materials that can be found in the Periodic Table of Elements. And it's about the products that contain them. So these materials are based on a list of critical raw materials from the EU and they're mostly found in tech products. So these are beryllium, antimony, tantalum, gallium, germanium. Again, these types of materials that you haven't thought about since you took chemistry class.
[00:14:21] In the game you are a manufacturing company with the objective to future proof your company. So you're trying to future proof your company by earning progress points. The objective is simple - it's to be the first to 7 progress points by collecting resources and building products. And to collect these resources, you travel around the global board, which is coincidentally in the shape of a circle and you're trying to collect the materials to make your product. So again, maybe your're making a photovoltaic cell (a solar panel). And you want to collect cobalt and indium or you're making a mobile phone and you need to collect the materials that are in that so that you can actually produce.
[00:15:12] It seems straightforward, right? But two things make this difficult. First, there are limited amounts of resources available. And second, there are changing market conditions. If you've been a longtime Getting In the Loop Podcast listener, then you probably know about this because these changing market conditions come in the form of Event cards. And every single podcast episode that I have with a guest, I ask them to create an event for that In the Loop. Game. The events can range on a variety of topics, so they can be economic disruptions, environmental issues, social issues, political issues or even technological issues. I'll give you a hint - one of the most memorable ones is an export disruption card where there's been a political event in the game and none of the materials from a certain country are available.
[00:16:12] To address these changing demands, players have to make difficult decisions and invest in strategies to overcome these barriers. And this is where the circular strategies come in. So by circular strategies, I mean going towards reusing products, going towards more of leasing products versus selling solutions (so that you can distribute the same products again without having to make additional products), these strategies help you set your business on the path for success in order to actually future proof your company.
[00:16:51] So after playing the game, usually lasting around 45 minutes to an hour and a half, players realize that you need a new way of using our resources other than the current take make waste system. And that reuse and remanufacturing and recycling are the way to address some of these resource constraints and pave the way towards a more resourceful future.
[00:17:21] I promised that I would give a little bit of an overview also about how the game has been used. Because it combines many different issues, it has been used by a variety of disciplines and people. So to give you an idea, there are some business consultants who have been using In the Loop mainly at the start of different projects that they're going to initiate with organizations to illustrate why we need to circular economy. And in particular I'd like to talk about one that I'm thinking about right now, which likes to highlight the importance of eco design. So they're usually doing projects with different companies and before they start this project, they'll organize a session as part of this project to get everyone around the table thinking about, OK, this is why we're doing this project on eco design and this is why we really need to rethink how we're designing our products so that we can actually recover materials at the end of life.
[00:18:24] So that's an example of how the game is being used by more professionals. But the In the Loop game is also being used and has been integrated in educational programs. Some of these are two to three day courses focused on an industry perspective looking at raw material supply chains. I also know that the game is being used each year at a circular economy course at some business schools. Mainly it's been used in higher education and professional development. But I also know people who have used it with high school students and especially during outreach days. So Alessandra Hool, who was on the podcast before, uses it with high schoolers on special days where they interact with the community and they talk about materials and circular economy.
[00:19:24] I actually worked with colleagues in Chalmers University to see what people's experiences were playing the game and to actually test and evaluate the game in use. You can actually check out this academic paper. It's called All They Do Is Win: Lessons Learned from Use of a Serious Game for Circular Economy Education. So if you're interested in reading this paper, I'm happy to share a link with you and direct you to where you could download it. It is a scientific paper, so it's published right now in the journal of Resources, Conservation and Recycling, which is a scientific journal. So if you're an academic and you have access to scientific journals, then you can check it out. I'll have a link to this in the show notes on our website, GettingIntheLoopPodcast.com.
[00:20:37] In the paper, one of the things that we did was we had the participants write reflections about after playing. One of my favorite quotes from the paper is: 'it's fun and makes people think about the products around them. I went through an amazing experience. It will definitely be remembered from our course.
[00:20:57] So since serious games - I like to say they're comparable to other storytelling tools - while they do leave lasting impressions on participants, even if they're played alone, we've shown that there is much more value in an after play reflection. So it's not some sort of, you know, black box. You don't just put it on the table and let it do its thing. You really get a lot of use out of it if you have a facilitator who connects it to his or her or her own message. To help facilitators make the most of their session, there is a Facilitator Guide that accompanies In the Loop, and this includes slide decks, brief introduction videos as well as reflection question sheets - essentially everything you need to be able to play and runs In the Loop successfully.
[00:21:48] OK, so that's covered a bit about why I created the In the Loop game, how it works and how it's used. If you want to know more about the game and even see it used in action, I've put together some FAQs. Head over to faq.GettingIntheLooppodcast.com where you can learn more about the game and the accompanying resources for game facilitators such as the introduction, videos and presentations. Again, you can head over to faq.GettingIntheLooppodcast.com to learn more about the game. Thanks so much for listening to the Getting In the Loop Podcast. And of course, for listening to this episode, I hope that you have enjoyed hearing about my journey with the In the Loop game and I look forward to sharing more about my work related to gamification and circular economy in some upcoming episodes as well, because this is just the surface. See you next week. And thanks for getting In the Loop!
About the Show
Getting In the Loop is a weekly podcast dedicated to exploring how to transform to a more circular society. Join host Katie Whalen as she examines the challenges facing our current resource use and discovers alternatives to the ‘take, make, dispose’ way of doing things. Each week she interviews circular economy experts about what they’re doing and learning. Together we'll uncover what circular economy means in practice and find out what's being done to keep our resources in a loop rather than sent to waste.