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Pitch

Gamification, virtual simulations can drive empathy, motivate better decisions and approaches on Climate Resilient Development.


Description

Summary

In most nations, policies and decisions on climate change issues and climate risk insurance are being made by politicians, bureaucrats, economists and other experts, and then passed down a hierarchy of bureaucrats, organizations and individuals for implementation. Within these chains of command, as well as in the corporate entities that get involved (such as banks, insurers, infrastructure builders, etc), individuals vary in their sensitivity to the humanitarian and societal aspects of climate change. Most of these individuals and their families are financially much better off than the poor and vulnerable communities that stand to lose the most to climate change effects or natural disasters. Many of the decision makers have never experienced the angst of falling back into poverty after a flood or storm, the hard choices a commoner may be faced with, etc. We must address this disconnect. 

Our team believes that better decision making on climate change issues needs not only better education/information, but also a higher level of empathy to motivate decision makers to act sooner than later for climate resilient development. We propose that in under 1 hour, via an immersive online game in which each player finds him/herself virtually living the life of a vulnerable protagonist and facing simulated climate risks, we can increase empathy among decision makers and implementers. Moreover, by tapping into real-world developmental scenarios to simulate climactic events, along with additional inputs of geo-climatic, living conditions, socio-economic facts, etc, the in-game simulator will provide assessment of possible damages and risk for that scenario, and will help in better decision making. Thus, the game provides value for clients in government, UN, NGOs, humanitarian organizations, education bodies, climate change lobbying, fundraising, etc; on climate resilient development.


What actions do you propose?

M. K. Gandhi once said, “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”

Climate change, risks and mitigation are complicated multi-factorial issues, requiring coalitions and teamwork across multiple stakeholders, government departments, NGOs, corporate entities, etc. Increased empathy and resolve are crucial to spurring these stakeholders into dialogue and into action.

We propose driving awareness for climate change risks and projected outcomes (“what if” scenarios) at multiple levels of the decision making tree. Our aim is to sensitize not only the top echelons of power, but also influencers and people at various levels. We give them access to gamified simulations of climate change effects and intervention outcomes, helping them immersively experience those effects in the life of ordinary people, i.e. the people who are vulnerable and on the frontlines of climate change. Such an experience will increase empathy and motivate people to address climate change with more resolve and urgency.

Our approach using gamified simulations is a valuable addition, and a step up, to what’s traditionally been done to educate and train cadres in government, development professionals, disaster risk managers, etc. Traditional approaches involved the creation of frameworks, protocols, guide books, actuarial models, online courses, seminars, workshops, training drills, etc. However, perhaps with some exceptions like training drills (which can be expensive to scale up), the traditional approaches lack the emotional content and urgency that gamified simulations can provide. Our approach of gamified simulations makes learning and training, as well as scenario-specific response and decision evaluation, much more interesting and personal, yet remains affordable and relevant to the ground realities .It educates the stakeholders about multilateral treaties, government policies and global practices.

Game/simulation setup/configuration shall tap into real-world databases, geographic information system (GIS) maps, design and methodology of intervention, available technologies, local inventories of equipment and manpower, and even various ground realities (e.g. budgetary constraints, etc). Players can test their decisions and assumptions against multiple simulated outcomes and potential curveballs that an Artificial Intelligence (AI) backend in the simulation engine can throw at them. The system will use a physics engine with an ability to grow with multiple scenarios and advance the AI capabilities. The players can also learn from previous experiences on the same issue, the anonymized outcomes of simulations run by other players and agencies. Our proposed simulation platform shall jump start education and training, which otherwise tend to be bogged down in the slow bureaucratic processes of creating guidelines, printing handbooks, getting resources allocated and personnel trained using traditional “didactic” methods, Most importantly, our simulations will spur dialogue and resolve. Group licenses and affordable subscription plans will allow nations, organizations and interested individuals to access the game resource, to learn and train affordably, and also to improve the simulation relevance and quality by sharing information with our platform. Thus, our gamified simulation platform shall enable us to deploy the power of the internet, connected databases and AI towards preparing governments, NGOs, corporates and grassroots workers for climate resilient development.

Our vision is to create a universally-accessible game platform that can be financially self-sustaining and that stays relevant for its paying subscribers. This involves integrating with real-world databases and predictive AI, the regular addition of new real life development and disaster scenarios, giving subscribers good reasons to stay on. The technology - viz. simulation engine, AI, content delivery through web/mobile browser, Google Cardboard-like VR glasses for VR content - already exists. Our team is currently in preliminary talks with an existing game simulation platform company that shares our enthusiasm for solving socially-relevant problems and is likewise a believer in the power of empathy and behavioral change. Through this contest, we hope to secure the funding and mentorship needed to develop a platform, or to adapt the existing platform, improve its bandwidth and capabilities. We intend to make our simulation platform a go-to resource for local, national and international organizations. Very importantly, we wish to democratize access to it (e.g. with a free trial, or a freemium subscription model) and - if feasible - make it open source down the line.

In our envisioned platform, available GIS mapping and other public domain (or state-contributed) information will allow the participants to create the virtual scenario close to their own realities. A player could be in the role of an administrator, engineer, resident, or a worker involved in a development scenario (i.e. the platform isn’t limited to disaster scenarios).

It is no secret that the frequency and amplitude (i.e. devastation) of climate change-related losses and disasters has governments, ecologists, and insurers alarmed. Whereas acute disasters like storms, floods, wildfires, etc get more attention and knee-jerk commitments of resources, the sub-acute or slowly developing problems such as recurrent droughts, desertification, eutrophication, etc keep getting pushed down on the priority lists. Essentially, the proverbial can is getting kicked down the road for future governments to fix, or for other actuaries to calculate the costs for. Our simulations allow users to experience the future in vivid and personal ways, through the virtual lives of their online avatars condensed into under an hour. This approach can be very educative and memorable. It is not just for decision makers and professionals. It can serve in the teaching of school and college curricula, too. Educational institutions, a huge potential market for our product, can use our platform to prepare the next generation of implementers and leaders.


Who will take these actions?

Today (March 11th), we cannot yet reveal the identities of our tentative implementation partners and external advisers, but we look forward to naming them soon.

As we mentioned previously, climate change interventions and risk mitigation decisions are frequently made and debated in the corridors of power, but often without enough “heart” or emotional urgency. Conversely, there are organizations that have the “heart” and the credibility with their climate change or humanitarian aid efforts, but are nevertheless struggling with bureaucratic red tape or trying to get through to ministers, lawmakers and senior officials. Therefore, we anticipate partnering with them and organizations such as UN Climate Resilience Initiative A2R, CDKN, ODI, World Bank, InsuResilience, Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative, African Risk Capacity, World Food Program, Engineers Without Borders, Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change, etc. to demonstrate our platform and its benefits.

To drive grassroots level awareness of climate change issues, we shall take gamified simulations into educational institutions. Other audiences AND partners for lead generation may include forums of concerned people, such as the Union Of Concerned Scientists, the International Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change, etc, as well as those lobbying for climate change mitigation. Our platform may be useful in crowdfunding climate change mitigation efforts or alternate livelihood creation even when government funding is insufficient. For instance, banks and platforms that serve micro-entrepreneurs and small agribusinesses in developing nations (e.g. Kiva, Prosper, Grameen Bank, etc) may use our game platform. Climate risk insurance providers, such as those that tie insurability and premiums to contingency planning, may factor the insured’s performance in our simulations. Insurers as premium subscribers to our platform, may use their proprietary insurance databases and algorithms.


Where will these actions be taken?

We shall make the gamified simulation platform accessible globally, through the internet. At a base level, it will be possible for a player to choose to live the life of a male, female or transgender person born in a certain district or province, and facing the climate change and other ground realities. Realistically, however, the usability and performance of the simulations shall depend on the accumulated knowledge from real life scenarios and input data streams. Therefore, we may roll out advanced simulations depending on the databases available to us or those that our clients make available.

We anticipate piloting our platform in India and neighboring nations. Our team members, as well as our tentative partners and external advisers, are particularly well versed with the situation in the world’s most populous democracy, India. About 22 percent of the Indian population, i.e. about 270 million people are living below the poverty line. A significant proportion of the rural population works in small family-owned farms. The vagaries of the climate and monsoons, as well as mounting financial debts, drive thousands of farmers to suicide every year. Migration to urban areas and sprawling unplanned settlements have made cities particularly vulnerable to climate hazards. The government’s apex educational policy body NCERT has recommended that climate change and preparedness be in the school curriculum, and the World Bank has earmarked funds for that. Yet, education progress has ranged from slow to non-existent. The powerful bureaucrats in the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service are often tasked with solving climatic and natural disasters. Typically, these IAS and IPS officers are the cream of India’s cadres, but they do not yet have access to simulations and training such as ours. India’s National Disaster Management Authority, a step in the right direction, is bogged down by red tape. Therefore, we see a huge unmet need- and potential-  in India.


What are other key benefits?

Our approach, with the gamified simulation platform and its linkage to real-world data, shall make a difference where one is sorely needed- in the hearts and minds of decision-makers, influencers and implementers at various levels. Our platform also jump starts dialogue and resolve. By democratizing access it, and to the successes and insights from other players and “case studies” we shall enable it to spread awareness, preparedness, and action in societies. After all, every society today is vulnerable to climate change in our interconnected world.


What are the proposal’s costs?

1. Online gamified simulation platform, AI and server costs (Year 1-2)- Euro 30000

(Assumptions- some of the engineering salary costs shall be borne by our partner platform, i.e. we bootstrap).

2. Marketing, Targeted online advertising (Year 1-2)- Euro 3000

3. Outreach, engagement, travel and presence at industry conferences (Year 1-2)- Euro 12000

4. Business incorporation, Office and Legal costs (Year 1) - Euro 1500

5. TOTAL projected cost- Euro 46500

We do not foresee any negative economic, environmental or social side effects from our proposal. However, we look forward to reviewing these with the MIT CoLab expert panel.


Time line

1. Crowdfunding campaign (via Kickstarter, Indiegogo or similar)- 3 months

2. Development and roll-out of online gamified simulation platform- 6 months (concurrently with #1)

3. Reaching out to governments and potential clients (Indian states, Indian central government, other candidate nations) - 9-12 months (concurrently with #2)

4. Quantifying impact from pilots, and Soliciting investments from international partners (e.g. UN A2R, Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change, World Bank, etc) - Year 2 & 3

5. Simulations customizable to users in at least 50 of the most populous nations (hopefully, China included) - Year 3.

6. Simulations customizable to users in all nations - Year 6

7. Product enhancements and linkage with newer and relevant databases - continuous


Related proposals

This proposal was inspired by our previous entry into the Climate Adaptation challenge, which won the Judges' Choice award.

In discussions with experts and influencers, we realized that for scaling up human civilization's resilience to climate change in the most reasonable and fastest ways possible, one crucial ingredient was to appeal to the empathy and motivations of the decision makers and implementers... the folks without whom nothing gets done. Therefore, we wanted to increase that empathy AND hitch the idea to a financially self-sustaining system.

This proposal takes a narrower and more attainable focus compared to our previous winning proposal: 

https://www.climatecolab.org/contests/2017/adaptation/c/proposal/1333933


References

  1. State of Virtual Reality Based Disaster Preparedness and Response Training-Edbert B. Hsu, Yang Li
  2. Simulation training systems for natural disasters. 
  3. A gamified simulation engine to experience human lives anywhere on the planet.
  4. Educators on teaching climate change in the classroom and how simulations help learning.
  5. Leveraging the power of empathy to address climate change.