Using a modified board game strategy to facilitate a stakeholder event

August 9, 2016

In this blog, we explore the use of a modified board game modeled after a game called participology as a mechanism to facilitate debate at a recent event held with stakeholders in the food industry to discuss some of the findings from the research project on older people's perception of the food system.



From the very beginning of this project, engagement with  stakeholders and members of the public has played a crucial role in helping to guide the team to get the most out of the study. Our external advisory committee has ensured that our recruitment has been appropriate, the Public Involvement in Research group has helped us to tailor our posters and leaflets to potential participants and our chats with members of the public at events such as Healthfest have given us some useful insights into how people relate to our project. So it goes without saying that when we came to analyse our data, we wanted to make sure our stakeholders would be involved so their expertise would help to shape the recommendations we’ll be making to policy makers.


However, analysing the data can be a long and complex process and we wanted to be sure to maximise the input from stakeholders without getting lost in too much detail or overwhelming them with all of our many hours of interviews, videos and hundreds of photographs. It was also important to us that our stakeholders were able to enjoy the process and feel they had gained something useful from being involved so we were looking for an exciting and useful tool to base our stakeholder workshop around.


As a keen public engagement enthusiast, I had been signed up to various mailing lists for individuals interested in innovative ways to engage people with research and in an email from the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement I found a link to Participology is an online resource that provides all the tools you need to design a tool for engaging individuals in a participatory process leading to a plan or a strategy, based around playing a board game. It facilitates focused discussion on a topic, breaking down polarised ideas and silos of knowledge, keeps to a tight time frame and it’s fun! It sounded like the ideal focus for our stakeholder event titled 'Enhancing Food Security in Later Life'.


Using the analysis we had already completed we selected real life scenarios from our data to raise questions about issues highlighted in our study so far. These issues related to declining lunch club attendance, growing food in later life, losing the means of transport in later life, managing store offers for older people, improving the shopping environment, food acquisition for the frail older person, adequate public health messaging, the challenges to home-delivered food services, confidence boosters and food warnings.


After the team had given an introduction and overview of the study and findings so far, delegates were split into separate groups to play the game in groups of 6-8. Four groups of between 6 -8 members each  were involved in the event; each made up of different representatives from the food industry such as Wardens from sheltered housing units, users of lunch clubs, older people forum representatives and food manufacturers and retailers. 



On the roll of a dice, a scenario would be selected with related questions and the team had ten minutes to discuss possible solutions. Being focused on positive solutions across a variety of issues in a very time restricted format lead to very open and lively discussions with an excellent contribution from all participants. There was a great making of connections across the tables, sharing of ideas and the opportunity to bring together different areas of knowledge to imagine new solutions to familiar problems – at the ten minute bell signalling us to move to the next question conversations were often still in full swing! When the groups came together at the end of the session the buzz of energy and animated discussion in the room told us that our Participology game had at the very least raised some questions worth talking about!


We had some fantastic feedback on the day and people really enjoyed playing our specially designed board-game. Even better, some of our delegates have requested a copy of it for use as a teaching tool to help students of nursing, for example, to better understand possible scenarios they might encounter with older people and how to address them. We would highly recommend the Participology resources online and would be happy to make our own game available for those interested in solutions for older people in food provisioning.

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The project is a collaborative project by  the University of Hertfordshire between the Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care and Hertfordshire Business school.