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We live in an uncertain age.  The world stands on the precipice of numerous man-made crises: the political turmoil of changing world order, mass migration movements, the rise of populism, the end of anti-biotics, a seeming inability to take the decisive action necessary on climate change… solving these huge, global challenges will require collective action and creative thinking.


The United Nations Foundation listed its six global issues to watch in 2019.  Unsurprisingly, top of the list was the need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent deforestation, limit global warming, and avert the worst impacts of climate change.  While the Paris Agreement might have marked a landmark recognition of the problem and the need for global action, in practice action is not happening fast enough.

The Foundation makes the point, “The world is at a defining moment for collective action. As political and economic turmoil, protracted conflict, climate change, and inequalities continue to exacerbate global instability, the post-war institutions set up for bolstering international cooperation – and the central foundations for mobilizing action to tackle today’s most pressing challenges – are also increasingly under threat.

Other key challenges highlighted by the United Nations Foundation included: the drag on the move to more sustainable development; the world is not on track to end extreme poverty by 2030; the need for a new action for peacekeeping agenda and larger role for UN institutions that can act on a global basis; a growing need to address global and local inequalities while protecting and preserving human rights around the world.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated, “The multilateralism that is now part of our daily life is at risk of disintegrating just when it is most needed.”

British educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson has said that “we’re going to need every ounce of ingenuity, imagination, and creativity to confront these problems.”  However, Sir Ken offers a stark warning: “instead of promoting creativity, I think we’re systematically educating it out of our kids.”

Given the magnitude and gravity of these global challenges, it might be thought that many serious creative minds must be put to work with great urgency.  However, a new idea about how to find the solutions we need is gaining support: the notion that we might be able to find the answers we need through play.

Urban architect, activist, and social media game designer Edgard Gouveia Jr. has won international attention for his approach to grassroots development and research on global change through play.  His work is based on a 2008 initiative which he introduced in his native Brazil.  The “Oasis Game” built local community on the Internet to bring aid to a flood-devasted area.

Gouveia is interested in how the forces so successfully harnessed on a local level could work on a global basis – spawning a global version of the game called Play The Call.  Gouveia sought to mobilise two billion young people to come together and play for the ultimate mission… “save the planet for real.”

Gouveia isn’t alone in thinking that play could hold the key to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges.  Writing in The Conversation, Agnessa Spanellis of Heriot-Watt University, makes the point that “playing games is a powerful way of facilitating creative thinking because it can lower the barriers of established behavioural norms and routines by offering new rules and sometimes new realities.”

Spanellis argues that the gamification of long-term scenario planning could be one way to think differently and come up with creative problem-solving ideas.  She says that since gamification “can help us explore and imagine the future challenges and possibilities”, it offers great potential for creative thinking in a smaller, business context too.

The teamwork at the heart of these gamification concepts may hold the key.  Sir Ken Robinson emphasises: “In practical terms, most creative processes benefit enormously from collaboration. The great scientific breakthroughs have almost always come through some form of fierce collaboration among people with common interests but with very different ways of thinking.”

One thing is for certain, whether through gamification or not, we need to find new ways to work together to find creative solutions to these huge, global problems.