It’s a Wrap for Sim4Act

For the past two years I’ve been working to improve access to an approach that I believe could solve many of our society’s ills. The approach leverages games and computer simulations in tandem to make complex problems accessible and understandable to a wide audience and to bridge the many gaps between citizens and experts and between implicit and scientific knowledge. These gaps promote controversy and prevent innovation on so many of the wicked environmental, infrastructure, and social problems we currently face.

The vehicle for this work was Simulation for Collective Action (Sim4Act), a private company I founded with the highly accomplished arts and crafts master and GIS and remote sensing expert, Dr. Paolo Campo. The goal was to make the above approach available outside of its traditional settings –natural resource development projects funded by international organizations– to clients such as cities and water districts who suffered from many of the same wicked planning problems.

To accomplish this we developed prototype games; talked to a lot of people across Europe, Asia, and the United States; generated a lot of excitement; and were even finalists for the prestigious Echoing Green Climate Fellowship. Maybe we could have made it work if we’d kept chasing US federal and EU grants, and we had some very heady days around CA’s new groundwater planning requirements which looked like a perfect fit, but at the end of the day the interest among local level clients hasn’t materialized sufficiently.

A start-up is a search for a business model, and sadly we’re not close enough to having one to keep going. I for my part am going to get embedded in an organization, i.e. find a job. (My biz partner Paolo is also looking).
I’ve got some ideas about how to keep up our vision, using games and simulations to help people collectively solve “wicked” problems, but first, gonna find that job (tips and contact suggestions most certainly welcome).

Note: Culture and the Social Scientist

I’ve heard the word culture come up a couple times in explaining the differences between Germany and U.S. in water management. It’s a word that puts fear in any social scientist, because if the differences are just cultural differences, well we can’t really say anything interesting about the issue can we? Germans and Americans are different, end of story.

I don’t believe that culture is the end of the story. Clearly I don’t, otherwise I would be wasting my time here and the German government would be wasting its money by way of the Humboldt Foundation.  A water supply or treatment system is a physical and technical system. How it is managed may reflect cultural values, but these aren’t the full story.

Fortunately for me, Elinor Ostrom has included a small mention of culture on page 27 of Understanding Institutional Diversity, as an attribute of a community that reflects its values and thus the “mental models” of its participants. She also mentions that the history community members have with governing institutions will reflect in their likelihood of participating in, adhering to, or ignoring rulemaking procedures.

It isn’t a strong or comprehensive discussion (those of you familiar with the representationalism/anti-representationalism fights in philosophy may see a jarring juxtaposition of culture and mental models without further explanation), but it means this boy don’t need to be overly worried about being not too cultured anytime soon.