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Dealing a new deck of cards: game play to address climate change adaptation




January 31, 2020


SEI researchers working with southern African cities that are grappling with climate change adaptation planning devised a game to address gaps in understanding about related concepts and terminologies. The companion briefs presented here consist of an “explainer” that outlines the underlying premise, and a “how-to” guide that provides basic instructions to use and adapt the game. They are the first in a planned series of companion guides on serious games for climate adaptation decision making.

Stakeholders in Windhoek, Namibia, participate in a game that explores climate change-related terminologies. Photo: Kornelia Iipinge.


SEI researchers and partners created the terminology card game outlined here as part of work with a wide variety of stakeholders seeking to work collaboratively to create plans and policies that would make their cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Designed and refined with partners in Windhoek, Namibia, and Lusaka, Zambia, this game became a foundational exercise of Learning Labs, interactive sessions designed to spark two-way learning among participants. The Learning Labs sought to give diverse city stakeholders more understanding about climate change and its impacts, and to give climate information producers and scientists greater understanding about the political, financial and socioeconomic issues that arise in making planning and policy decisions. This game and others aimed to build capacities and working relationships that can, in turn, lead to greater uptake of relevant science in policy.

Published by the University of Cape Town, the guides are the first in a planned series of publications on “transdisplinary knowledge integration” to improve the collaborative decision making needed to imrpove planning, development and policy in the face of climate change-related impacts. The work is part of a four-year project, Future Resilience for African CiTies and Lands (FRACTAL), funded by the UK Department for International Development and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Read the full guides here, or download the PDFs.  

Photo: Sukaina Bharwani / SEI

Explainer guide: co-exploring terminologies

This brief:

  • Explains why co-exploring language and terminology is important for creating a level playing field at the beginning of a multi-stakeholder engagement.
  • Outlines how to use a simple exercise to co-explore climate-related language in a workshop.
  • Provides an overview of situations in which this activity can prove helpful.
  • Offers a case study from Windhoek, Namibia, that shows what the activity can achieve.

Why co-explore terminologies?

Terminology can be a barrier to understanding climate change, and to taking action. People who have limited interdisciplinary experience can easily misunderstand a number of terms, such as weather, climate, adaptation, mitigation, sustainable development, and disaster risk reduction.

A “level playing field” of knowledge about basic climate-related terminology among all participants sets the stage for more in-depth co-exploration and co-production (“transdisciplinary knowledge integration”) to support adaptation decision-making.

The activity

This co-exploration exercise introduces climate, adaptation, disaster risk reduction and development concepts to workshop participants.

Participants discuss concepts with one another to identify key differences: 1) between weather and climate, and 2) between development, adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk reduction. Participants receive a series of written statements/actions (such as, “Today it is raining”). They must then cooperatively decide to which concept the statement/action belongs.

The facilitator then explains the meaning of the different concepts and statements/actions. Using this new information, participants then rearrange the statements/actions linked to each concept accordingly, and discuss what they have learned.

The benefits

The activity breaks the ice at the start of a workshop, giving participants who may not know one another a chance to interact.

A game offers a non-threatening way to give participants the opportunity to share thoughts, and to address potential sources of confusion or misunderstanding.

The activity encourages conversation about key issues and sets the stage for deeper discussions.

This activity is useful when…

  • You believe that climate science and climate-related terms are misused and/or misunderstood in a given context. (A lack of climate change awareness or action may be a symptom of this.)
  • You are beginning a workshop or engagement, or you want to provide an introductory exercise for other climate-related activities. (The exercise creates a shared understanding, which acts as a foundation for further co-exploration of climate and adaptation issues.)
  • You believe that the participants have different types and levels of knowledge.
  • You want to open up dialogue among a group.
  • You want to improve the ability of decision-makers and other stakeholders to articulate climate information needs.

This activity can…

  • Raise awareness about climate change.
  • Clarify meanings of climate-related terms that are often misunderstood and misused.
  • Unpack the meaning of “climate information”.
  • Increase receptivity to climate science and information and opportunities for its use.
  • Create a “level playing field” of knowledge of basic terminology among all participants.
  • Establish a foundation for further co-exploration.
  • Break the ice among participants who don’t know one another.
  • Provide peer-to-peer sharing and learning in a safe space.
  • Give all participants opportunities to contribute.
  • Raise awareness of the co-benefits from mitigation, adaptation, sustainable development, and disaster risk reduction.

Windhoek case study

A direct request from Windhoek city stakeholders seeking to co-develop the city’s first Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan led to the development of this activity to address misunderstanding about climate-related terms that had previously surfaced.

Discussions led to greater awareness of:

  • Changing rainfall patterns, and effects on farming practices.
  • The potential misunderstanding that can arise from different meanings attached to the same concept. For example, mitigation can mean reducing the impact of flooding (mitigating climate risk) or reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigating climate change).
  • The reasons for uncertainties about future climate projections. Projections from different climate models produce different results.
  • The need for a change of mindset, away from working in silos towards a transdisciplinary approach. For example, isolated mitigation or adaptation projects often benefit from holistic evaluation of measures that offer potential to support both.
  • The co-benefits of some strategies and actions. For example, planting trees sequesters carbon (climate change mitigation); reduces flooding impacts (disaster risk reduction/ adaptation); and moderates local temperatures and minimises soil degradation (adaptation).

Photo: Dianne Scott / University of Cape Town.

How-to guide: co-exploring terminologies

This brief:

  • Explains how to conduct a terminology co-exploration exercise for climate change adaptation decision-making.
  • Outlines the basics of the activity, explains the process, offers tips for success, and highlights potential pitfalls to avoid.
  • Provides an overview of two exercises: one that discusses weather and climate,and a second that discusses adaptation, mitigation, disaster risk reduction and development. Facilitators can run one after the other or concurrently (by splitting into two groups) if staffing allows.

The basics:

Objectives: Explore misunderstood or unfamiliar terms/language relating to weather, climate, adaptation, mitigation, development and disaster risk reduction.

Number of facilitators: Possible with one facilitator (if you run exercises one after the other on the same table), but easier with two facilitators (one table per exercise; split group in two; swap halfway).

Ideally six to 10 participants, one facilitator; eight to 24 participants, two facilitators. Larger groups may need four facilitators.

Number of participants: Flexible. This exercise can work well with different group sizes.

Time: 30-40 minutes (depends on the number of terms discussed and whether exercises run concurrently or in rotation).

Skill level of facilitators: Facilitation skills ●●○○○; Familiarity with content and concepts ●●●○○

Resources: Coloured cards (large/smaller cards); marker pens; tables; (optional) timer to end exercise or change groups.

The activity

Before the event

Write concepts (weather, climate, adaptation, mitigation, development, and disaster risk reduction) on large cards. Write descriptive statements (e.g. “a very hot day”, “a prevailing southwest wind”) or actions (e.g. “rainwater harvesting”, “switching to drought-resistant crop types”) on smaller cards.

Set up and delivery

Lay the large cards displaying “weather and climate” on the table. Distribute the smaller statement/action cards among the participants. Each participant should get a few cards. (It does not matter how many cards they each have; each card will have a different statement/action on it.)

Ask participants to discuss the statements/actions on the smaller cards with another participant. Participants can share if there are not enough. Ask partners to discuss the question, “To which concept is the statement/action related and why?” Ask participants to place the smaller statement/action cards on the table alongside the concept. (5 mins)

Once participants have placed all the smaller cards alongside concepts, ask the group to look at all the cards. Does everyone agree? Would anyone move any card? Why? Allow time for discussion. (5 mins)

Explain the definition of concepts to participants. For example, describe the difference between weather and climate. Ask again, would anyone move any card? Allow time for discussion. (5 mins)

Ask participants for their reflections and learning. (5 mins)

Conduct the same exercise for the “adaptation and mitigation” discussion. After differences have been discussed, co-benefits and trade-offs of potential actions can also be discussed. (With two facilitators, split the participants into two separate, smaller groups, each beginning with a different exercise, for rotation between the two tables.)

The facilitator needs to:

  • be familiar with the different concepts, statements and actions.
  • know how and why these relate to one another.
  • keep discussions focused.
  • be aware that adding new terms from participants can broaden the discussion, but it can also be a distraction.
  • be aware that discussing climate variables can be a good conversation starter, but it may also lead to more confusion among participants unless the right expertise is in the room.

Pro tips

  1. At the start, ask participants to share any concepts or terms that they find unclear or confusing, or that they do not understand. If relevant integrate these concepts or terms to make the exercise more relevant to participants. When working through the exercise, participants may wish to add new examples. Facilitators should be aware that this can be a distraction to the learning objective.
  2. Bring out the links between the two exercises (“climate and weather”; “adaptation and mitigation”) where possible. Moving from one exercise to another should reinforce participants’ learning. For example, adaptation should be informed by climate, rather than weather data. Once participants have a clear understanding of the differences between weather and climate, a parallel discussion comparing disaster risk reduction and adaptation can take place with participants using medium- to long-term climate information (historical and future) to consider longer time horizons for adaptation planning.
  3. Having a climate scientist on hand helps in explaining more about the types of climate information available, and in introducing climate variables (such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, rainfall intensity, and wind speed and direction), which can refer to both weather and climate, depending on the timescale. Including these can expand the discussion.
  4. Feel free to discuss additional concepts or terms, such as resilience, trends, climate projections and climate predictions.


We are grateful to FRACTAL colleagues and partners for their input to this activity, namely Kornelia Iipinge (University of Namibia (UNAM) /City of Windhoek (CoW)), Olavi Makuti (CoW), Saima Haukelo (CoW) and Dr John Mfune (UNAM). The authors also thank FRACTAL colleagues and partners who supported in delivering this activity in multiple cities.

The original post can be found on the SEI site.