How to design a session

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In this page, you will find information about how to design an MSP Challenge Simulation Platform session. We have gathered our take-outs from several years of preparing for the sessions ourselves, to help you think of how to set up for a session that suits your goals. Remember, you can customize your own sessions by editing the configuration file that prepares the database used to play a session.

What are your goals?

Define your main objective. So far, with MSP Challenge we’ve observed at least three distinct types of possible session objectives, concerning professional stakeholders (so not students studying MSP at a university for example):

Helping stakeholders learn about MSP itself. This type of objective can concern e.g. learning about the process of MSP (political, legal, public-administrative, collaborative, etc.), and/or learning about (some of) the content of MSP (human activities, marine ecology, marine geology, etc.), and/or learning about the complexity of MSP (uncertainty and emergence as a result of the many variables concerned).

Engaging stakeholders in an MSP process. This type of objective can concern raising stakeholders’ awareness about the existence of MSP as a process and the necessity of being an active participant in it, perhaps as part of the kick-off a formal MSP process, or as an intervention at the beginning of a formal MSP process (if e.g. certain stakeholder groups are not involved yet).

Helping stakeholders learn about specific MSP ideas and their consequences. This type of objective can concern helping stakeholders come up or explore certain spatial ideas (e.g. extending an MPA, moving a shipping lane) in the actual marine region, possibly with conflicts or synergies with other spatial designations in the area of choice. Often this can also concern exploring potential consequences of certain ideas, when the game’s ecological, shipping or energy simulations are affected by them (e.g. certain species flourish and/or struggle because of the MPA extension, certain shipping routes decrease in efficiency because of a shipping lane move).

Who is your target audience?

Understand your target audience’s perceptions towards other maritime sectors and MSP. So far, with MSP Challenge we’ve observed that different types of stakeholders can have different attitudes towards their sector, other sectors and MSP. Historically, legally and economically, the shipping and fishing sectors are generally quite powerful. The marine energy sector is still quite new and seems to be generally increasing in power, from political and economic perspectives. The marine ecology protection sector also seems to be generally becoming more powerful, but it can easily suffer under the pressures of economic growth, both in policy and in practice. There is a general lack of information and knowledge on multiple levels, and an abundance of contested or conflicting information and knowledge. Whether MSP is actually perceived as a solution to stakeholders is highly questionable, despite good governmental intentions or communication efforts.

Your target audience may or may not be aware of MSP and maritime developments, or may have completely different insights and opinions on MSP and maritime sectors. You might not like or agree with any of their insights and opinions. Since an MSP Challenge session simulates MSP to a large extent, or at least brings the actual practice of MSP to the forefront, beware that these underlying perceptions, insights, interpretations and opinions will influence the session dynamic heavily, and thus how or to what extent you will be able to reach your main objective. While you’re going through this entire process, try to understand your target audience and imagine how they might act during the session, and be open to adjust your session design if you think it’ll increase the chance of success.

What is your area of interest?

If your region's edition of the MSP Challenge Simulation Platform already exists, you can use that one. Depending on your goal, you prefer to play a different region to provide some abstraction.

Another possibility all-together would be to develop an edition for your own region. Although that takes a lot of time and dedication (possibly some financial resources too), you are now able to do this on your own. Of course we would love to help you. Contact us, or publish it on the wiki, we would love to hear about it either way.

Timeline of your session

Plan your session into blocks of about 15-20 minutes. It helps to make a big table indicating at what time you are expecting your participants (and your team members) to do what activity. Then add sections before and after that table to determine what needs to be done before and after the session to ensure that the session can run and be wrapped up as planned (think of e.g. shipping all equipment and materials to and from the location). Regularly take steps back to see the bigger picture of the session, to understand the overall session dynamic you are planning for. Three things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t over-define what your participants need to do. Otherwise your participants are actually not playing (as in: proactively creating and exploring a planning process) at all, they’ll just be following your orders. Beware that many participants will not like this one bit. Especially if your participants are not leaders or managers of their organizations, they might tell and ask you multiple times, ‘I do not understand. This is too vague. What do I do?’. You need to be prepared for that, but also be willing and able to say: ‘That is up to you’. This point applies to any of the aforementioned types of session objectives; this is and should be part of the deal when doing simulation games.
  2. Stay flexible. If your participants actually manage to become playful, they might do things that you didn’t expect them to do upfront. If they aren’t going against the session objective, then don’t fight it, but at some point you might still need to cut someone off... Include at least 30 minutes of ‘slack time’ in your planning (time you can use if certain activities end up taking longer, or an additional activity is done on the spot). Also don’t be afraid to hit the pause button in the game, or actually hit the play button to put some pressure on the participants at some point.
  3. Approach this as a learning process for yourself and the MSP community as well. If you approach a game session as one of gameplay and with a playful attitude among your participants, then no session will be the same. The game session is in this respect almost just as complex as MSP itself. Realise also you are doing something quite new that others in the MSP community will want to hear about. You should include time and opportunities for systematic evaluation. Make it part of your debriefing. Include time for having your participants fill in pre- and post-game questionnaires.

Adapt your configuration file

Determine (and optionally tweak) your session's configuration file. The configuration file is a so-called .JSON file that you load when you set up the MSP Challenge Simulation Platform server. This configuration file determines almost everything. For example, it determines which GIS data should be downloaded from GeoServer, what the legends should be for each data layer, what colors and icons should be used for each data layer, which simulations should be activated (ecology, shipping, and/or energy at the time of writing), which starting plans should be loaded, etc. etc.