Moderating a Session

From MSP Challenge Community

Key steps:

Prepare in advance!

General design recommendations

Limit group of players/participants to about 30, but ideally have more than 10 too. You'll want to distribute the participants per teams, ideally 2/3 players per team/laptop.

Make sure each laptop has a mouse.

Ideally, get a nice big, spacious, airy room with comfortable chairs for the game session.

Count on at least half a day for a game session, preferably a full day or two half-days to really get the most out of it. MSP Challenge 2050 can be played in 4 rounds, or ‘eras’. Each era represents a decade and includes a period for planning and a period of simulation (exact times for each to be determined by you when you set up the session). We recommend playing at least 2 eras.

Be sure to stimulate discussion, if only to prevent your players from diving into the laptops. Stimulate conversation and collaboration by asking specific questions on the status quo of their marine region, and by providing also the laminated paper maps, non-permanent markers, flip-over charts and post-its.

Add role-play: you can give people specific roles of a certain sector (use the laminated badges); invite experts who can play devil’s advocate well, or who can play the role of a minister who provides policy objectives or puts pressure on planning.

Always debrief at the end of the session and between eras. The quickest, easiest, basic way to do this is to simply ask the questions: What happened / what did you do? Why did you do it? What were the consequences? What would you do differently next era or next time?

Recommended session design and setup process

1. Define your main objective. So far, with MSP Challenge 2050, 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, …), and/or learning about (some of) the content of MSP (human activities, marine ecology, marine geology, …), 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. Oftentimes 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).

2. Understand your target audience’s perceptions towards other maritime sectors and MSP. So far, with MSP Challenge 2050, 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 2050 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.

3. Get a team together. Try to distribute at least the following roles:

a. Session management: ensuring all the other roles have and do what they need to have/do in preparation and during the session. Ensuring all required technology, materials and paraphernalia is at the location at the right time.

b. Overall session facilitation: introducing, observing during, intervening in and debriefing the session, all in a plenary fashion.

c. Optional team/group facilitation: helping the different teams/groups in a session understand what is expected of them, as well as interact with each other and with the software and other materials.

d. Technical session support: ensuring all the software runs successfully during the entire session, solving any issues if they arise.

4. Develop, to some extent, a session script. Try to divide your session into chunks or 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 while your developing this script:

a. Don’t over define what your participants need to do. If you truly value gameplay and a playful attitude among your participants, you must be willing to let go. 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, and not just because of their personality. Many organizational or national cultures value the avoidance of uncertainty, which then often comes with a command-and-control hierarchical leadership structure. 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. You have your objective, you have your information, as ill-defined as they all might be. Now show everyone here what you decide to do with it.’ 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.

b. Stay flexible. Do not think you have complete control over your session. 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 appreciate it. Still, at some point you might still need to cut someone off... In any case, for your script this means including at least 30 minutes ‘slack time’ (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.

c. 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. For your script this means including 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.

5. Determine (and optionally tweak) your session configuration file. The configuration file is a so-called .JSON file that you load when you set up the MSP Challenge 2050 server (add link to the config files). 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.

6. Do one or more dry runs. Startup the server and log in with a couple of laptops (link to instalation?) to see if everything works. Start the clock without planning anything to run the simulations and see what the baseline dynamics are in terms of ecology, shipping or energy indicators over the entire time period of your session.

7. Reload and tweak certain layers in the setup phase. Log in as an administrator to draw or change spatial plans (as in: set up the so-called starting plans) to make it e.g. more up-to-date, more realistic, or suit your session objective. Once you’re done and you’ve logged out, be sure to open up the configuration file editor (link to page about the config editor) and click on ‘Export Plans’ to ensure that your starting plans are saved into the configuration file. That way you are sure that even when you reload that configuration file, you will have those same starting plans in your session again.


The configuration file is a so-called .JSON file that you load when you set up the MSP Challenge 2050 server (see D3, the installation guide). This configuration file determines almost everything. For example, it determines which GIS data should be downloaded from your 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.

At the time of writing, we have included a basic configuration file editor on the MSP Challenge 2050 server. We have not had a chance yet to make editing the configuration file a very user-friendly process. We expect the user of the configuration file editor to be tech-savvy and tech-comfortable enough to take his or her own responsibility for changes made.

Select the configuration file you would like to edit. We highly recommend you make a copy of this file, rename it to something that makes sense to you, and then only edit this new file!

On the left-hand side you will see the main categories of variables in the configuration file:

o Global Data:

General settings for a game, e.g. what’s the start year, end year, etc.

o Layer Meta:

This category contains all the data layers already included for you to change or remove, and also allows you to add new data layers based on e.g. GIS data from your GeoServer. Every data layer has its own variables, e.g. the geotype, category it should fall under, whether it should be editable by players or not, etc. You can also set e.g. the names and colors of each type under each data layer here.

o MEL:

This is an acronym for ‘MSP EwE Link’. MEL allows you to specify which data layers (e.g. fish farms) create which kind of pressures (e.g. artificial habitat) that are subsequently fed into the EwE ecosystem simulation running in the background of an MSP Challenge 2050 session. The window shows each data layer connected to each pressure. Per pressure, you can add layers or remove them. The checkbox before a data layer indicates whether the layer introduces said pressure already during the construction phase (checked) or not (unchecked). The decimal number shown behind each data layer in each pressure (always between 0 and 1) are factors. The higher this number, the higher the impact said data layer has on said pressure.

o Restrictions:

Under this category you can define any restrictions each combination of two data layers introduce, e.g. a shipping route versus a wind farm. The restriction can have three types: info, warning or error. Each has a different consequence in the game, all involve at least a message under the Issues tab of a plan. Errors disallow players to finalize a plan, warnings are strong messages but players can still finalize a plan, and info messages are purely insightful information messages.

o Plans

Here you can simply click on the Export Plans button to retrieve the plans that are currently in the database (because you and/or your players drew them in the game) and save them to the configuration file. A configuration file with plans saved in it allows you to recreate a session with those plans again. Use this feature to set up a session with so-called starting plans in them.

o Objectives

Here you can again simply click on the Export Objectives button to the objectives that are currently in the database (because you and/or your players added them in the game) and save them to the configuration file. A configuration file with objectives saved in it allows you to recreate a session with those objectives again. Use this feature to set up a session with specific starting objectives in them.

When you select a category on the left-hand side, you will load that category’s variables on the right. You can change values of the appropriate variables here, and click on ‘Save’ at the bottom of the screen when you’re done. You should see a confirmation message at the top of your screen. • If you then go back to your MSP Challenge 2050 main server page (http://localhost/stable/api/visual/start) you can select your new, updated configuration file, and click ‘Reload Database’ to thus set up your MSP Challenge 2050 server and session.


Further room considerations: don’t forget you’ll need lots of power sockets and/or power extension cords in your room.

We can send you PDF files of the general maps and role badges.

We have standardized pre- and post-questionnaires for evaluating MSP Challenge 2050 game sessions that we can provide. We highly recommend and appreciate you using them, then we respectfully expect that you make the questionnaire data, as well as the session data, available to us. As a university, our primary concern is to develop knowledge about MSP Challenge 2050 as a spatial planning intervention and support tool. We need and want to collaborate with you to help together understand what works and what not, both for you and for MSP Challenge 2050 in general.

If you want to reload a game session at some point in the future, then be sure to save the entire database after you’ve finished your session. You can do this by opening up the MSP Challenge 2050 main server page (http://localhost/stable/api/visual/start) and clicking on the ‘Create SQL Dump’ button. A .SQL file will be created which you need to save. Please get in touch with us (Harald Warmelink; see contact details at the top of this document) for instructions on how to use this .SQL file to reload a previous session.