8 insightful learnings from social board game Terra Nova

How can design improve education? This is what social designer Lisa Hu asked herself a few years ago. After talking to some teachers she discovered how little room the Dutch school system leaves for developing soft skills like empathy and creative thinking. To tackle this issue, Lisa developed Terra Nova.

Terra Nova is a board game and discussion tool that encourages children to think and talk about what their ideal society would look like. Whilst the kids govern their own island, they create solutions for challenges like inequality and sustainability. In six months, the board game will be available for everyone in Terra Nova’s web-shop. What has Lisa learned ever since she launched Terra Nova in 2013?

“The most profound thing I learned over the last few years is that we’re not that different. When people build their own society, basic values like solidarity and equal chances always prevail. It’s that harmony we’re all looking for.”

Lisa Hu

Co-create together with your target group

“Make sure you involve your target group in the design process wherever you can. Get to know them and ask for their opinion. Playing and evaluating Terra Nova with children on a regular basis was incredibly useful and meaningful to me. It helped me fill in the gaps. Through co-creation sustainable solutions for societal issues can arise.”

Find yourself a team

“Embarking on the road towards change can sometimes be challenging. Surrounding yourself with people you can count on is key. Despite of the lack of funds, I was lucky enough to come across a teacher and education innovator who was willing to team up.”

Use play to tackle big issues

“Topics like power and discrimination can be challenging, especially for teachers: they guide and influence children’s development, also on a moral level. A board game is a great way to open up room for their own exploration in an accessible, safe and light-hearted way. For example, Terra Nova enables teachers to talk about immigration just by asking the children: what would you do if a group of other people arrived by boat on the island?”

Be careful with restrictions

“To stimulate creative thinking, Terra Nova only has one rule: no statements are wrong, as long as you’re willing to explain why you feel the way you do.”

Don’t underestimate children

“Children are much more capable of reflecting upon difficult matters like solidarity or inclusion than we usually give them credit for. They’re full of great ideas about what the world should look like. Once a girl said: if other people come to the island, we shouldn’t live in separate parts. We should share and get to know each other. Otherwise they’re more likely to get into a fight. These are amazing ideas coming from an eleven-year-old. Let’s listen to them!”

Make sure everyone is heard

“In every social situation there are people who engage more with the discussion than others. To make sure everyone is heard whilst playing Terra Nova, the children have to hand in a coin every time they give their opinion. Only after everyone has used all their coins, the children get them back.”

Switch perspectives

“It’s often only after you’ve placed yourself in someone’s else’s shoes that you discover how unfair or unjust a certain situation is. Being able to switch perspectives is key in learning how to empathize with others. This is why we constantly ask the children: would the rules you just created for others still feel fair if they now applied to you? It was during many talks with teachers I found out how important this is.”

In the end, we’re not that different

“The most profound thing I learned over the last few years is that, in the end, we’re not that different. Every single time I’ve seen children (and adults) build their own society, basic values like solidarity and equal chances always prevail. It’s that harmony we’re all looking for.”

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