The most common strategy for engagement and action around pressing issues is fear-driven, and I believe most people have reached their limit of things that add more anxiety, fear, and guilt to their lives. I think it has a reverse effect and leads to more disengagement in an attempt to ‘block out the noise.’
Between the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September and the Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November, the debates, statistics, and political point-scoring command the airwaves. Reports of ‘who’s doing this and who’s not doing that’ can drown your news feeds if you choose to engage with them, but one message that gets overlooked is people's reality. The reality of people's lives today and how capable they are to make choices that could benefit their families, communities, and the planet. The United Nations, world leaders, and multinational corporations have set and signed up to targets to achieve by 2030 that includes ‘ending world hunger, zero poverty, social equality and climate action’. Many other honourable and essential things make up the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but current estimations predict these goals are way off track by over 50 years (estimated by the Social Progress Imperative). Can we really wait that long?
Allow me to digress a little now and ask you to cast your mind back to a time when you enjoyed learning; was there an experience attached to it? I recall the lessons at school or uni that had a playful experience attached to them - they have stayed with me because I remember those feelings - there is an emotional memory attached to them. My favourite lessons as a teacher had play-based learning elements, and it seems there’s a growing demand for play. A recent Play Verto experience captured the voices of nearly 5,000 teachers across Europe, and when asked how they feel about using play-based learning in the classroom, 58% of the 4002 that answered that question said it was something they would like to do.
Working with LEGO over the past two years, our technology and game-like experience helped measure children’s reflections on problem-solving pre and post a creative activity. LEGO found that before being invited to play and approach a problem with creativity, almost 40% of the children felt unsure how to help or that other people should solve them or that they were just impossible issues to solve. After playing, some children were asked the question again, and there was a shift in their feelings towards solving/approaching environmental problems. Feelings related to ‘impossible to solve’, ‘other people should solve them’ and ‘unsure how to help’ all dropped and ‘excited to solve them’ jumped up by over 20%.
Teachers want to play and children can approach complex issues and come up with creative solutions whilst playing, so why is play-based learning not adopted throughout society, as a tool for lifelong engagement?
Perhaps we are too stressed, with many of us on the verge of burnout, to have the collective capacity to consider new and evolved ways of ‘being’. It’s too easy to remain or fall back into old repeated patterns of thinking, which are mainly based around fear and justified because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done.’
In our recent collaboration with social entrepreneurs around the world via the growing network known as Catalyst 2030 and the Social Progress Imperative, we reached 17,000+ voices that point to some of the realities that could be preventing community-driven changes.
Through our interactive and playful approach to community engagement, we explored each player's life through a series of questions. The results were a representation of the struggles people are facing around the world.
The standout insights showed a lack of access to basic needs, both within their home environment and health services. We saw their awareness of environmental changes and the effects of COVID-19. They shared their lack of trust in institutions as well as the inequality in their communities. Above all else, the standout insight for me was the lack of support when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
Awareness is no longer the issue, with 51% of the players worldwide responding to say they are ‘experiencing worse mental health and wellbeing through the last year with COVID-19’. The fact that 41% of the respondents worldwide said they couldn’t find a therapist or professional emotional support within the area where they live is a hard-hitting statistic.
We have all the ingredients and knowledge needed to solve the complex issues facing our society, and the shift comes with the approach to the issue and prioritisation. I happen to think that the approach needs to be inclusive, playful and authentic, and the starting point to prioritise is individual wellbeing.
Perhaps play-based engagement will also allow us to remember the childlike simplicity needed when approaching such issues. The need to ensure deep and meaningful experiences are in place to help individuals so they can support their communities and the planet. ‘Why so serious?’ A line made so famous by Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker - but even he lost his life to a darkness he felt incurable. The shift is necessary; the shift is now.