As part of a global L&D programme, Save the Children wanted to develop a model for remotely training field managers to respond to complex situations in the field. 

The responsibilities of a field manager – whether as part of an NGO, INGO, or the UN – are highly complex, nuanced and often hard to prepare for, but investment in early preparedness has proved to reduce the costs of humanitarian action by more than 50% (UNICEF) – saving lives by facilitating swifter responses. 

In 90 Days, developed by Save the Children, World Vision and PRELOADED, is a serious learning game that explores the scenarios, trade-off dilemmas and challenging decisions that field managers face while responding to crises, helping them train to effectively lead humanitarian emergencies.

VALIDATED BY THE AUDIENCE

The most important aspect of a field manager’s training is developing situational skills, to be equipped for what they will face practically and emotionally during an emergency response. Yet traditional, linear e-learning doesn’t provide the stepping stone between the training material and the field. As part of its L&D strategy, Save the Children saw an opportunity for a serious learning game to immerse field managers in three different scenarios, and expose them to the nuanced dynamics of real-life situations.

With burgeoning expertise in game development, Save the Children needed to validate the concept, and the value of a serious game, with its target audience. As part of a PRELOADED-led design sprint, we interviewed multiple stakeholders — including field managers situated in emergency scenarios – digging into the role of a field manager to understand the unique challenges they face and to conceive a concept with the right learning use case. 

The outcome of the sprint was a detailed product vision for In 90 Days, as well as the technical requirements for developing the game. Having validated the concept with the audience, Save the Children was able to build a business case for further game investment, and engage internal and external stakeholders to allocate funds for the full game development. 

Investment in early preparedness has proved to reduce the costs of humanitarian action by more than 50% – saving lives by facilitating swifter responses.

UNICEF

AUTHENTIC GAME MECHANICS

The sheer scale and variety of emergencies that a field manager is asked to respond to, the level of access and infrastructure that they have available to call upon and the decisions they have to prioritise vary enormously depending on the scenario they’re in. 

Recreating the trade-off dilemmas that field managers face in an authentic way was a key priority for the game design. Throughout the gameplay, players have to continually make strategic decisions on how they prioritise the quality, speed and cost of their response to different events. How do you juggle the pressure of two communities fighting over the growing demand for clean water during an influx of displaced people? How about upholding the humanitarian mandate to prevent, mitigate and respond to incidents of gender-based violence?

The game economy of In 90 Days is based on the critical window in which field managers need to act, assess and stabilise organisational operations and programming in an emergency. Each scenario follows the same timeframe, but the events unfold differently depending on how the player responds to the weighty choices put in front of them. 

The trade-off game mechanic and the adaptive scenarios create a gaming experience that is replayable with procedurally-generated events during each scenario. As a result, learners are provided with a safe space to learn and fail, actively encouraging trial and error over assessment. 

Recreating the trade-off dilemmas that field managers face in an authentic way was a key priority for the game design.

REAL-WORLD NARRATIVES & LEARNING

As a narrative-driven game, a key focus during development was creating the individual and emotive moments that capture the story of each scenario, without trivialising the experience. To give the stories authenticity, the disaster scenarios and game events are presented as narratives written from the perspective of other responders on the ground. 

Whether working with communities displaced by climate change in the Middle East, responding to civilians caught in the crossfire of a violent conflict in East Africa, or addressing a rapidly escalating pandemic in Latin America, the game engages and challenges humanitarian workers of all experience levels.  

To bring these narratives to life, the art direction for the game was purposefully abstracted to remove detailed contextual information. This abstraction helped to focus the attention on the emotional resonance and human impact of each scene as well as the humanitarian cost of every decision made in the game. 

During the development of In 90 Days, we worked with a group of experts ranging from senior humanitarians to learning and development experts to ensure that all content includes real-life examples and that the learning outcomes and behaviours are based on the Core Humanitarian Standard and the Core Humanitarian Competency Framework. Based on the appropriateness, timeliness and relevance of their response in the game, players can also earn HPass humanitarian digital badges for accreditation. 

The first version of the game is now available to play in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Working with the PRELOADED team was a very positive experience. They were professional, solutions-focused, and very hard working, which resulted in our ability to fold a wealth of humanitarian and learning and development content into an engaging and impactful game. I am pleased to have partnered with PRELOADED and feel proud of the product we have created together. ”

Tim Carpentier (he/him) , Learning Solutions Specialist, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, Save the Children UK