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This page shows the documentation of my ongoing research into social dynamics through speculation, collective imagination and play. I started this research with the social dynamics of polarization. Consequently, the designs and its iterations are currently centred around this theme.

Here I highlight those elements of the research which are relevant for the design choices that were made regarding this topic. The designs I created are based on theories and practice based research of social scientists and experts I interviewed and iterated those with participants in order to create a prototype of a simulation game. In the designed iterations I embedded the definition and the dynamics of polarization, and theoretical ways to de-polarize.

This game is meant to not only give players an insight into the dynamics of polarisation, but also make them feel how it works so that they are able to anticipate, recognise and acknowledge their own role in the process.

If you are interested in the full theoretical research, I have created a toolkit where all the in dept research is available. 

Design Question 1

How can I facilitate meaningful dialogues through futurizing, storytelling and play in order to help fight polarisation?

Subquestion 1

What is polarization?

To understand what Polarization is as base for my design I learnt that:

  • Polarisation is an emotional dynamic.
  • It is about us vs. them (opinions are linked to identities)
  • It is always present, natural and very much essential for a healthy democracy. It is ok to disagree!
  • If there is no disagreement there is no change and no progress
  • Polarisation is not conflict but is can lead to conflict in which case we call it unwanted polarisation
  • In case of unwanted polarisation facts are no longer relevant

Who are the key players?

Pole number 1

The person with the best solution for a dilemma we are facing

Pole number 2

The person with the best solution for a dilemma we are facing

The silent middle

The poles are always targeting the Silent Middle: a diverse group of people who have not chosen any side yet for various reasons and have not become a joiner yet.
Because we often don't hear the people in the middle, as they are not homogenous, they are sometimes referred to as the silent or grey middle.

The Bridge builder

The role of the bridge builder is very delicate. Most of the time they put their attention towards bringing the poles together, which is counterproductive. Focusing on the poles gives them more fuel and reinforces the polarity. The best spot for the bridge builder is in the middle.

The Scapegoat

People who are still in the highly depleted middle are seen as enemies by both sides. So the scapegoat is not sought among the opposing side, but in the middle. Even the bridge-builder, who was not trusted even in peacetime, qualifies for the role of scapegoat.


The joiner groups enlarge which leave less space for the middle group. The middle is under pressure. Once there is no more space in the middle, both joinergroups are up against each other.
  • when you give attention to the poles, they get fuel to polarise more. 
  • in order to avoid this you have to put your attention on the stories in the middle
  • the joiners will likely stop following when they know there is a reasonable middleground because people in general do not like extremes.

To be able to understand and test the movements within the us vs. them dynamics I started using this rope as a conversation piece. Therefore I simplified the dynamics down to the poles/joiners and the middle. 

This simplified dynamic I used in this research works like this:

A rope transforms into a space where two people with opposing views move to opposite sides, trying to lure the middle ground into their camps. As their groups grow, the middle ground physically shrinks, increasing the pressure to choose a side. 

Subquestion 2

How do I make participants feel this dynamic & play with possible outcomes to make this theory more tangible?

‘I feel like I really have to stand firm and defend my position. More than I normally would.’

‘It seems like you see me as a victim because I am still the only one in the middle, but it doesn’t feel that way. On the contrary, I feel stronger.’

‘It felt a bit awkward to be so fanatic, but I really wanted to be right’

 To test out this dynamic and make the situation real and tangible I started to use the rope as a space and simulation tool. 

Design choices:

  • Emotional dynamics consist of feelings. Therefore, polarization cannot be approached with ratio alone. There must be room for emotion and for imagination in this design.
  • If facts matter to convince one another, there is the trap of focussing on what is true or not. If I make facts less realistic or at least not directly about the polarizing issues then a space is created to explore other truths.
  • I want to impart the feeling that it is ok not to choose directly and to have an opinion. And provide the space to think critically and question ruling narratives.
  • I don’t want to emphasise conflict, not only because that doesn’t suit me as a designer, but also because focusing on conflict leaves little space for the imagination.
  • As a designer / bridgebuilder I should probably be in the middle
  • I have to create space to find the stories in the middle.

Key findings

By using the body in these iterations, I was able to add a feeling to the theory. By standing there, moving and feeling each other’s distance, participants experienced not only in themselves how it feels to take a position, but also in relation to the group.

Safe space – facilitating, stories, play & experts

Do we need to address real issues? I was reluctant. Researching dynamics could involve polarising a random group and observing the outcome, but I find it unethical and potentially counterproductive. I believe addressing conflict doesn’t help depolarisation. Additionally, I wanted to avoid a yes-no scenario or increased polarisation within the group.

A safe space is crucial for discussing sensitive topics. Storytelling and play offered a solution, allowing safer engagement with difficult subjects. I chose possible futures as the angle for backstories in subsequent iterations.

However, I lacked the expertise to guide participants effectively or manage group dynamics. Thus, I decided to partner with a human behaviour expert. This collaboration allowed me to focus on design while the expert handled group behavior, enabling us to combine insights for future iterations.

The more people joining either poles, the more physical pressure on the middle because the space becomes literally smaller. When ignoring the poles and trying to question the middle why they would not choose, the poles became slightly agitated and more verbal.

The middle voices needed time to verbalize other perspectives beyond the “I don’t care”, “I don’t know enough to choose”, “Both sides are not ok with me”. That was also in the questioning: “Why haven’t you chosen?” vs. “What do you think about this dilemma and how we could deal with it?”


Collaborations / usergroups

Fellow students of the Master Design WDKA

Tools & methods

One rope tied together and a short scenario posing a setting and a dilemma


Denkkader Wij -Zij Denken, Bart Brandsma, Inside Polarisation

Design Question

How can I facilitate meaningful dialogues through futurizing, storytelling and play in order to make unwanted polarization visible and tangible?

Subquestion 3

How to create an experience where people are being led into a polarized situation with a focus on the silent middle?

While talking with experts and iterating the storytelling and the setup with the rope as a space I was focused on simulating polarization as a social dynamic.

    To create a story that will get all participants in the same mental and physical space, I created a backstory based on recognisable events, but just far fetched enough to sparkle imagination and not get into real life impossibilities.  It could happen, but it won’t in real life…probably.

    The rope became our island.
    The inhabitants moved around, walking and getting acquainted. 

    All of a sudden our happy society was under attack. This attack was added to create a live threatening situation in order for a big dilemma to take shape.

    1: Trust in Nature to provide and avoid interference to prevent past troubles. Accept sacrifices to protect the next generation.

    2: Break the rules to get food and avoid starvation, even if it risks eviction. Act now to fix this and protect the next generation.

    Participants walked around their island and were asked to stand still once they had made a choice. With this, there was no need to divide the rope into two loops as before, which made it less demanding and artificial. Allowing people to stand still who had made a choice literally created a group of people who stood firm, who took a standpoint. The middle walked between them as individuals. It did not immediately led to two visually separated groups. There was still space to move. Only when Demian asked the participants to stand together according to the choice they made, two groups naturally emerged facing each other. . Immediately, without guidance there were two groups on opposite sides. As one participant described: “It is almost like being set up for war.”  

    This was the constellation at the end of the dilemma. There was one dissident who decided to leave the island. The citizens of the island were not totally polarized but it was still tangible and visible that there was a divide. 

    Design choices:

    • Create an experience to simulate a situation where people become polarised and make the middle visible & tangible.
    • Make space for alternative stories to emerge. The middle should be in the spotlight.
    • I want to create an experience that does not give all the attention to the poles, and the bridgebuilder or scapegoat are not present in this experience to keep the focus clear.
    • Create a story that will start us off from a common ground and avoids the pro and con discussion of real life issues. Because of the time and bringing across an emotional story I use a video.
    • Work with an expert in family constellations to guide the participants.

    Key findings

    • When you move you don’t stand still! 
      There is movement in the middle, agility thay can be used in making the middle heard.
    • Whether or not the truth is spoken, it doesn’t matter, but the back story needs to be believable enough to go along with. 
    • Participants are free to leave or make up their own solution, still there were some people who felt forced.
    • It takes courage to stay in the middle (stick with the trouble!)
    • Constellations are amazing as a tool to visualize and make tangible what is in the space. 
      This put me on the track to the study of social dynamics (Behaviour of individuals in groups and group behaviour). 
    • Working with an expert gives me the opportunity to observe and make notes for improving, and also puts me in a role of game master.
    • Working with an expert makes it more impactful because they can bring it back to psychology or sociology level. I like to design the surroundings, and step up as a gamemaster. The actual facilitation and linking it to real life is valuable information but better left to experts in this field.  
    • To collectively imagine this situation was already powerful, in the feedback I received several participants experienced emotions going from annoyed to victorious to scared or embarrased. 
    • I don’t need a realistic conflict to bring across what this dynamic does to groups and individuals in the group. It does have to be substantial enough to go beyond a simple matter of opinion. 
    • The space = the context. We can play any story and dilemma in this constellation.

    Collaborations / usergroups

    First ‘big’ group 16 persons. Fellow students 1st & 2nd year of the Master Design WDKA, teachers and guests.

    Expert collaboration with expert in family constellations and Holistic coach Demian Burgenik.

    The roles were divided in initiator, experience designer, game master & storyteller (me) and constellation building, questioning and evaluation (Demian)

    Tools & methods

    Script (interaction design) and speculative scenario 
    Video with a backstory and a disaster. The rope as a space
    Constellation methods
    Experience design

    In April ’23 I met Jennifer van Exel (serious game developer and organisational change expert) for an expert interview on serious play. We decided to work together on this subject by co-creating a simulation game. For this we received the pioneer funding “Grip op Polarisatie” funding from the SIDN Fund. With the pioneer funding “Grip op Polarisatie” we were able to create a first working prototype (Polaris) and we are still developing this game to be able to produce it at the end of this year. This collaborative project is called BeCommon and the outcome will be a serious game: Polaris, a website and a digital toolkit.

    I decided to combine my design research with this project and alternated the design question to meet the requirements of the funding.

    With this project we have done the following iterations thus far :

    – Expert playsession at the community centre de Meevaart
    – Iteration / playtest at the HvA Transformative Leadership
    – Playtest at the University of Amsterdam
    – Meetup and presentation at the Gamedidactiek seminar at the Hogeschool Utrecht
    – Playtest and presentation at the Willem de Kooning academy
    – Playtest at the municipality of Almere

    Below I will describe only a few key design steps and findings so far.
    I also will not go deep into the game mechanics and the theory we used do design the game.

    Design Question

    How can I design experiences, using  speculative storytelling and serious play to make a social dynamic like polarization tangible?

    Subquestion 4

    How to de-polarize?

    While talking with experts and iterating the storytelling and the setup with the rope as a space I was focused on simulating polarization in fiction. What does it feel like to be part of a polarized society? But what I actually want to achieve is to design experiences and tools to help people to depolarize

    According to the KIS (Kenniscentrum Inclusieve Samenleving) & Verwey Jonkers Institute who has been doing extensive research on this subject and the theory of Inside Polarisation, the best way to de-polarize is to:

     Make the silent middle resilient

    • Create opportunities to meet a diverse group of people
    • Fostering Empathy between the groups (Notice the multiple identities of the other and learn how to stand in someone elses shoes)
    • Find Common ground 
    • Challenge the ruling narratives by finding and telling alternative stories in the middle 

    Design choices:

    Creating a simulation game of the dynamic as a whole, with all the players involved. Make the players recognizable as: Poles, Middle, Joiners, Bridge builder, Scape goat). Logical because of the previous design step with the constellations. A simulation of everyday life = a more direct parallel with the real world =(?) easier to draw conclusions and use backcasting to connect in-game issues to the out-game world.

    Use game mechanics to design interactions that polarise and de-polarize. 

    Gather a group of experts and participants to co-create and reflect on this simulation game.



    Key findings

    The funding opened many doors and gave me the opportunity to compensate the experts and players who co-designed and tested with us.

    The extra dimension of play gave the experience a more dynamic and interactive quality.

    At the same time the pressure of creating a product became also time consuming and did affect the space for experimenting during the master.

    The game is now depolarizing, so it is a leap to get the players to polarize.

    It is not easy finding a big group to play with time and places to play.

    To facilitate, being a game master and to document is very difficult. I solved this by pointing out one player as journalist and three influencers. They have a social media channel and the Polaris News Network as media. In the next iterations we will add neighboorhood app groups. 

    Tools & methods

    Live action Role Play
    Serious gaming
    Speculation / Scenarios

    Subquestion 4a

    How to create a playground (or space) that helps simulating a polarized or polarizing society?

    The playground represents a board where players live, work and play. They are divided into four districts and they face events.

    Somewhere in between is the place in the middle is the so-called battlefield, here the setup as mentioned above comes to the fore and we create a place where the status between the residents and the neighbourhoods become visible. The battle is the election or the mirror of our positions in the game. It is like a measuring moment from where we can see together if we are polarising.

    The imaginary place is the space for imagination. The game has rules, premeditated happenings, and a framework. However, what is said to each other to move the game forward or the things that are made up to win is up to the players themselves. This is where the stories, prejudices and alternative truths surface.

    Time: The timing of the game varies depending on the time we have. But to play the game at least 2 hrs are needed. The timing of the game is divided into a night – day rhytm. During the day we live, eat, shop, work, meet, deal with things. In the evening we go home and we gather on the square to see how happy we are and where we stand. In the night we count the points and dream (make mental notes of what has happened). 

    Design choices:

    Three areas: 
    The playground: The field where everyday life happens
    The battlefield: a constellation where we can literally see who is where and how happy we are.  
    The imagination: to be able to get into character and solve the issues of the fictional city. 

    Key findings

    “Player at HvA; It is interesting how I make different choices in my life and then when it comes to the election”

    Everybody thinks in the game that they are in the middle. When asked people did not feel polarized. Until we battled it out after each episode. “I felt that we we all agreeing, but I see now that some of you don’t!” “I don’t think we were polarized, but there is only one person left in the middle so I guess we are?”


    Tools & methods

    Printed places + cards 

    Subquestion 4b

    How to embed and enhance empathy in the game?

    To embed empathy in the game I used my previous findings to add the element of imagination to the game. I added characters for the players to choose and have them re-enact. Jennifer added that for the game mechanics it would be good if they had a job so they could earn money and play with attention. To make it more realistic, I added a role linked to a group as well. 

    “It is really hard to be a politician”

    “I had great ideas, but nobody listened because they were too busy”

    “I now understand that if you don’t have money, you are not really participating and you don’t understand what is going on.”

    Design choices:

    Focus on empathy because that is the space for feelings can be simulated.

    Add characters for players to choose. 
    Add jobs to be able to get assets.
    Add roles to be able to connect and play with the character
    Add groups to identify with and disrupt the playfield



    Key findings

    The amount of character loading was for some people a bit too much. Some were good at empathizing with their character, but others had a bit more struggle.

    Though once invested in the game everyone was able to join in. People enjoyed playing a role. It felt safe and they could test out ’the other’ making it a good tool to discover bias. 

    Tools & methods

    Character design
    Cards for character, job and role
    Live Action Roleplay

    Subquestion 4c

    How do the players find common ground and where is that?

    The common ground can be found on different levels.

    1. The win
    In order to win the game the people of Polaris need to have a minimum Happiness Index of 70. Which gives them a common goal to achieve.

    2. Overcoming a challenge
    The game confronts the players with challenges. These take place on city-level (meta), quadrant-level (meso) and private-level (micro)

    3. The collective imagination
    This is our island, this is our story. Anything we say and do are part of our reality. This is also an experience we take home, and in our real lifes we still experienced this together.

    4. Groups
    As a volunteer, hacker, conspiracy thinker, religious person, etc. you are part of a group. This group also gives you a common ground in the game.

    5. The battle
    When the battle is played, players are searching for a common ground. Either with likeminded players or with the others to get them towards their camp.

    ” I have seen what is needed for this city and that is to believe that we can all be happy”

    Neighbourhood cohesion made it possible to buy a tree

    Design choices:

    Create a common ground:
    We are all citizens, we all encounter a disaster and we are all striving for a common goal.



    Key findings

    The common grounds in the game are: a mutual winning goal, the area where people live, the communal events they have to deal with, the starting point and the fact that they play the game. From here it proved hard to polarize as the setup of the game is de-polarizing in itself. We are now experimenting with starting as a highly polarized society. 
    Also the players gave us feedback that we can take the polarization much further. It was not so obvious now, which I also liked because before we become polarized in reality it is also not so obvious. 


    Tools & methods

    The rope as battlefield
    Group cards
    Development cards (trees, buildings etc)

    Subquestion 4d

    How do we use stories and narratives to polarize or de-polarize?

    When it became clear that the world was unable to prevent the melting of the polar ice caps and the water came, the Netherlands seemed to be on the brink of losing its eternal battle against the water by the end of 2050.

    Polaris was the master plan to keep one city in the Randstad afloat in order to save the economy of the Netherlands and its inhabitants. The island was established in 2080 after the Great Flood.

    Although a large part of the population was forced to emigrate, a few chosen ones were asked to inhabit Polaris to keep the Netherlands afloat. The new residents of the city represent a cross-section of the population to ensure diversity.

    Polaris has four years to become a new model of living in the 22nd century and, for that reason, will be isolated from the rest of the world to focus on this important task. If successful, this model will be further rolled out in the North Sea to eventually form the Lower Islands. The benchmark for success is a minimum Gross National Happiness of 70, as agreed on a European level. To monitor and maintain this happiness level, a Minister of Happiness has been appointed from the caretaker government in Germany.

    There are three types of events:
    Macro: Affecting the whole city – corresponding with shocks
    Meso: Affecting the quadrant/ neighboorhood – corresponding with stressors
    Micro: Affecting the player personally (costs, health, exams, work all kinds of shit we deal with ;-))

    Stories that the players make up to deal with their challenges. This is where the players start to imagine and use their collective imagination to keep the city afloat

    Design choices:

    Design a space for speculative storytelling that will help with creating and recognizing the ruling narratives.

    Stories should be the essential part of this design.

    A designed backstory
    A designed disaster
    A designed endgame
    Designed events

    These should give the facilitators of the game tools to intervene and steer the group.

    There should be space for participants to come up with their own stories. Voiced by their characters or by themselves.

    The ruling narratives of Real Life should be mentioned in the aftertalk.



    Key findings

    The backstory to start with, the events we create to bring the game forward and intervene when necessary, work as a tool to steer the game.
    This gives us (facilitators)  the ‘power’ to polarize or depolarize.

    The stories that the citizens create in-game are the base of the ruling narratives. What are the dilemmas and issues in our city? Because it can be anything it is very open, but actually really nice. It is most interesting when players start to discuss the narratives and try to hack the game. (Can I kill the mayor? I am now the spokesperson of aliens or I want to work two jobs). It provides ownership and fun for the players and it does not break the game.

    While facilitating the game and dealing with questions and happenings + the game dynamics. It is nearly impossible to catch all the stories that are being imagined and told. I tried solving this with recording the experience but even then it was hard to grasp what was happening. As a result I decided to put in the role of journalist. It is their task to document what is happening. This can also be fakenews or framed. Because it gives a good sense of what is going on. 

    Tools & methods

    Storytelling – backstories
    Padlet board

    Subquestion 5

    How to measure effects?

    To measure the effect of the actions in-game are now based on experiences and the final Gross Happiness Index.
    Together with PhD onderzoeker Marieke de Wijse we are creating a dashboard to measure the effects of every step in order to better analyse the working and faciliation of the game.
    After playing the game we sit together in the now to evaluate what happened and what the players experienced that is familiar to real life.

    To measure the experiences I now use a questionnaire. Where we ask the following questions:

    • What happened that you feel was beautiful?
    • Did something unexpected happen?
    • What is your hope for the future of this city?
    • Did you feel at one point group pressure and if so when?
    • What did you recognise from real life?
    • Did you take something from this experience to change in real life?
    • What is your experience with polarization?
    • What is your first response when confronted with another opinion?
    • What are the top 3 polarizing subjects in your immediate environment?
    • What did this experience do for you?
    • Would you do this again and why?

    Design choices:

    To wrap up the game we take the players back into the real world through an end conversation after they either won or lost.  

    The questionnaire I designed via Typeform is send afterwards to the players to get more thought through insights and opinions. 


    Key findings

    The aftertalks is where we get feedback. At the moment after 2 hrs of play there is no (head)space to take it back to the now and formulate steps for the future. This could be a second workshop on another day. 

    The players were really open to give feedback. Also they are all willing to play again. 



    Tools & methods


    Collaborations / usergroups

    BeCommon team consists of:
    Esther Verhamme (Storytelling, experience design, research, gamedesign, facilitator, fundraiser and connecting experts)
    Jennifer van Exel (Game mechanics and system design, facilitator, research, fundraising and connecting experts)

    In creating this serious game I use my research above as input to further develop the game.
    Jennifer brings insights from the game mechanical point (how to win, scarcity, points, dashboards) of view and the social science side. And practical knowledge how to facilitate groups.

    The experts we interviewed and played with are:
    Joline Verloove (Movisie), Bassima el Haïk (JsO), Eva de Valk (Ministry of Internal Affairs NL), Demian Burgenik (holistic systemic coach), Ann Cassano (systemchange and deep democracy expert), Mari Luz Garcia (Trainer/Facilitator/Coach -Transformation Leadership HvA) Douwe van der Werf (storyteller & filmmaker), Jaap de Goede (psychologist), Frouke Engel (social designer)

    HvA Transformative Leadership (10 players age 24-50)
    University of Amsterdam (12 players age 19-23)
    Hogeschool Utrecht (Talk with teachers)
    WDKA (2x 8/13 players age 18-22)
    Municipality of Almere (15 players)


    The dynamics of the us vs them thinking theory by Bart Brandsma – the players and the depolarisation techniques 
    The beyond the Silent Middle research report by the Verwey-Jonkers Institute (in Dutch) – to embed empathy, and a voice for the silent middle
    Contact theory – to embed the in and out group movement
    Echo Chambers theory – to play with the different information channels and flows during the game (what do you hear and what not)
    The Lord of the Flies theory – to embed situations where characters are part of a certain group and there for have other info then others
    The Cusp & Hysterese effect / attitude change – to underline that facts and information are not relevant when someone is already in one of the camps
    Polarisatie onder Jongeren Rapport NJI /insight in what is relevant for the younger target audience. 
    Position Paper Social Base Verweij Jonkers / understand social cohesion and how to deal with that politically

    Summery of findings and design challenges

    The context = space & story

    The narrative elements of both the constellation tool of The Netherislands as the simulation game of Polaris can be customized to reflect issues that the group might be dealing with. This way the stories are always up to date and par with the needs of the group. The game of Polaris can be played with the emphazis on the horizontal polarisation (between groups) or the vertical polarization (between government/ institutions and civilians). This makes the game playable with a large group of participants in different areas of society.

    The middle is on the move

    The most insightful moment for me was that the middle is not silent nor invisible, it is just moving. It reminded me that if you keep moving you are always agile enough to not get sucked into polarizing groups. Which does not equal having no opinion. If you reside in the middle it is indeed very important to state your questions or opinions. 

    Roleplaying and empathy

    During the iterations, I discovered that it was not easy for everyone to immerse themselves in a character, to also combine it with a job and a role was perceived as complicated by some players. To make this a little easier, we made the time to immerse yourself in your character slightly longer and phased in the jobs and roles. Nonetheless, part of the game is that juggling roles, duties and tasks is an essential part of everyone’s daily life.

    Another insight I want to share here is that giving roles is perceived as a lot of fun. Because you can choose how much of yourself you put into that role. But also because you can choose to play someone you don’t actually know very well. Among the players who chose the latter, a lot of assumptions and prejudices immediately surfaced as well. Which therefore become visible and can be discussed. You can never fully become one with the other person. You always show yourself because you include the emotions, your system and your worldview. 

    Roleplaying as a design tool is definitely in my toolbox

    The truth doesn't exist and it doesn't matter

    The stories that were played and thought of by the players did not have to be true to get the same investment in the game. All kinds of fake news, accusations and made up realities are passing. Because the truth is what we decide it is in the game. That reflection of real life is, I think, very insightful. It sparks other questions like: what happens if we cannot trust information anymore or what if all information is made up? Food for next designs. 

    The power of collaborative imagination

    During this Design Research I have seen the power of imagination as a tool to figure out how complex issues and dynamics work. Also with the participants I was happily surprised they found some empathy for their characters and others during the game. I find this hopeful and am looking forward to make this measurable and somehow visible too in future iterations.

    Rules & facilitation

    Rules are the basics of any game design, yet because I wanted to spark the imagination I was hesitant to apply rules. Jennifer convinced me that the more rules and borders you create in the game, the more freedom people have to imagine. Otherwise they are only busy with finding out how the game works, and we wanted to put the energy of imagining in the stories and the dealing with events instead. 

    I have slowly grown into the role of facilitator, but I prefer to share this role with another facilitator who can monitor and pinpoint the group dynamics. That way I can focus on the game and how it is played to get ideas in how to improve the experience. When I position myself as gamemaster, who will guide the participants through the experience with stories, interventions and nudges I enjoy that the most. I am curious to explore and expand this role in my future practice to where I can also create feedback and give the participants tools to create their own future stories without me.

    The paradox of Polaris

    During the development of the game I realized that the game in itself is already de-polarizing. While we were trying to get the players to polarize, we were actually fighting our own game. In next iterations we made some changes to have the players start polarized and then find out how the game helps them to de-polarize. 

    Simulation and Theory

    The game is based on a lot of theoretical models coming from psychology, sociology and systems thinking. Almost every element has a theoretical base. So far we found the theory to be working in the play, but we also gained some insights we haven’t read about. 
    – Polarization is a battle of attention: everyone wants attention. By creating assets that represent attention we saw that the scarcity of it works on all levels, not just the (social) media. 
    – When we removed the places where it is low threshold to meet (cheap and not much attention), like the town square or the bar etcetera. People miss other perspectives/ information. They are not meeting eachother in other places of the city. 
    – When dealing with Polarization the government needs to have eyes in the neighbourhoods otherwise they loose overview and others (coordinators) step in to reframe the stories. 
    – When dealing with Polarization the private lifes of people matter. If a de-polarizing event takes place in the golfclub, not everyone has money to go there.

    I believe there is more to gain from this simulation and for that I am talking with social scientists at the UvA to organize a brainstorm to see how this can be used in social research. 

    Contours of a design method

    In my search for my position within the design world, I have explored various design methods. Each time I delved deeper into research, I encountered new methods I had not previously heard of. Here, I describe four methods I use in my work, which I have combined into a practical approach during my master’s program. Although I have only scratched the surface of these methods, it is enough to continue developing and refining them in my personal toolkit the coming years.

    • Speculative Design: In “Speculative Everything,” Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose design as a means of speculating about how things could be, to imagine possible futures. The “what if” questions are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want). This is what I am doing with the backstories in the games. 
    • Futures Thinking: From this method, I have adopted the idea that trends, signals, and forecasts can be linked to personas or artifacts to explore multiple possible future worlds. The world we enter can then be explored using design thinking methods in our imagination.
    • Systemic Design: Combines systems and transition thinking with design to humanize the systems that support our collective life. The TU Delft’s Systemic Design Lab defines steps that are helpful in defining my own method.
      Embracing Complex Dynamics As a designer, I immerse myself in the complexity of dynamics by learning from scientists and experts who have studied them. What I find interesting is designing an experience where a diverse group of participants can engage with and play with these dynamics in a micro setting.
      Reframing By participating in the workshops of Netherisland or Polaris, I hope to contribute to a deeper understanding of how these complex dynamics work and how to influence them. At the same time, I aim to empower participants to understand these dynamics and share their own stories, thereby reframing the social system in everyday life.
      Working Transdisciplinary By collaborating with facilitators in change processes, subject matter experts, and researchers who can observe or adjust during the experiences, a deeper layer is created that can translate the experience back to real life. The more theory, experience, and findings are linked, the greater the impact.
      Co-creation The designs I create may be a drop in the ocean of change. The impact of co-designing these experiences lies, I believe, in the fact that we do it together. By igniting collective imagination, space is created for a narrative. And for everyone involved, there is room for ownership. I want to further develop this in the future. How do I ensure that collective imagination contributes to ownership of the problem, process, and outcome? And how do I organize co-creation? One first step could be collaborating with the University of Amsterdam. In the masterclasses, it is possible to have a diverse group of government participants play. In the research group on polarization, the game can be used as a simulation for more extensive research on the theme. By playing the game with people from a community, it is possible to include ‘citizens’. I have not yet figured out how to bring these three groups together to create a transdisciplinary and diverse group of players.
      Behaviour Change Ultimately, I want to bring about an attitude change that hopefully leads to a change in behavior. In the case of Polaris: recognize the dynamics, it’s okay to hold out in the middle as long as possible, and learn how to depolarize. In the real world: engage in conversation with those who think differently and find topics where there is common ground. Don’t follow the extremes, but think critically and make well-considered choices. Keep listening. The measurability of these changes is something I still need to develop further. At the moment, it remains a feeling. One thing we will test in future sessions with Polaris is a dashboard where the actions in the game have a visible direct impact on the chances of winning. We are doing this in collaboration with Marieke de Wijse (
    • Transformative Game Design: Through my collaboration with Jennifer van Exel (Studio ToiToi) and Anouck Wolf, I discovered this branch of serious game design, aimed at behavior change through play. Simulation games like Polaris fit into this category, allowing social dynamics to be played, practiced, won, and lost, ultimately aiming to transform players’ real-life behavior.

      The Process

      What characterises my work is making large, complex subjects personal by addressing them in a physical space.

      To achieve this, I create spaces that allow for imagination and play. I design scenarios of possible futures relevant to the group and develop games or workshops where participants practice living in a future society. This stimulates the collective imagination to create shared future memories. Afterwards, we reflect on what we’ve done, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind.

      I collaborate with social scientists and experts in constellations and change management to interpret the group’s experiences and identify insights that could lead to behavioural change.

      The coming years I will continue to evolve the above contours of a method with the following Design Question in mind:


      How can I, as a designer, use collective imagination as a tool to make (future) social dynamics insightful and tangible?