August 23, 2018

One Shift at a Time – Gamification for Energy Transition

The Newtonian Shift drops you into the outdated, inefficient, polluting Newtonia. You may find yourself working for a utility, or a bank. Or maybe you are a First Nations leader, oil and gas producer, or the director of an environmental non-profit. As the population grows and the impacts of climate change become impossible to ignore, the leadership and citizens of Newtonia call on actors across the system, including you, to work together to transform your country’s energy system into one that is sustainable and able to meet the needs of the future. It’s up to you to make it work while dealing with outages, supply disruptions, and shifting political winds. If this sounds familiar, you’ve been paying attention.

The Newtonian Shift is one of the key tools employed by the Energy Futures Lab, an awardwinning, multi-stakeholder initiative to accelerate the transition to the energy system that the future requires of us. Launched publicly in early 2015, the lab is powered by The Natural Step Canada, in collaboration with the Suncor Energy Foundation, Energy Efficiency Alberta, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF), the Government of Alberta, Shell, ATB Financial, RBC, the Calgary Foundation, and the Landmark Group of Builders. The initiative also involves dozens more organizations in an unprecedented series of innovative partnerships and collaborations. AREF’s support, from 2016 to 2018 has enabled the EFL to play a prominent role in reframing a broader public narrative about energy, and introduce alternatives to the polarized debate that all too often dominates conversations around energy issues. The grant has enabled the EFL to scale and reach over 4000 Albertans over the past two years through its EFL Leadership Bootcamps, Energy Future Showcase event, public receptions, and especially the Newtonian Shift energy transition simulation.

The Newtonian Shift has proven to be a powerful tool that helps people engage with the complexity of energy issues through gamification. “You can talk or read about a system, but The Newtonian Shift gives you the visceral experience of being at the centre of change. It’s fun, it’s intense, and provides real insights.” Cheryl De Paoli, Executive Director of AREF. The feedback of over one thousand participants has helped to pinpoint a few of the aspects that make the Newtonian Shift so effective:

A Platform for Experimentation.

We can try things in a game that we cannot just try in real life. We’ll never design a perfect model of something as complex as Alberta’s energy system, but our ability to run experiments in the real world is extremely limited. Being able to play out interventions over years and across an entire system, even in simulation, can help us to identify promising avenues to pursue in the real world, or understand why an initiative that might seem promising could face unforeseen barriers.

Perspective Shifting.

Games let us be someone else. Over the course of a career we can only have so many jobs, and we may not all get the chance to be the CEO of a major corporation, manage a cleantech startup, or negotiate on behalf of a First Nations community. Participants have come from across Alberta’s energy system, bringing their own unique points of view. Some may even recently have seen each other as adversaries, but now they’ve been brought together to collaborate. What they are quickly realizing, and what the Newtonian Shift drives home, is that things often look very different from the other side of the table.

Experience of the Transition

In a game you don’t just learn something, you live it. The Newtonian Shift gives participants the visceral experience of what a transition is like and the type of collaboration that is needed in order to make it happen. The bird’s eye view and time compression of the game world allow participants to feel the system and the shift. Interrelations and dynamics are revealed and internalized in a way that can’t be achieved through readings, presentations, discussions or clever facilitation.

Runs of the Newtonian Shift are taking place in communities, academic institutions and some of Alberta’s leading businesses. One of the next times the game will be run will be as part of the Energy Futures Roadshow pilot scheduled for September 2018 in Crow’s Nest Pass. If you are interested in hosting a session of The Newtonian Shift, visit our website or email nalguneid@naturalstep.ca.

Similar News