Pounamu Reflections

By Michael Edmonds 10/06/2012 13

Last week, alongside the Transit of Venus forum, an online game Pounamu ran for two days. Asking players to envision what science would be like in 2020, we could play a series of cards which were visible for comment by other players. These cards included positive imagination and dark imagination cards as good or bad things that might affect our future. Adaptation cards allowed other players to put a slightly different spin on a previous idea while momentum cards added ideas that might move a previous idea forward. Cards could also be played disagreeing with a previous card and question cards could ask for more clarification about a previous idea.

Each card was limited to 140 characters, requiring people to (ideally) make very concise, thoughtful statements. I must say I found this VERY challenging but useful in the long run. Comments were usually very focused.

Contributors seemed to be from a wide range of backgrounds with ideas spanning from the scientifically naive to incredibly imaginative and thought provoking. But all had value. Those that didn’t quite stack up scientifically (what about carbon dioxide powered cars?, What about shoes that could fly), simply were a chance to educate (carbon dioxide isn’t an energy rich molecule) or nudge towards science (“so what would be the advantage of flying shoes?” or “how would the shoes work?”).

At any one time during the game, different ideas were being floated, but once I got the hang of card dashboard it was quite easy to jump between trains of thought, make contributions and watch different ideas wax and wane, then reappear several hours later when a new player added an idea. Disagreements occurred but the 140 character limit as well as the civility of participants, typically saw players learn more about different perspectives.

The game also gave me an opportunity to “testrun” ideas I have had about science and education over the past few years (“What would it be like if universities had a common first year and shared lectures using technology?” or “what if artificial intelligences augmented teaching in the classroom?” I received some truly inspired responses which pushed ideas about teaching beyond where I had started, for example, comments about education being integrative, involving the wider community etc, also a reinforcement of storytelling as a tool for teaching.

Thanks to snow in Canterbury, I was able to participate extensively in the Pounamu game, but perhaps running it over a weekend if it were done again, might allow greater participation. I know some fellow scibloggers would have liked to have participated more than they were able to.

As an interactive, democratic, thought provoking and innovative way of sharing ideas about the future of science, I cannot think of any better tool than Pounamu, and would love to see it used again, perhaps on a yearly basis.

It has also inspired me to collate some of the ideas around education into another post which can be found here.

13 Responses to “Pounamu Reflections”

  • I’m presuming it was invite only? I’ve heard a couple of things about people playing it, but only after the fact. I can’t say as I heard anything at all about it before hand.

    • Ben,
      No it was open to anyone but the publicity about it didn’t seem to spread that widely. Though there certainly appeared to be a range of people involved including school students.
      A pity there hasn’t been any national media attention. I wonder if TV media would be interested in hearing about it from one of the organisers?

  • Pounamu was good, but I think the interface could have used a bit more tweaking. For example, a more “tree-like” display of cards, rather than the linear fashion that was used; as the branching conversations were sometimes difficult to follow. And I’m not sure the “points” system had any value (although I did get up to 5th place at one stage (somehow…)).
    And it definitely could have been publicised a bit more widely.

  • A pity there hasn’t been any national media attention

    It’s a geek thing, Michael, you won’t get ‘the public’ & advertisers interested in that

    /ends snark, removes cynical hat & ducks for cover…
    A pity, though, that RNZ (say) didn’t pick it up for ‘The Panel’ in the afternoons; would have been an ideal topic for them.

  • Thanks Michael for the account of Pounamu and the positive comments.

    As one of the organisers, I’d agree that wider publicity and more integration with the Transit of Venus Forum would have been ideal. It may be useful thought, to share here the relative timeframes of the two projects.

    The Forum was the result of two and a half years careful planning and forethought. The Pounamu game was put together in a scant seven weeks before the Forum. There was much that was already fixed for the main Forum and little scope for Forum organisers to make changes to incorporate Poumamu more fully at that stage.

    There is obviously huge potential for integrating a tool like the Foresight Engine on which Pounamu was run into future conferences and events.

    The short time frame (shorter even that that for the Magnetic South game that I ran last year with Landcare Reseach) also limited the spread of publicity. The good news is that Pounamu, like the Forum, was the start of the conversation.

    The data files from the game have been posted to the game blog today (http://blog.pounamu.gen.nz/) and we invite people to do the following:

    Take the data from the game and explore it more deeply. We welcome everyone to use it to help them in their own projects and communities. We’d love you to apply your own analysis tools to the data and share the results back through the game blog. (You can explore and use the data whether you played the game or not.)

    As everyone goes through the next few days and weeks, thinking about the conversations they had in the game, let us know, via the game blog, about any decisions you make to do something, do something differently or stop doing something as a result of playing the game.

    The game organizers are in the process of putting together a competition for students in which participants would use the data from the conversation to develop actionable projects. Let us know if you could help to support the competition and keep an eye out for announcements if you’d like to compete!

  • Alison,

    “It’s a geek thing, Michael, you won’t get ‘the public’ & advertisers interested in that”

    Nope, I’m no longer going to accept that as a given. There MUSt be some way of putting a spin or hook of some sort that would pull in the media, maybe something around Pounamu.

    After reading some of the Geek Manifesto and listening to some of the talks from the Transit of Venus Forum, I really think we need “geeks” to push science harder.

  • Stephanie,
    Thanks again for the innovative tool that Pounamu is. I’ll try and get some ideas together and put them on the associated blog.

  • It’s OK, Michael, I was being snarky 🙂

    I agree, there has to be a way of pulling ‘the media’ in – bearing in mind that some parts of the media are already interested: RNZ springs to mind. Unfortunately at the moment we seem to be in a funding environment (NZOA) that is perfectly happy to throw money at something like GC, & not particularly interested in science (at the present point in time, anyway – in the past there’s been some good stuff there, aimed at the teen/young adult demographic).

  • Alison,
    No worries, I get snarky all the time (especially when you send me links to the most galling pseudoscience – damn you) 🙂

  • Ah, I knew you’d ‘enjoy’ it & I see you are developing quite a good line in your own brand of Insolence 😉

  • An ex-NZer, current Melbournian. Why worry about whether or not the mainstream media’s interested – very 20thC and dying in their trad forms (watch The Age and the Australian go to week-end paper editions only before the year’s out). Think “Kony” or the 9yr old girl blogging about her school dinners’ alliance with Jamie Oliver (rapid attention from the school!) and go after some cool NZers who are interested in science/environment – cd be Neil Finn, cd be Topp Twins, cd be Sam Neil, cd be Discovery School kids ……. Get them to tweet, blog, FB about it, and then set up Pinterest or Tumblr sites so that people can post their images/sites about it. There’s a lot of social media savvy people who have an inner Nerd, who’d be happy to promote it. @KnowNOW_KnowHow