UCL Grand Challenges


Living a 2050 future promotes bolder collaborative action now

3 June 2024

UCL Grand Challenges in partnership with Cranfield Sustainable Business Group co-delivers the Exploring Sustainable Futures Game

Exploring Sustainable Futures Game
Imagine this: you're strapped in for a ride through time, hurtling towards the future. Your destination? The year 2050. But this isn't your average vacation. This is the Exploring Sustainable Futures game, an immersive experience that throws you headfirst into the potential challenges of a future shaped by climate change, resource depletion, and plastic pollution… and many other inter-connected problems. 

And here's the twist: you're not just a passive observer. You take on the role of a key player – a business leader, a policymaker, a voice for civil society, or even the public itself. Every decade is a pit stop. Your team must navigate the coming decades, making critical decisions along the way: How do you play to your organisation’s strengths? How do you keep the lights on, while investing for the longer term? Who has aligned interests that you could partner with?  These are the questions you seek to answer. Of course, every choice has consequences! The game forces you to confront the potential impact of your decisions, while responding to a scenario that keeps evolving the way to 2050.

Yes, this game is about winning, but more importantly, it is about winning together. Through the game, you find out fairly quickly that “collaboration is key”, and cross sectoral partnerships are the root to success. You'll trade resources, brainstorm solutions, and work together to transform the future economy, technology, and way of life; all the while building up creative dialogues that ignite a shared sense of purpose. 

At the end, you’re asked what advice you’d give others faced with the same scenario. This is the most insightful moment of the whole game. Even though we understood the 2050 challenge well, we were initially very cautious and stuck narrowly to our roles. As time ran out, we (and others) took bolder and braver actions that were more in keeping with the scale of transformation required. We also became more adaptive and experimental, combining actions with other players to bring about system-level change rapidly. Finally, we sharpened up how we communicated our ideas. By selling the case for action in a more positive way, we built new coalitions of support across sectors and industries.  

Developed by Cranfield University and showcased at the COP26 climate conference, Exploring Sustainable Futures Game, is more than just a game – this immersive experience is a powerful learning tool to build knowledge exchange and cross-sectoral collaboration.  Originally devised in 2018 by the EU Commission’s Joint Research Council in collaboration with the Forum for the Future and Academy of Business in Society, an extension of the project is now funded by UCL Grand Challenges as a winner of the Responsible Innovation Awards 2024. New modules are being co-created between UCL and Cranfield University to expand the horizons for cross-discipline collaboration. 

Sustainability can feel abstract, a distant future concern - we need innovation that changes that. Gamification as a tool for sustainability engagement has been highly promoted across higher education in recent years as it motivates, influences behaviour, and inspires individuals through the power of play. The Exploring Sustainable Futures game is currently being played across universities and industry partners to reinvigorate sustainability understandings.  

Are you ready for 2050? What would your message be from the future?

UCL Grand Challenges aim to maximise the positive impact of UCL‘s research, education, and innovation on the biggest challenges facing society. We fund mission-driven interdisciplinary research, support community building, knowledge mobilisation, and catalyse innovation by piloting practical solutions to problems within UCL and our partners. 

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Written by Lisa Juangbhanich and Sam Balch, UCL Grand Challenges