Professionalizing Knowledge Transfer Processes

Interview with Valentin Knitsch

Science Talk | Leipzig /

Looking back from a successful future: The backcasting method offers an instrument for strategic planning in projects. Starting from the description of a desired future, the team analyzes the steps by which this can best be achieved. This is how roadmaps are created - concrete action plans within the framework of a comprehensive strategy. For a backcasting workshop in EXPRESS, members of the Professionalization of Knowledge Transfer Processes unit at Fraunhofer IMW have now developed a new approach: Backcasting as a digital board game. We talked about creative workshop formats, pandemic digitalization, and gamification with Valentin Knitsch, who helped develop the format.

Valentin Knitsch and Dr. Juliane Welz during a presentation of the digital experimental field EXPRESS in September 2020. Herr Knitsch and Dr. Welz are in charge of the knowledge transfer in the project.

Dear Mr. Knitsch, "EXPRESSion": That's the title of a digital board game you developed for a backcasting workshop in EXPRESS, a project on digitization in agriculture. How did you come up with the idea?

As part of the internal knowledge transfer in the EXPRESS project, we are currently conducting a roadmapping process. In principle, we also consider this to be a very valuable opportunity. But then came the pandemic situation in spring 2020. We had already formed a vision; now it was a matter of deriving concrete work tasks and goals from it. Determining such goals together is a task that requires a great deal of concentration from everyone in the team. That is already demanding in a face-to-face workshop. It becomes even more difficult in a digital format, where there is a completely different working mode. 

That's why we had the idea of trying a playful approach, that has two advantages: First, you can strengthen the team feeling, which is very important in workshops - they are only ever good if everyone also has a bit of fun. Second, we had a vision with a lot of abstract goals and needed to go into a creative process to make them concrete. To us, it seemed almost impossible to ask around like in a classic brainstorming session: does anyone have any ideas? That's why we decided to design the workshop in such a way that people were encouraged to play around, generate ideas and thus create a basis for providing an abstract vision with concrete goals.

What appealed to you most about the decision to implement it as a board game?

Board games are quickly understood in their basic dynamics and people usually already understand how they work. Despite the digital space changeing some things, the basic flow and rules are actually clear. So the idea came up to design Backcasting as a board game and to base it on already existing board games - so that the game mechanics are already known and the principle is largely self-explanatory.

Gamification: This buzzword refers to the application of game elements to contexts that are actually unrelated to the game. What gamified elements did you use?

We set up the interface like a classic board game: There was a digital playing board with squares to drag across and a set of pieces to choose from. Then there was a roll of the dice. On each square you landed on, there was an event. For example, a task such as: Name a case of application for a particular solution in fruit growing. Then the time was stopped and the team had a certain amount of time to discuss. Then the group decided together if a good idea eventuated. Depending on how the group decided, points were distributed or not. Whoever had the most points at the end, won the game

Game interface of "EXPRESSion": Various tasks and events await the players from the individual fields.

There are several game mechanics in it. The first is that it depends on the luck of the dice which field you get to. For example, there are, fields where events simply occur that bring or cost points. That's the beauty of playing: It's only really fun when there's enough randomness involved. Second, you're also dependent on the other players' scores. That's a mean thing, of course, because even if you put your foot down, you can always get a negative rating from the other person. However, everyone took the tasks seriously, and there were critical evaluations, but always fair ones. This created a dynamic, and that's the third element, which was about getting something done quickly and creatively together.

In "EXPRESSion", players can win or lose points in different ways. Luck of the dice and chance also play a role.

Normally, what is true for board games is also true for workshops: The participants meet and interact with each other - completely analog. How were you able to implement the game digitally?

We implemented the game interface on a digital whiteboard - this is a collaboration tool that provides simultaneous access to everyone on their own computer and mirrors a whiteboard to work on. The playing field was of course designed and test-played beforehand. In the process, we also had to solve a few puzzles: For example, how do we represent the dice roll in a way that makes it believable? How can points be best distributed? Here we found various visual forms that we collected on the whiteboard. In this way, we were able to implement many classic game principles in a very lifelike way.

Board games are not always fun; some of them have probably caused full-blown family feuds and broken friendships. Were the participants still happy with each other at the end?

Yes, definitely. I think everyone enjoyed it and we also received feedback that it was enjoyable. However, I don't think it would have worked if we hadn't developed a tool through which ideas were actually generated for the actual process. This is because people mostly enjoyed the fact that they were stimulated to think in all kinds of different corners, to serve different goals - like being confronted with the question of how we would design public relations for our solutions at a trade show. To answer such questions in a playful way and to gather initial ideas for this; I think that gave many the impression: Wow, now we really have a lot of material and can build on it. This gives the team a sense of satisfaction after the game. And there was also a team that had a lot of bad luck with the dice, which was a source of amusement - of course, even if it was a shame for the team.

So far, the concept has only been used for EXPRESS. Would you like the  the game to be used in other contexts as well?

Yes. We have found that it is a very interesting method that we would like to continue to use. When you redesign such methods, there is always a possibility to improve details, and that is our plan. We will now analyse this tool from a distance and then prepare it so that it can be used in other contexts. Additionally, we plan to report more about the method, to present the game mechanics and application areas in more detail. We want to share the knowledge and the experiences we have generated. In conversations, we have found that the concept has a great response. Various stakeholders are looking for ways to add value to digital work and make complicated processes more manageable. There's an incredible need there. We have already received requests that we should report more about our approach. That's why we're now pushing ahead with the process of presenting this game experience, as well as the idea and the concept in further detail.



Interview questions were asked by Jakob Milzner.

The digital board game was developed for "EXPRESS," a project to test digital technologies in central German viticulture and fruit growing. But many other application cases are conceivable. Knitsch: "In discussions, we have found that the concept has been met with a fantastic response. That's why we're now pushing ahead with the process of presenting this gaming experience in more detail."