Rebuilding cities. A new simulation for the continuing education students
At the beginning of July 2018, around twenty pupils of Sciences Po’s continuing education programme took part in a new simulation to explore the controversies which surround the ecological transition of medium-sized towns.
Since it has been launched, Forccast promotes an approach of teaching through simulations of negotiations and debates. The programme is also addressed to professionals who are currently attending a continuing education training. At the end of 2016, Forccast had organized a simulation for the students of Sciences Po’s Executive Education Master in Energy, Environment and Regulation. During the 2018 summer, about twenty professionals form Executive Master “Territorial Governance and Urban Development” have been immersed for two days into a scenario that was made to measure for their training. Indeed, the exercise dealt with the numerous issues caused by ecological and energy transitions inside French medium-sized towns.
The three organizers of the simulation – Nicolas Benvegnu, Benoît Calatayud and Guilhem Gaboriau – conducted a field investigation to design the simulation. Inspired by real situations they observed in different cities such as Angoulême, Montauban, Castres or Béziers, the three of them imagined a fictitious town to stage the many different issues these kind of cities have to address today. Most of these cities are trapped into a paradox: whereas city centers are getting devitalized and unemployment and poverty rise, suburbs are growing, because of the construction of shopping centers which consume agricultural lands.
Attendees had to deal with the logic of this development model, to analyze it and confront it with the position defended by the actor they embodied. The point of the exercise depends on the authenticity of the covered issues. Sylvain Tanguy, one of the participants – who also happens to be the mayor of a town in Essonne – deemed that the game “was prepared in a really credible way. We easily recognize specific people, positions and exaggerations… the little clashes that can happen, the tensions. With this simulation, we were not in a case study, but in the practical dimension.”
Among the twenty roles the students had to embody – including elected representatives, business leaders or associative members – some were bearing projects for a new model of urban development: a model meant to reconcile urban and rural worlds, to avoid urban spread and based on a local food system. The acme of this simulation was the municipal elections; it was the occasion, for the candidates, to materialize their different visions of the future of the town into political programmes.
Before the experience starts, each attendee had received an individual role sheet. These sheets bring the key knowledge elements, that take on their full meaning later, during the simulation. Knowledge is forming as the participants meet the others, and attendees can develop their role if they respect its main purposes. Thus, Aurélie Jehanno, who played the president of an association of organic farmers, reports that “a lot of things came thanks to the group dynamic. It pushed me to strengthen some of my positions, in reaction to the events.”
Roles were distributed in order to play against type – one of the goals of this pedagogical experience is indeed to learn how to put oneself in the other’s shoes, to understand the logic of the actions of one’s counterparts’s. “It was interesting to quit our habits” analyses Sylvain Tanguy. “First, it was the occasion to develop some empathy for others players. Secondly, to understand the intimacy of particular positions our partners can hold.” Hamou Laoufi, who is working in the energy sector, adds: “it was a real challenge: I had to develop arguments against what I’m doing every day!”
Two master students from Sciences Po were playing journalists. They helped maintaining the suspense among the actors: hot interviews, press releases, media debates and other video reports punctuated the experience during the two days. An important presence, according to the attendees: “the camera was putting the requisite pressure to make us playing our roles fully”, tells Sylvain Tanguy. They themselves asked the journalists to interview them, which shows just how much energy they put in playing their roles.
The topic of the simulation was chosen in concertation with the master’s pedagogical staff, so as to be coherent and to put into practice some elements provided in the other continuing education classes. According to Nathalie Chomé, a participant who embodied the head of a urban planning consulting company, the simulation “was dealing with a lot of topics covered during our training, particularly the governance thematic.”
The ambition of Forccast is to pursue its development in continuing education. Two new simulations are coming in next November and December at Sciences Po along with other masters and on new thematics. The success of this latest one about transition in medium-sized towns will certainly allow to reproduce the experience, next year, with the new promotion of the executive master “Territorial Governance and Urban Development”.