RUFopoly: the decision-making game that conquers jargon and boundaries in the rural-urban fringe!

RUFopoly is an interactive learning tool emerging from the research and endorsed by government, community groups and decision-makers. It allows players to make their own journey through a hypothetical RUF (Rufshire) by throwing dice.

What is it?

RUFopoly is an interactive game that enables you to journey through the fictitious county of RUFshire, which is under constant change from pressures for development and new opportunities generated by the region’s growing population and changing environmental governance.

The purpose of the game is for players to answer questions relating to the themes of our project (Values, Connections, and Long Termism), as randomly determined by the throw of a dice. This journey of discovery enables players to experience the issues facing the Rural-Urban Fringe. Players are supported by a facilitator who notes down answers and supporting justification given in discussions. This audit trail of decisions is then used to allow each player to devise their own vision set within improved understanding of the impact of their previous decisions.

This journey of discovery enables you to experience the issues facing the Rural-Urban Fringe; a place of constant change and opportunity requiring decisions and ideas.

As part of the RUFopoly experience a number of the project team, Birmingham City University staff and also some undergraduate and postgraduate students were trained as facilitators.

When and how was RUFopoly created?

RUFopoly was initially showcased at the RELU conference - "Who Should Run the Countryside" in November 2011 and soon caught the attention of the national press, professional bodies, local authorities, and community groups. Since then it has made numerous appearances across the Midlands and beyond. This includes being played by a variety of people at the 'Great Regional Debate' in Birmingham, a bespoke demonstration with representatives of the Welsh Assembly Government with plans being made to use it within their Natural Environment Framework exercise, and recently with members of Staffordshire County Council Cabinet and members of the RTPI West Midlands. Other events with IEEM and the public are forthcoming.

How do you play?
  1. Choose a counter that reflects your own values! (You may wish to be – a sheep, a bus, a conker, a fossil, a builder, a car, a bicycle, an owl, a beetle, a rock, etc.)
  2. Everyone has to answer an initial introductory question about your preferred development growth model option (urban expansion; new town, green belt expansion or rural development) before they are allowed to start. The facilitator will note down your answer and also prompt you for your justification which is recorded on a card.
  3. Throw the dice … then answer the question you have landed on (these are colour coded according to theme of the research; time, connections, values and spatial planning/ecosystem services). Again your answers and justification are noted.
  4. Keep throwing the dice so you move through the RUF answering questions on the various research themes until you reach the final square. The facilitator will stay with you throughout your journey.
  5. Answer a final question to end the game. Here using all your previous answers you are required to create a vision for the county of RUFshire.
  6. Following the event, the facilitators produce a report which extracts the key themes, findings and trends from the activity. This is delivered verbally or as a written report depending on the requirements of the players.

Why is it popular? What's good about it?

Rufopoly has become an unexpected and additional output from the project as it had huge appeal in summarising the complex research concepts we were grappling with into an effective and fun journey through a hypothetical rural urban fringe (Rufshire).

Rufopoly has grown to be one of the major successes of the research and has generated an unexpectedly strong positive response from users and mass media. It is currently being developed to help augment community resources for neighbourhood and local plans. Its overall simplicity and effectiveness within public fora have somewhat surprised the research team but it also shows a growing public reaction to computer based outputs. Here the talking and interaction around a board proved a valuable experience. The dice also provides a powerful metaphor limiting the issues and opportunities that people are able to speak on. This actually forces people to think outside their usual soap box issue and can be a useful conflict management approach. Significantly, Rufopoly also captures most of the evidence from our research and translates it into a fun-led activity that actually makes complex jargon and vocabulary accessible and can provide useful intelligence for community planning purposes.

The development of the Rufopoly learning tool for a conference output exceeded all expectations and has led to huge impact in national and local government, community groups, professional institutes as a community planning tool. Crucial to its success was the involvement of all members of the team in developing questions from their own research and policy experiences.

How does it fit with the wider project aims?

Rufopoly is a key output from the project. This learning game allows people to understand the material in our project through taking part in their own journey into a hypothetical RUF which contains questions based on our own evidence. The requirement to create their own vision based on the string of decisions they made in their journey brings a dimension into this output that goes far beyond the simple written or video policy brief and starts to connect with the participant within their own ideas and beliefs.

Many of our initial thought-pieces from team members stressed the need for the research to simplify and make more accessible the complex and elusive vocabulary that characterises both spatial planning and ecosystem approach frameworks. This principle became embedded in the research processes as one of the principal interdisciplinary drivers. Our response was to translate the common components of the Ecosystem Approach and Spatial Planning into three bridging concepts that allowed us to cross the planning- environment divide and crucially enable any person, regardless of background, to engage in fruitful discussion across boundaries and cliques thereby exposing different perspectives. This conceptual framework proved fertile ground for wider engagement processes as revealed by Rufopoly.

Where has it been?

To date over 300 people have seen Rufopoly demonstrated with over half of these playing the full game and giving us meaningful data to analyse.

Rufopoly has been played on the following occasions:

  • RELU conference (November 2011)
  • Level 7 postgraduate (7 December 2011)
  • Welsh Government (January 2012)
  • The Great Debate 2012 (26 January 2012) a partnership between Professional Institutes for the built environment (RTPI, RICS, RIBA)
  • Birmingham City University students Level 5 undergraduate (5 March 2012)
  • Staffordshire County Council Cabinet members (9 May 2012)
  • RTPI (24 May 2012)
  • Professional and community groups (30 May 2012)
  • Scottish Government (June 2012)
  • TechFest (June 2012)
  • SURF Interreg conference (28 June 2012)
  • Birmingham City University RESCON (July 2012)

New developments

September – December 2013: Working with Professor Richard Wakeford (Visiting Professor, BCU) and colleagues from the University of Nebraska, an American version of Rufopoloy has been developed.  Termed 'Plainsopoly', it has been designed to capture the key planning issues facing Nebraska. A press release highlights the development. A joint paper is currently under development.

The rufopoly game format has also led to Alister introducing the idea of a game for consultation as part of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEPs spatial plan consultation. Termed the 'game of growth', it was the centre piece of the various LEP consultation events in November/December 2013. The LEP's innovative approach led to a Highly Commended award in the Strategic Planning category for the first ever Placemaking awards, held at the British Museum, January 2014.

Alister Scott has also become part of a LEADER Steering Committee for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Malmo. A Swedish version of Rufopoly is now being created following the visit of Collier and Scott (team members of the Relu project on the rural urban fringe) in January 2013. This project is trying to use the Rufopoly format for exploring the rural urban fringe in Sweden with professionals and community groups.

Alister is running a workshop for the Department of Communities and Local Government staff in London on February 14 2013.

What have people said about it?

Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental and Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University, and Principal Investigator of the project, explains:
“In the real world policy makers and planners are facing massive challenges in trying to accommodate the competing economic, community and environmental needs. The arena where this battle is most apparent is called the rural-urban fringe.

“The current planning debate in the national media over the future of our towns and countryside demands that we have an informed debate about the kind of society we want and this game provides one tool to help achieve this. In the current debate many public are excluded due to the complex language, acronyms and voluminous material. Rufopoly helps the public engage using simple language across Spatial Planning and the Ecosystem Approach in a fun way through dice and a hypothetical situation which creates an interesting dynamic which forces people to think outside their usual areas”.

Read more:

Playing Around in the Rural Urban Fringe, Birmingham City University news, Thursday 1 December 2011.

Playing Around in the Rural-Urban Fringe, Government Gazette, 18 October 2012

Rufopoly and the Media

Planning - the board game. Researchers at Birmingham City University have created a game to help explore the issue of protecting the greenbelt. The game, Rufopoly, challenges players to balance the needs of urban and rural areas in the fictitious county of Rufshire. Alister Scott, professor of spatial planning at Birmingham City University, and director of the project, says:

"The current planning debate in the national media over the future of our towns and countryside demands that we have an informed debate about the kind of society we want and this game provides one tool to help achieve this. In a combination of classic strategic board games like Risk and Monopoly, communities, agencies and policy makers can role play these complex decisions in a fun but in a very realistic way”.

The Guardian, Society Daily, 9 December 2011