Another serious game for teaching sustainability that I like: the Climate Fresk

As you’ve seen from my recent Biodiversity Collage posts, I have gotten into serious games as tools for teaching. Today, I am reading up on a different game, the Climate Fresk (which I also got introduced to when I got to play it in a workshop led by my awesome colleague Léa Lévy, and which she and colleagues have evaluated as teaching tool in our context). Let’s see what experiences other people have had with it!

A little bit of context: Climate Fresk is a serious game, developed by a French NGO and based on the sixth IPCC report, with the aim to provide quality climate education. The 3-hour game is led by facilitators, and after playing the game and an additional 3-hour training, everybody can become a facilitator themselves, which is hoped to lead to exponential spreading of this learning opportunity, leading to a social tipping point where enough people world-wide are serious and knowledgeable enough to take action towards a low-carbon world (See also

Climate Fresk consists of three phases. The first phase is a collaborative card game in which participants arrange cards (each describing one aspect of the IPCC report with a graphic and some text) on a large piece of paper in a way that lets them tell a coherent story about how they are connected to each other. In several rounds, more and more cards are added, bringing in new aspects and increasing complexity. This phase works really well to give a good overview over the science and how different aspects are connected as causes and effects and potentially feedback loops.

In the second phase, it’s all about creativity to add the “heart” aspect (see one of my favourite models to think about sustainability teaching here) and connect to the topic emotionally — drawing on the large paper in some relation to the cards. I feel that this phase currently doesn’t reach its full potential yet, because the way it is being introduced (at least in the workshop that I have attended, and in the Nordin & Wahlström (2022) and Spyckerelle, (2022) descriptions), it’s more about “prettifying” than about actually annotating the laid-out cards in a meaningful way so that participants can look at photographs of the product weeks later and re-tell the story and connections (which is also a really important aspect of this phase).

And the last phase is about debriefing, which is obviously also hugely important: First, eliciting descriptions of their emotions from the participants, and then coming up with ideas to work towards a low-carbon future. This phase I am also not a huge fan of yet (at least not in the way it was done in the workshop that I have attended), since it is very easy to fall into just repeating stuff we all know (“fly less”, “eat less meat”, …), or to focus too much on technical solutions (big danger at a technical university!) for low-carbon lives, without thinking through the consequences on, for example, biodiversity.

So how did the Climate Fresk work out for others? First up, two Swedish test cases, both published in Master theses.

Nordin & Wahlström (2022) investigate how participating in a Climate Fresk workshop for employees at a large technical company led to behavior change and worked towards the company’s goal of their employees becoming “climate ambassadors”. They find that playing Climate Fresk helped employees gain a better understanding of climate change as well as, after often going through a lot of sadness, mostly a feeling of empowerment to participate in the company’s strategy. Having participated in the workshop made it easy to talk to other employees about climate change, whether they had participated in the same workshop or another one at a different time.

Interestingly, it also reveals internal conflicts in the sense that some employees feel the company isn’t really credible in their efforts, since they are a high carbon emitter themselves despite all their efforts and rhetoric to the contrary.

A recommendation by Nordin & Wahlström (2022) is to conduct follow-up workshops to keep the momentum going, keep the new-found connections alive, and funnel it all towards actual action within the company and beyond. Another one is a “climate ambassador track” where especially motivated employees can continue to meet and develop together, and have a feeling of efficacy and community. I think this is a really great suggestion, for example including the participant who felt inspired to become a facilitator themselves after participating in the Climate Fresk workshop.

Spyckerelle (2022) investigates the intentions of Climate Fresk facilitators in Sweden, and to what extent and why the participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and engagement are influenced. First, they develop and discuss a framework for successful educational games (based on Garris et al., 2002 and Cantell et al., 2019 — aaaaah, that’s why Mirjam just read those articles! :-D) and conclude that the Climate Fresk should work well for learning outcomes relating to understanding the science of climate change and developing intentions for actions, however, the potential for behavior change and long-term effects on attitude changes are small (mostly because it is a short, one-off intervention). In focus group interviews and with questionnaires, they then find that their predictions based on their framework mostly overlap with what participants and facilitators report. They also find that almost 1/3rd of the participants leave the workshop with very negative emotions (despite the facilitators’ best efforts to the contrary). They also raise the point that the game-based approach is developed with a certain demographic and cultural background in mind, and therefore (not surprisingly) does not work equally well in other contexts.

The recommendation that Spyckerelle (2022) gives at the end of the thesis are largely in line with what we also think based on our own experiences with the Climate Fresk: The debriefing phase needs a serious remodel (and probably more time) so that participants come to a place where they actually feel empowered. This might mean that the focus needs to be on even more local actions, on network building with the participants in the room then and there, or other concrete follow-ups. Having more than one meeting with the Climate Fresk being the kick-off, but then other parts to actually help participants connect and get into action, seems to be a good idea. Other recommendations include coming up with a simpler version of the Climate Fresk for adults (I don’t think that’s necessary in my context) and to encourage participants to become a facilitator themselves (which, of course, provides them with a network and a concrete action).

Now on to other contexts:

Rouvrais et al. (2022) describe how they use an online version of the Climate Fresk workshop as inspiration for the design of curricula that are resilient to our tumultuous times, where things suddenly had to (and might have to do so again) move online; yet us still wanting to give students opportunities for meetings with other cultures and perspectives. And I can totally see that an online Climate Fresk workshop might be a good experience of international collaboration — when i did my Biodiversity Collage facilitator training, one of the things that left the biggest impact on me was meeting people from, for example, Pakistan and UAE, and connecting with them over the shared goal of “saving the world” and realizing how much we actually do have in common. So yes, I totally see how the online Climate Fresk can serve as best practice in that sense (provided you manage to bring together such a diverse international audience)!

Leimbach & Milstein (2022) use the Climate Fresk to “establish[…] an atmosphere of collective intelligence, shared accountability, and affect-based learning” in a re-designed Master program on Environmental Management. They make claims about a lot of positive outcomes, but don’t share evidence for it.

And then there are lots of other articles mentioning the Climate Fresk as good practice examples, but without elaborating on that any further. So it looks like lots of people do like it and believe in its usefulness (which is also supported by the fact that the number of facilitators seems to grow pretty much exponentially), but that there is not a lot of evidence around whether it actually works or not. Plenty of work still left to do! :)

Leimbach, T., & Milstein, T. (2022). Learning to change: Climate action pedagogy. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 62(3), 414-423.

Nordin, B., & Wahlström, M. (2022). Games for Change: Exploring the Effects of the Game Climate Fresk at Schneider Electric and the Climate Engagement Potential for Employees. Retrieved from on 30.6.2023

Rouvrais, S., Liem, I., Audunsson, H., & Proches, C. G. (2022, June). If you please, draw me a resilient curriculum!. In CDIO 2022: 18th CDIO International Conference.

Spyckerelle, M. (2022). Game-based approaches to climate change education: a lever for change? The case of Climate Fresk-Sverige. Master thesis in Sustainable Development at Uppsala University, No. 2022/17, 93 pp, 30 ECTS/hp. Retrieved from on 30.6.2023

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