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Organizational-activity Games

by S.B. Naumov, translated by M. Chumakin

(published in popular scientific journal Nature(Priroda), vol. #4, 1987, in Russian)



Game and scientific research? This conjunction might appear unexpected for those unaware of some certain game methods applications. What possibly might there be in common between impromptu, light, irresponsible, unreal game spirit and hard, thorough (to the point of causing headache) work of a scientist? As it turns out, sometimes we have to play in order to get better results in science.

Development Games

The development concept implies certain conscious, artificial component in the forces that change our Universe, as opposed to a naturally flowing evolution. Development is such a progressive world change, which we strive to perform in accordance with our core values, our objectives and programmes. The concept of development is one of the most important Organizational Activity Games (OAG, or OA Games) principles for both organizers and participators. OAGs are development games, as opposed to brainstorms or role-playing games usually aimed at handling certain concrete problems or situations. They were designed by a team of experts directed by G.P. Tschedrovitsky and based in R&D Institution on General and Pedagogical Psychology under the helm of the USSR Academy of Pedagogy. The first Game took place in 1979. Young as they are, the Games were successfully used in designing long-term programmes for urban development, in planning R&D, long-term programmes for large corporations, etc.

During the last seven years [the article is dated 1987] there were conducted about 50 big and over 100 small Games.

In order to understand how OA Games are related to science, let us look at how science can address current urgent issues about development works. As we can see, science is claimed to be double responsible: it is seen as responsible for its own future, its own development, and also for developing other walks of life that are looking to be guided by science in finding solid strategic solutions. This is what society expects. 

But: scientific knowledge is focused on the objects of our activity, not on the activity itself. Knowledge about activity objects allows to handle those objects, use them, even change, re-design them according to our objectives. Combining scientific and technical points of view made engineering and projecting possible. Can knowledge about our activity objects substitute knowledge about activity itself? Can knowledge about objects of scientific research give us the picture of the research itself?

Presenting activity in the form of its object is called modified, indirect, derived, secondary view. Can we use such a form [to present Nature]? Yes, we can, and we consistently do this. For example, our scientific view on the Universe is based on appreciating scientific knowledges. Well, we introduce some exceptions, like saying to know does not mean to be able to do; we also find ourselves heavily dependent on the increasing information flow Nevertheless, we are still able to do something! But this approach works when we deal with established fields of scientific and practical activity. And every time when we come across a field in the making, or when our objective is to change something or to develop, our knowledge about objects cannot help much, and we need direct knowledge about our activity, our Mind. This type of knowledge is called reflexive knowledge, because it allows performing reflection: a turn of the Mind from activity objects onto the activity itself.


A Spot for Metodologia

So, scientific approach does not suffice when we discuss strategies for individual and group creative activities and all the more it does not suffice when we address development. Every time we discuss similar topics theoretically, not just in terms of common sense and life experience, natural scientists borrow reflexive notions from other knowledge fields. Foremost, these notions are borrowed from filosofy and methodology.

Filosofical knowledge, as the knowledge about the most general laws on nature evolution, human praxis and reasoning, is not applicable directly to scientific practice. Filosofical knowledge cannot substitute special reflexive type research into various fields of our life, but it provides a solid base for such research.

Appreciating this situation was the reason for a boost in evolving of sciences of a new type in the 2nd half of the 20th century, such as sciences on reasoning and activity, and also emergence of activity approach, activity point of view. All the above evolved based on interdisciplinary research in cybernetics, systems research, activity theory, etc. The new filed of research was called methodological to emphasize its distinction from science of the traditional type and stress out its directedness towards designing means, methods, approaches to use in various fields of reasoning and activity. The field of methodological research has gradually got both organizational and content independence from filosofy and science by exercising its specific function. Today it is not a mere chain between filosofy and science, but a new separate historical cultural field of reasoning and activity. Methodological knowledge has a unique feature, which distinguishes it from any other knowledge: it can be used to reflect on reasoning about activity of methodologists. This is why we can connect the work process (constructing such things as means and methods of reasoning and activity) with reflecting on the mentioned process and further on with development. Methodological reasoning is able to research and design auto-poietic systems.

After reviewing the basic ideas above we can go back to OA Games. OA Games are methodological games that employ methodological approach in practicing target setting and problem solving by an all-types-of-experts inclusive team.


OA Games Initial Phase

Now we can try to reproduce the OAG general schema. At the very base we should have problem-setting circumstances found within a certain field of human praxis. By calling it problem we mean that it cannot be resolved neither within our current potential (our methods that we have here and now) nor even hypothetically (by applying all thinkable, best possible, ways anywhere else in space or time). If the problem can be resolved within any other known way, approach, then we do not need OAG, and other methods might be used instead (role-playing games, managerial consulting, etc.). This is why OAG organizers always assess very closely the order for the Game as whether it is genuinely, authentically unsolvable.   

One consideration: authenticity of being truly problematic, unsolvable with existing means is related to the tallness of the customers order for the Game. In other words, this assessment depends on whether the customer is ready to reach all reasonable limits in finding the solution; setting the limits defines the standards we will apply when deciding whether the found solution is what was really needed. It happens really rarely that development (of the customers inner state; development is the a must have component of the Game) is the only possible solution. At the same time we can turn every moment of our life and work into a need for development by setting unfeasible (by known ways and methods) goals.  

In order to find the solution we need to invite experts from various fields. And this is why:

-          problems like to live at the Sciences turn, intersection; there are usually several disciplines involved

-          concerned patrons are also organizers, engineers, developers, and other folks of real life, not just theoreticians

-          the team should include methodologists, Game technicians

In general: the teams staff should be very representative; we need representatives of all walks of life related to the problem.

The fact that we use a methodological approach in OAG does not mean that only methodologists can play. The Games plot has to include the idea of co-operation between methodologists and various practicing experts during setting the problem up and actually solving it. One might think that the wow to reach the highest possible standards implies that only luminaries or leaders from a certain field can participate.

And indeed, the Game organizers try to attract high-level experts. On the other hand, OAG is a game to identify and solve a problem; this is why the expertise level cannot be reduced to the amount of knowledge; equally important would be the ability to dump the known ways, to assimilate other participants skills and knowledge, to adequately assess the circumstances, to act when there is no previous experience to be guided by.


The Course of the Game

The first Game phase is the process of the team entering the problem and its circumstances. This is the phase of the participants self-determination, setting their own goal towards the big problem circumstances and small circumstances of the game itself. The team has to test how solid its knowledge, notions, work methods are, double check how authentically urgent the problem is, get ready to act at the maximum of its claim level. This phase allows reproducing the circumstances of the big problem within small Game area (relatively small, as there are usually 60-70, up to 150 or even 200 participants). The ability to see the circumstances in this perspective and to feel their concrete tense relations is one of the first Game results.

One of the most basic OAG requirements is a must-outline-the-problem-theoretically part at every Game step. This is considered really important: we need it in order to be able to start scientific per se reasoning analysis. OAGs are reasoning Games, Games where the problems are outlined and solved theoretically. This is why a lot of stress is put on working with schemata, figures. They are a must for modern reasoning forms.

The first phase has to finish with a clear understanding that there is a gap between resources at hand and the objectives set. Psychologically it is an extremely tense and dramatic moment for the team, especially for novices (being warned is not the same as to find oneself within problem circumstances). This is the moment when the teams readiness and ability to move on greatly depend on how the Game technicians and the Game Coordinator act, which sets high standards for their interpersonal skills, not only for professional expertise. The same can be said about every participant. Development environment is a test field for conformity of our claims to what we actually do. The Game Coordinator cannot be responsible for this.

The content of the second phase distinguishes OAG from other ways of team creative work more than anything else. This phase differs sharply from the first phase in its purpose and content. And the second phase is extremely difficult for description at that. This writers extensive experience with describing the Games to those who have not experienced a big Game at least once tells him that it is practically impossible to render an adequate account of this phase. This is why lets restrict it to the most important inevitable outline.

From a methodological perspective the first phase implements potential for an object focused professional approach under the circumstances of self-determination and self-organization. The gist of the second phase lies in shifting the focus from object centered professional ways of reasoning and activity onto methodological ones, from various object centered points of view on the problem onto non-object and reflexive analysis of those approaches themselves, means for reasoning and understanding. The emergence of a problem within certain circumstances has to be viewed as related to the methods employed to deal with the problem.

As the result of that focus shift from the object onto the methods, ways to handle it, we should get two types of reflexive ideation: the concept of the activity itself and the concept of that activitys object (at this time the participants are introduced to the difference between object description in terms of object and in the shifted, non-object mode). The first type of ideation is called organizational-activity type, and the second one is called object-ontological type in the OAG terms. The Game specific is related to organizational-activity views, which fact is reflected by the Games name (OA Game). But this does not mean rejecting to employ the object-ontological plane. To be more exact, the methodological approach means to adequately relate, to interface these two types of ideation.

During the second phase we keep the requirement to work theoretically with schemata, but the schemata get a different content at this stage. Generally, participants can present their reflexive understanding by using any known means/forms, but rarely they ready for this type of work. This is why increases the importance of methodological consultations; here we witness the second phase of integration between methodologists and professional experts. This phase has to result in the second reflexive ideation of the problem situation/circumstances; at this time it has to define the boundaries of the known and unknown concepts of methodological type. During this phase methodologists and game technicians are challenged at most. This might seem strange for those who participated in role games. The difference steps in because the OAG organizers do not know the right answer (or the model for the answer) in principle. OAG is based not on the right answer but on the correct formulation of the problem. But the correct problem formulation does not end by stating we are in the dead-end; it should demonstrate what exactly we need to solve the problem. If we succeed in such a formulation type, we get a platform to work on its solution, or, in most complicated cases, to work out a programme for additional research to solve it in the long run.

During the third phase they adopt the results for using within the big situation. Aiming at practical usage is one of the main OAG objectives. This does not contradict focusing on theoretical aspect. The basic Moscow Methodological Circle concepts that are being utilized by OAG, view Mind related to practical acting: Mind lays thinking basis for action and, in turn, receives encouraging and developing impulses after reflecting on performed action and understanding its results. These basic concepts through a new light on Mind, activity and the communication engaged in interwoven teamwork. To put it simply: what we used to call balance between the claim and the deed should become the balance between Mind, claim, and deed under the new scientific-methodological guidance. OAG are methodologically equipped to achieve this kind of balance.

This short article will hardly give the reader a thorough idea about OAG. A scientifically consistent account will require dwelling on many issues of methodology of science, on the Games in general (there is no general theoretical concept of the Game so far in spite of extensive game practice), on designing the Games, the most interesting accomplishments  The very list to do is long enough. Some of the issues are addressed in the list of reference literature. A lot is being worked on. As a way out, lets look at the Game with the help of this very article. It is difficult, almost impossible No problem! If this is the case, these are the circumstances to start a Game! Shall we start?


Part II

Setting the Game up

Author: Well, the start-up group is all here. This group includes the author and all those who did not abandon reading the article after the introduction into the topic. Let us analyze our initial situation.

Reader 1: What does this mean: to analyze situation?

Author: If you are asking what is to analyze situation in general at the level of the notion and abstract concept about situation and its analysis, then you are asking a wrong guy; this question should be addressed to a Methodologist. This matter is included into his job specs during the Game. But we do not have a Methodologist so far. Well, your question contains a prompt: we have to consider this position from the very beginning. But before this character revives and starts acting on its own, I should note that your question can be rendered practically rather than in its pure theoretical sense, something along these lines: What do we have to do now in order to analyze the situation? And this is a question that I can answer based on my experience with Games participation and setting them up. We have to identify the people inside our circumstances, understand what their interests are, what their initial purposes are, their points of view and their stands with regards to the Game organization. Evidently we are among those people, which means that we also have to determine our own stands. And this seems to be the best thing to start with. Our analysis has to end up with a clear vision of the Game setup (at least in general): we have to have its topic and objective precisely formulated, plus both its organizational project and Regulations outlined. Does this seem clear enough?

Reader 1: And who can assist you, double check with all these issues?

Author: Thank you for a second prompt. Certainly, all this is the job description of an expert on the Game setup; this person is usually called Game Technician(further on GT). So, here we get a second position (the next after Methodologist).

Reader 1: You are too fast to say we already have them. So far we have only the names for the positions. Who is able to take them? Is there any Game expert or a Methodologist among us, the start-up group?

Author: Could you, please, tell us about your vocation? (We ask this question every Game participant while getting acquainted).

Reader 1: I am a regular guy from a R&D department, with a PhD in Science; I have never studied any methodology, except for the University Filosofy course; and I have never participated in any role-play game or OA [organizational activity] game. (And this is why I decided to read this article). As a matter of fact, I am more interested in organizing scientific research, and not in any games. To be honest with you, even after I read the introduction, I hardly believe that we need any games at all. If you really want to know my mind, I am convinced that we have to commit that short time that we have to learn what we need to program scientific research, how to implement the research results, etc. There is really a whole bunch of issues to address, and anyone related to science will get interested. And instead of this you are drawing us into a weird jungle of questions about games. I might sound too abrupt, but I am just telling you my mind. 

Author: Thank you so much for this abrupt sketch of your POV. Within OAG we call this kind of act a participant self-determination. Without such a sincere participant self-determination we would not be getting a really real Game. BTW, one of the players said about the sincerity level in the Game: speak sincerely on the brink of being too outspoken. You gave us a good model for this type of action; I hope well be able to live up to this level of sincerity. And now Ill try to answer your question.

Game Technician: Sorry to interrupt you, but the question is within my job specs as a Game Technician [GT].

Reader 1: Who is talking? Where has this GT come from?

Author: It looks like someone has acquired this position.

Reader 1: What is the guarantee that this person can make it?

Author: There is no guarantee in the Game: I warned you about this from the very start.

GT: And we have to act based on the people we have. This makes one of the Games greatest rules: here and now! In other words: we have to use to its best what we actually have within the given time period. Here I am, one of participants, and I took this GT position. BTW, here are several words about my stand. I was trained as a geologist, now employed in R&D. I happened to participate in some Games as a layperson. Ive gained from them a lot personally. To name the core idea I got: I saw, really and fully comprehended that we can work in Science as a real team, which is an enormous resource to solve the most complicated problems. On top of that I changed my mind about game methods. To tell the truth, I went to the first Game only because I had an order from my boss. In order to attend the second Game I had to overcome a lot of obstacles, but I made it sure I participated because I wanted to master the Game Method. I took this GT position, because it meets my interests.

Reader 1: But do you have enough experience, expertise?

GT: Of course, I do not. This is why I am going to %color(blue play) this GT position. And this is, perhaps, one of the advantages of the game method: it allows acting even in cases when we are not ready from the regular organization POV. Lets compare our situation with what we have in kids games: when children play a voyage someone has to be captain. As you may guess, there is no trained qualified captain among them. So, one of the kids has to have guts to say Ill be the captain. If this does not happen, the game does not occur.

Reader 2: Ive been listening to your conversation and wondering: when will you set to business? You already do not have enough time for the Game itself, let alone getting ready for it. Is it not the high time to make a reflexive analysis to see where we are heading? And one more suggestion: let us elect the Game Coordinator who wont allow us to get distracted by issues of a second rate importance.

GT: What a beautiful suggestion! But there is another Game rule saying: those who suggest an idea have to implement it. So, now we have a Game Coordinator [GC]! How do we proceed, our dear GC?

GC: Lets start with a short reflexive stop. Who wants to start and take this question: what happened during all this time?

Reflexive stop

Reader 1: The answer is simple: we did not get to work, but just engaged into a conversation around it. At first the Author suggested to analyze our situation, then I asked a question, then it has been answered for a long time, there appeared new questions until you stopped it. I managed to figure something out about OA games, but we have hardly moved anywhere. And thats it.

GC: Mr. GT, could you, please, comment on this speech, sir? I have an impression, that if we just start recollecting and enumerating what we hear, it wont work very well. BTW, can we call what our esteemed colleague Reader 1 has just said a reflexive analysis? 

GT: This type of recollecting (everyone does this within his/her regular life) is not reflexion yet. Remember what the Methodologist said: reflexion has to spotlight our ways, means, structure of our reasoning and activity.

Reader 1: Have we performed any activity? We have been just talking, or, putting it in amore scientific way, engaged in communication.

GT: If this is the way you see it, could you, please, analyze its flux? In order to do this you might need to highlight the main participants stands, their objectives, language means of communication, etc. Its also important to determine if they reached mutual understanding, etc.

GC: Did I get it correctly that reflexive analysis depends on the participants POV? How can we get an objective view on what happened?

GT: Yes, you did understand it correctly, but there is a number of points to clarify. Reflexive analysis will not depend as much on the subjective participants POV, but rather it will depend on what physicists would call frame of reference with regards to which we register our actions. A change in the frame of reference will produce a different account on the activity. Once we figured out the participants frame of reference, we would be able to assess the correctness of the persons reflexion from his/her POV (or I would rather say standpoint). In particular, well be able to check how correctly this person determines his/her spot within that frame. Reflexion is, first of all, turning the whole Mind onto itself: both the frame of reference and ones spot within it. After that we can find positions occupied by other people within the same frame, and further on one can attempt to calculate frames of reference of those other people. The objective (the word complete is better here, because each true reflexive view is objective) view can be compiled as a complete set of private, relative views. One more important point: reflexive view depends on our objective; objectives determine the reflexion focus (we see what we want to).

GC): Your advice tells us that we are in a difficult situation. As I see it, you have to teach Game participants how to reflect. Just to make things easier, could you, please, perform reflexive analysis from your stand? And this is to employ your Game principle about initiative!

GT: Lets give it a try. I am a Game Technician, so I will assess our circumstances within a GT frame of reference. In order to assess that weve done within this frame of reference I have to answer some questions:

1.       are we advancing in our business of getting ready for the Game?

2.       are we using any components of OAG technique, which of them and how?

3.       has any of the participants switched into a Game attitude to view our circumstances?

Every question provides me with a specific projection of what is going on. Lets start with the 1st one

GC: But these questions are standard for any circumstances and any game. I would like to hear what kind of special events are taking place here today. How to do this?

Methodologist [Met]: In order to do this our esteemed colleague has to continue his self-determination. So far he has only determined his professional stand. This has cleared a lot, because from now on he has to view everything going on here from a certain professional POV, like through a specific prism. But this alone does not determine circumstances in full. In order for the GT to find himself within definite circumstances he has at minimum determine his own objectives. Objectives create the basis, carcass for any circumstances. Without objectives the events are loosing their form, become fluid, not stoppable. And GT knows this very well from his other games experience: those who drop into the Game without a purport and fail to gain one further on, those guys cannot be active, self-independent players. They cannot comprehend what is going on at all; all they get is flickering in their eyes. Friends and bosses will ask this person what happened there? in vain; they might hear a lot about his/her personal emotions, and nothing about the Game and its results. So, determining professional stand makes reflexion professionally determined, and determining objectives makes reflexion aim directed, situational, turns it into reflexion of an active participant. Could you, please, tell us about your objectives, esteemed GT?

Reader 3: Have you ever heard of anyone openly declare ones objectives?

Met: I have - at every Game. There is usually a specifically scheduled spot in the Game (and this time is long enough compared to the Game duration) so that every participant and Game group could determine their objectives. It is not a problem that someone might have a hidden agenda; the problem is that very often we do not have any objectives at all. And when asked to voice them, it turns out that on top of lack of objectives we do not have a skill to attain them. I constantly witness such a thing happening within Games. This brings around a comparison to how children draw at leisure sometimes: whatever comes out Lack of the skill to formulate objectives is one of major hindrances in switching to programming approach in R&D.

Reader 3: I cannot speak for everyone, but as far as I am personally concerned I am positive that I always know what I want; that is why I always have objectives.

Met: to want does not mean to have objectives. Organizational-activity approach implies that an objective is socially adopted and of some importance to society, as opposed to the psychological approach. This is why we consider a GT not as one of GTs with a private POV of his/her own, but as a representative of a certain professional community, an activity field, a certain group. According to this view on objectives I want is close to I must; not in the administrative vein, though, but as a result of assuming ones professional and personal obligations.

Reader 3: Do you think the psychological approach is worse? Perhaps it has advantages of its own, eh?

GC: Let us direct this question and the whole discussion for those who want it onto methodological advice/counsel area. (These types of counseling work at OA Games after hours comprise an important piece of the Games methodological equipment). Now the GT has the floor.

GT: I have more than one objective. From my OAG experience I know that in order to get most of the Game one has to have minimum 3 objectives: professional, Game and work related. Professional objectives I define based on my professional circumstances outside the Game. I would love to turn using Game into regular pattern while working on most complicated projects in our organization. Right now we are laying out our R&D program for the next 5 years and beyond. We have to assess our long-term strategy in developing our organization and industry as well. This is where the Game might be extremely useful to check on the major concepts and approaches. I want this Game to present the new approach to my colleagues. As for myself, I hope to boost my expertise with the Game technique. Game and work objectives are related to the inner Game area. My Game objective is to draw my readers into the Game. If this does not happen, this article will just imitate the Game via the communication of the characters created by the Author.

Reader 3: May I set it up as my objective shifting our conversation back into business where it belongs? This might push me out of the Game, but if I have a chance to play Ill be playing against you, GT!

GT: Your objective is acceptable for the Game, and in case you are able to keep it its going to be very useful for the Game. BTW, on my first Game one of participants made such a claim: my objective is to destroy your Game!

Reader 3: Was he dismissed from the Game?

GT: No, he was not.

Reader 3: Did he do a lot of harm?

GT: Actually he helped a lot: his heavy criticism helped us find very nice solutions how to rearrange the schedule when we got stuck in a difficult situation.

Reader 3: Well, since you had to rearrange the schedule this means that the first one was not used and this means that my destroyer colleague won.

GT: This idea fascinates you, you being a Game destroyer. Me being a GT, I know that there was neither a 1st Game nor a second one: there was only one Game per se, which ran into an obstacle. But the Game had 2 schedules: the 1st one designed before the Game was broken, and the 2nd one was designed during the Game to ensure its continuation and achieving its general objective. And one more detail: it is the game process, which is being programmed, not the Game itself. This is why one event substituted another during that Game, which allowed the Game itself to keep going. Game cannot be programmed, it needs a plot that will determine nomenclature of positions within the Game and options, variants for them to interact, so that any malfunction will be taken advantage of. 

Reader 1: Oh, at last I have got your policy, esteemed GT! You use every question to get us ready for the Game rather than seeking a straightforward answer. Before I got it, I always wanted to stop and set you back to business. Now I can reflexively assess our circumstances from your standpoint, and I see that we accomplished a lot judging from your objectives. And what we have not done? What vitally important about OAG is left out?

GC: BTW, where is our Author? I have not heard him for awhile. He drew us into this conversation, and keeps mum himself.

GT: I have been watching him: he amends the program and the article for the 4th time, and we broke it for the 5th time.

Author: Thats true. Instead of getting ready for the Game you arranged a round table answering readers questions, and instead of a reflexive stop you continued that round table event. The only reason for that is that you remembered your trade and Game objectives and forgot about your work objectives.

GC: Dear Author, you know too well that this is exactly how the first day usually goes by. But right now we are bit more ready for the Game. Well, as for the work objectives: how could we have them before you introduced the circumstances.

Author: Why should I introduce them? Oops, I forgot the Game rule: if you suggest something you have to do it yourself... Well, I have three suggestions. But it all depends on whether GT achieved any of his objectives. If yes, we can continue; we also might go ahead with discussing OAG theory within methodological counsel frame, or ...

Reader 1: In my view, ...

GC: Sorry, guys, our time is up. Let us listen to those who were silent so far. 


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