Game changers for change agents: Sustainable Development Goals in dialogue (ChaCha)

Picture: Zeilenwerk

Implementing the UN’s 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals is urgent – and complex. This is evidenced, for example, by Swiss voter rejection of a new CO2 law which would have taxed airline tickets and raised petrol prices: measures intended to help reduce Switzerland’s greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of such measures on low-income groups was the subject of hefty discussion ahead of the vote – and a major reason for its failure at the ballot box in June 2021. To many people’s surprise, the no-voters included a large number of 18- to 29-year-olds – a total of 38 percent, according to a post-referendum survey.

The example shows how important it is to break down the complexity of conflicting sustainability challenges – especially for the younger generation, who are often hesitant to vote but will bear the brunt of unsustainable development. There is a need for experimental spaces in which young people can learn to address impacts they may perceive as confusing and negative, and to navigate a demanding policy-making system. The young generation, while very well aware of the enormous environmental, economic, and social challenges of our time, is often overwhelmed by their complexity and dimensions. Moreover, young people usually lack the political experience needed to form a critical majority.

School students develop sustainability solutions

This is where the project “Game changers for change agents – Sustainable Development Goals in dialogue (ChaCha)” comes in. It supports high school and vocational students (in Switzerland: Sekundarstufe 2) in looking at sustainability challenges through a systemic lens and recognizing conflicting goals and positive co-benefits. It will also help them to understand and make sense of the latest research findings on transformation for sustainable development.

Based on the example of CO2 legislation in Switzerland, the students learn to negotiate and actively contribute to the goals of the 2030 Agenda, using a digitally supported simulation game and engaging in dialogue with political decision-makers and scientists. What they learn will enable them to identify new scopes for action to develop viable and potentially transformative sustainability solutions.

Four modules for a forward-looking dialogue

The dialogue between students, researchers, and decision-makers takes place in four modules:

  1. Digital simulation game
    The game simulates a realistic situation in which students face relevant sustainability-related conflicts of interest. Supported by the project team, teachers introduce their students to the 2030 Agenda. The learning objective is to build up basic knowledge about the 2030 Agenda and to understand the role of Switzerland in this global endeavour. Subsequently, the students immerse themselves in complex sustainability issues via a digital game and acquire the ability to voice their concerns using scientifically sound arguments.
  2. Transformation knowledge for the 2030 Agenda
    Equipped with new knowledge and inspired by valid arguments, the students discuss with scientists how to find ways for transformation and what it takes to set the course for sustainable development in Switzerland.
  3. Debate between science, policy, and society
    Thus prepared, the students invite policymakers to a school-level dialogue between science, policy, and society. The aim is to listen to and understand the students’ concerns, as well as to discuss policy solutions with them.
  4. Dissemination
    These dialogues are reported on publicly through various channels, achieving a multiplier effect.