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Making the board: participatory game design for environmental action


The US state of Arizona is historically known as a rich source of helium-bearing gas, and market pressures have renewed interest in extracting helium throughout the state’s Holbrook Basin. In response, a group of concerned residents emerged to educate the public and engage with regulators. However, the obscurities of the helium industry and regulatory frameworks complicated the group’s efforts. This paper details a participatory action research project called Helium Futures, a co-designed serious board. We argue that Helium Futures generated capacity for engagement by collaboratively distilling industry and regulatory perspectives, as well as resulted in a device for enrolling allies. Helium Futures, furthermore, highlights how empowerment occurs when situated expertise is accounted for in design-oriented action research. Findings from the project inform research on the public understanding of extraction industries, as well as work studying the impacts of participatory games on public understandings of environmental science.

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The authors wish to thank CivicFutures students Bailey Reynolds, Caitlyn Hendricks-Costello, Sakshi Hegde, and Noa Bruhis, as well as Vicki Barg of NFAZ, for conducting backgroundresearch informing Helium Futures. We further thank Caitlin Caldwell of NFAZ for contributing artwork to the game. Printing and distribution of Helium Futures was supported by a CivicEngagement Grant from ChangeMaker at Arizona State University.

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Correspondence to Kirk Jalbert.

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Ball, K., Jalbert, K. & Test, L. Making the board: participatory game design for environmental action. J Environ Stud Sci 11, 12–22 (2021).

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  • Serious games
  • Public engagement in science
  • Communities of practice
  • Helium extraction
  • Arizona