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“Prize-winning plan for Nature Room at Sloterplas leads to tensions over zoning plan” 

Gemeente Amsterdam

Practice conversational skills in online game

Trainees at the Municipality of Amsterdam learn a variety of different communication skills during their traineeship. Communicating effectively, giving feedback, reflecting... But what if you’ve finished your traineeship and you suddenly find yourself in a tense conflict of interest between an alderman, the chairman of lobby group, and a disgruntled entrepreneur? How do you deal with that? In an online game, we simulated the situation together with Green Oranges and our own actors, so that the trainees could practise beforehand. The game is on(line)!  

The Municipality of Amsterdam was keen to challenge its Construction and Use trainee pool by using a real-life case study to refresh the conversation skills they had learned. Specially for the trainees, Frans wrote a suitable challenge for the game (an abridged version of which is found below):  


“The Municipality of Amsterdam has held a competition for entrepreneurs. The winning submission is a plan to create a “Nature Room” at the Sloterplas, a lake on the west side of the city. Not only is the winning entrepreneur happy, of course; also the responsible alderman is pleased with the plan. Unfortunately, the nature association ‘Friends of Sloterplas’ is less happy about the plan and has filed a formal objection... 


Meanwhile, the winning entrepreneur has been enthusiastically drafting plans to build the Nature Room, but it turns out that these are in conflict with the zoning plan for the area and with various laws and regulations. As it was the winning plan, it would be very awkward to suddenly have to reverse the decision. The situation is threatening to get out of hand now that the nature association is threatening to feed the whole story to the media and take further legal action... 


You have received this file from your team leader with the request to engage with all stakeholders to transform their differences into commonalities in connection with the Participation Act. Your team leader also mentioned that it is important to avoid any loss of face for the Municipality (read: the alderman). You are to schedule an online appointment with all stakeholders and start the conversation.” 

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Prior to the start of the game, trainees received a comprehensive sketch of the situation, as well as background information on the parties involved and additional documents on the realisation of the plan. To what extent can you prepare for a tense conversation with different stakeholders?  


We facilitated the game in a Zoom meeting. We divided the trainee pool and supervisors into three break-out rooms, each of which was visited by the various stakeholders, one at a time. For each round of the game, the trainees were given 20 minutes to engage in conversation with the visiting stakeholder, 10 minutes to evaluate the conversation with the facilitator and 10 minutes to prepare the conversation for the next round.... You read that correctly! The ability of the trainees to switch gears was put to the test! After the three rounds of the game, the trainees were given time to think about what they wanted to say to each of the stakeholders in a “closing statement”. They were then given 5 minutes to share their closing statement with each stakeholder.  


Playing this game was a lot of fun for the participants, but the learning effect for the trainees also turned out to be considerable. During the closing statements, for example, one of the trainees said: “Compliments to all of you, including the actors. We were given a case we could prepare for and that really relates to our work.” Deborah from Green Oranges was also surprised at how quickly real conversations took shape and at how fast the participants responded to and applied all the feedback and comments they received.   


To make the lessons learned more concrete, all trainees were given one minute at the end of the game to put into words what they learned and what they wanted to work on going forward. Examples of what they said include the following:  

“What I have learned is that I don’t always have to choose the most formal route, since an informal approach can sometimes be more conducive to managing a conversation well.” 

“For me, the most important lesson is that I can sometimes pay more attention to the relationship but also that it doesn’t always have to be about the content.” 

“What I have learned is to clearly communicate my purpose, to be careful not to make commitments too quickly, and to be more empathetic in certain areas.” 

 Would you like to develop the communication skills of the people in your organisation through a game? Contact Frans at 

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