TerriStories, tale of a collective commitment
It all began in the late 90s, with the success of participatory mapping experiments (GIS) in the Senegal Valley (D’Aquino et al. 2002). Rural populations there confirmed their ability to rely on complex information to address their socio-economic and environmental challenges, but so effectively that they quickly pointed out the limitations of mere cartographic representation, whether to co-construct operational sets of rules, anticipate constraints that are currently less visible but will intensify (population growth, expansion of cultivated lands, livestock increase, climate change...), and collectively develop effective strategies to achieve them autonomously afterwards: participatory mapping helps address emergencies, but the collective projection needed to go further cannot rely solely on the static and conjunctural information it provides.
In the era when the first researchers were using role-playing games (Barreteau 1998¹, Piveteau 1994²), the idea emerged to extend the experimentation of this tool for direct use by the populations of the Valley, to help them simulate possible futures and their own scenarios of solutions. The material used for these initial experiments was very basic (post-its on a map), but it was enough to initiate a collective foresight that would lead to concrete decisions for territorial planning (D’Aquino et al. 2003). This innovation, based on role-playing games, combined with others in France and elsewhere, led to the creation of an international scientific network, the Companion Modelling Network³.
The replication of the initial experiments demonstrates the tremendous impact they have on the participants, eliciting a genuine collective intelligence from which emerge solutions that are both original and operational (as they are tested and gradually improved during the simulations). These solutions are firmly rooted in the collective values that the participants themselves can place at the heart of the "game". Autonomous dynamics arise from this, which continue on their own beyond the sessions.
The young researchers and civil society participants who implement these initial experiments seen, beyond a tool, an approach (the way things are done to let participants play with their own knowledge and their own perspectives on the world, the focus on the emergence of autonomous and sustainable dynamics after the game) that excites them and that they want to share and disseminate. This is where the real adventure begins: transforming a partly intuitive way of doing things into a resource that can be used by everyone.
The tool, namely the game itself, was designed by Patrick D'Aquino, an agent of Cirad, between 2010 and 2014. The broader TerriStories approach, which extends beyond the tool itself (see above), was gradually co-constructed during the initial years of large-scale game use (2015-2016), thanks to the collective involvement of the NGO Enda-Pronat and the individual commitment of young researchers⁴, who are now among the experts in the approach.
This is how TerriStories gradually came into existence: its gameplay framework, the training methods for its facilitators, and the refinement of its participatory and political stance. After 2014 and an initial implementation at the nationwide scale by civil society in Senegal, the tool continued to spread to other countries and continents. This expansion was consistently propelled by a group of activists as much as experts, a group that also grew steadily over time.