Frank Leoné
Frank Leoné

Card game for Recognition and Rewards: 'Making charged topics discussable'

Having valuable conversations with academic colleagues in an accessible way, about themes that usually remain beneath the surface. This is possible with mmmAcademia, a new card game that promotes dialogue and reflection on Recognition and Rewards. 'This is a way to discuss what working in academia is like at the moment and how it could be.'

Frank Léoné, assistant professor of Artificial Intelligence, is open about it. The creator and designer of mmmAcademia remembers well how his idea for this card game came up about three years ago. This happened when he was theme leader for Teacher Development and Well-being at the Radboud Teaching and Learning Centre. At the time, he was a member of the Recognition and Rewards Committee at Radboud University. 'Back then that committee wasn't really representative', he recalls. 'Initially, it mainly included professors, a dean and associate professors, not the main target groups that have to deal with a lack of Recognition & Rewards.'

According to Léoné, partly because of this, difficult issues, such as failing leadership, abuse of power and the situation of starting academics at the bottom of the ladder, were only discussed to a limited extent in this committee. 'In addition, our focus was primarily on drawing up the vision, with no room for stirring up the conversation about Recognition and Rewards in the organisation. An open discussion about this between colleagues is really important: that's how you come to changes that are being supported. That's why I developed this card game. The choice for a card game was deliberate: it promotes an accessible dialogue without digital distraction and can be used flexibly in many work situations.'

Lowering the barrier

During the development of the cards, Léoné listened to various colleagues at Radboud University, during conversations and play sessions. The end result is a card game consisting of 55 thought-provoking quotes about situations related to Recognition and Rewards, each with two similar-looking reflection questions. 'This is a way to discuss what working in academia is like at the moment and what it could be like,' Léoné explains. 'For example, the first question focuses on own experiences and feelings and the second question focuses on possible solutions. The illustrations on the cards look cheerful and were made by Daan van den Nieuwenhof, a medical student who has since graduated. A critical note is that the topics on the cards are sometimes experienced as charged. Yet it is important for Recognition and Rewards to discuss these more charged topics. No matter how fraught some of the topics on the cards are, I am convinced that sometimes you need friction and emotion to achieve substantial changes for Recognition and Rewards. With the descriptions on the cards, I hope to lower the barrier to have such meaningful conversations.'

Open work culture

Examples of cards with more difficult topics are those about social safety, dysfunctional managers and the relationship between academic and professional services staff. Léoné hopes that, within the academic world, the card game will contribute to a more open and safe work culture, where we confront each other when necessary. 'It would be great if the game is not only played in departments where Recognition and Rewards already goes well, but that it is also played where it is most needed. I hope that in those situations PhD students, for example, will play the game and come to shared beliefs together, which will then be discussed with their professor. Within Radboud University, the game is now available for free and is already spread out over various tables near coffee machines. Hopefully, this will allow the conversation about Recognition and Rewards within the university to really get going.  

Secretly, I'm also curious what the effect would be if, for example, the game is played within the Recognition and Rewards Steering Group and within the Executive Board. What stories and questions will the game lead them to? The subject of Recognition and Rewards is extremely broad, while it is often interpreted quite narrowly: as if everyone wants to become a professor. The card game tries to break with that image.'

Until now, Léoné has received positive reactions. 'I have already heard from several colleagues that the card game has led to valuable conversations and new insights. The game has also ended up at a number of other universities. Of course, I am still open to feedback, positive and negative: the game is also a learning path for me. Recognition and Rewards is all about how you interact with each other and that you feel the space to confront each other in the workplace if necessary. If we achieve that, a self-correcting mechanism will be created on the entire theme of Recognition and Rewards. I hope that this card game will contribute to that.'

Interested in more information about how mmmAcademia works exactly and how you can get this card game? Read more...