Working together easily

Scientist in Kiel develops the COLLAB board game for interdisciplinary research


Answering complex global questions requires interdisciplinary teamwork. But what does good teamwork outside of your own discipline look like? Which hurdles – or stereotypes – do researchers need to overcome? And what makes them curious about the methods used in other fields? Silja Klepp, Professor of Human Geography at Kiel University (CAU) and Johanna Barnbeck, artistic researcher from Berlin, were motivated by these and other questions. They developed a game as part of their joint project, Interdisciplinary Games, which brings team members from different scientific cultures closer together in their research groups.

The cooperative board game, COLLAB, can be played as a traditional game or digitally, and aims to inspire a fun exchange. Cards spread across the board to reflect and discuss, together with event cards, provide a change of perspective. Questions and instructions ranging from “What is your favourite tool and why?”, or “How is the role of science discussed in society in your discipline?” and even “The lab blows up. Go back three spaces” are sometimes funny and sometimes more serious. The aim of the game is to improve the communication between the scientists taking part, but also to identify their differences and similarities. “We should take the time to get to know other disciplines and their different ways of creating science, especially at the start of an interdisciplinary project or proposal. It’s fun, and it also means we can work better together and avoids lots of misunderstandings later on. Plus we learn a great deal about our own subject culture,” said Silja Klepp.

From beta phase to finished board game

During the beta phase, the game was first tested on university members and selected research groups. And so it came about that Dr Tanja Bogusz, Professor of the Sociology of Social Disparities at the University of Kassel, used COLLAB for her workshop on “Doing Biodiversity. Experimental knowledge transformation for a sustainable future” at the Universität Hamburg. The game was used in the so-called interdisciplinary learning chambers, which aimed to stimulate discussion between participants from different research fields within biodiversity. “The questions were very good at inspiring interdisciplinary exchange. Everyone felt encouraged to talk about their own specific work. This quickly identified the methods and challenges in the various disciplines. It was great that we all started to contemplate together, quickly – and were able to do so in an open, friendly way thanks to COLLAB."

Visually, the game is inspired by Bauhaus aesthetics, a school of design which is famous for its interdisciplinary way of working. “During the game, a visual representation of the process is produced which later reminds the players of the exchange. This looks different after every game – just like interdisciplinary research always looks different,” explained Johanna Barnbeck and added that “It was important to us that we were also able to promote artistic and scientific cooperation. This area has a lot of potential and there is normally not much mutual knowledge of subject cultures and methods. COLLAB enables teamwork at an equal level.” The game is available in German and English as an open source version, and you can choose between the printed or online version, which can be set up using freely available web tools. You can pre-order a climate-neutral, colour version made of cardboard from the project website.

The game project was implemented with support from the CAU, the DenkRaum initiative, the Spread the Nerd agency in Berlin and the CAU priority research area Kiel Marine Science (KMS).

Manifesto for good interdisciplinary collaboration

The two creators of the game hope that COLLAB may also be able to stimulate a paradigm shift in interdisciplinary research. This is why social scientist Silja Klepp and artistic analyst Johanna Barnbeck prefixed the game with a manifesto for good interdisciplinary cooperation which is mainly based on their own experiences. It reflects on the most important factors within interdisciplinary project work, from the willingness to put the time in, along with the courage, trust and expectations, right through to the financial resources. It says, for example, that “interdisciplinary collaboration requires courage, because it initially involves more uncertainty than research within one’s discipline. How can we create an inviting, reassuring, and sustainable atmosphere that makes people curious about each other?” Another aim here is also to make working groups and project groups a discrimination-free space. Silja Klepp said “Interdisciplinary work can be a pain or it can be fun. COLLAB can help get people talking and promote joint reflection of the structures and disciplines. This is vital for successful and exciting collaboration.”

More about COLLAB
The manifesto

Collab game
© Erris Huigens

The COLLAB board game is based on Bauhaus aesthetics and the playing field looks different after each game.


Event card
© Erris Huigens

Cards spread across the board to reflect and discuss, together with event cards, get players talking about their research disciplines.


© Jürgen Haacks, Uni Kiel/Andre Wunstorf

COLLAB developers Silja Klepp and Johanna Barnbeck.


Prof. Dr. Silja Klepp
Department of Geography


Press contact:

Anna-Kristina Pries
Sachgebiet Presse, Digitale und Wissenschaftskommunikation