About the festival

On 25 September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations agreed a global agenda, unprecedented in its scope and ambition. If successful, the attainment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will represent a leap forward in the fight against poverty and inequality, as well as the struggle for environmental sustainability.

The goals were agreed after a global consultation between the UN, governments, civil society, youth groups, business, academia and millions of citizens. Taken together, they represent a holistic agenda, which can only succeed if policy areas often deemed to be in opposition can be reconciled. The Global Festival of Ideas will allow participants a unique opportunity to chart new thinking on how to overcome seemingly conflicting, and contradictory, objectives.

The Global Festival of Ideas – the world’s first playable policy conference

The Global Festival of Ideas is the first in a series of annual forums, hosted by the UN SDG Action Campaign and supported by the Federal Government of Germany. The Festival brings together leading thinkers, policy-makers and civil society, together with gaming experts and policy simulators, to deliver the world’s first playable policy conference.

Too often, policy-makers focus on one development objective, at the expense of others. But in the SDG era, a radically different approach must be found: we must be able to promote economic growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability; we must challenge inequality and exclusion in a rapidly globalising world; and we must find ways of protecting individuals and communities caught up in conflict or affected by mass migration; we must deliver effective health services, even though resources are limited.

By transforming participants from passive delegates to active players, the Festival will provoke new thinking on these global challenges, involving policy-makers, the private sector, investors and civil society. The interactive event will feature:

  • High level plenary sessions, presentations, discussion and debates to share critical ideas, showcase success and hear from keynote speakers.
  • Real time problem-solving through policy simulations and participatory games based on interactive technology, built by expert game designers.
  • Innovation hubs that showcase the work of wide variety of organisations.

Each of the three days will focus on a particular development challenge. These are:

How can we challenge inequality and exclusion in a rapidly globalising world?

Tackling inequalities

  • Lining up the politics with policy

This track addresses two key ‘crunch points’ or trade-offs countries and other actors need to confront to further an equity-based agenda: political opposition and the circumstances of groups who have been ‘left behind’ by globalisation. Our first session, ‘Lining up the politics with policy, is focused on how countries have been able to advance inequality reducing policies in the face of elite and other vested interests which have an incentive to forestall change. An interactive panel discussion will debate experiences ranging from the removal of fossil fuel subsidies in Indonesia to women’s land rights in Sub-Saharan Africa; a policy-simulation game will enable participants to grapple with the key trade-offs efforts at reducing inequalities face; and a ‘knowledge café’ will invite participants to share their thoughts and experiences on how inequalities can be reduced when a source of opposition is government itself.


  • Ensuring no one is left behind in an era of disillusionment
  • A compendium of solutions

Our second session, ‘Rethinking globalisation that works for all’, seeks to address the disillusionment associated with globalisation, which has been a focal point for mobilisation for several years and has had particularly profound consequences this past year. The aim is to foster a better understanding of who is being ‘left behind’ and why, and what can be done to address their concerns. A dialogue between a polling company representative and civil society activist will focus on why some people report disillusionment, how these perceptions map on to realities and how they can be addressed, while an interactive game will address trade-offs involved in trying to compensate various groups for negative effects. And in a series of lightening talks, speakers (and interested participants) will deliver two-minute interventions focused on possible solutions.

How can we promote economic growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability?

World Food Programme logo

This session invites participants to focus on how countries can advance an agenda that promotes both economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Resource efficiency

  • Feeding an increasing world population with less resources in a time of climate change
  • Removing barriers to development of a circular (resource-efficient) economy

The first session addresses how critical natural resources – water, food and energy – can be used more efficiently. Water and food are vital resources that are increasingly threatened by climate change, pollution, demographic pressures and unsustainable agricultural practices, while energy efficiency is widely regarded as a powerful driver of sustainable production and consumption. For each of these resources, through diverse formats, participants will engage with the scale of the problem and discuss solutions.

Unlocking green economy opportunities 

  • Innovations and policy shifts being adopted by leading countries
  • Priorities for shifting towards a new climate and green economy

The second session seeks to identify practical steps to promote a green economy agenda. While the potential of green growth is well established, it requires advances on several fronts. These include the need to expand renewable energy in line with Paris Protocol Commitments, to develop a ‘circular economy’ through the recycling, reuse and recovery of waste materials, and to advance natural capital accounting methods which take into account the costs of ‘business as usual’ practices on the environment and reorient the economy towards sustainable development.

How can we protect individuals and communities caught up in shocks and disruptors?

World Food Programme logo

Shocks come in a wide range of forms: exogenous macroeconomic shocks such as severe food and commodity price fluctuations; sudden shocks ranging from homicides to landslides, to conflict and epidemics; and slower onset shocks such as climate change. Governments need to be resilient to them all, especially as countries which are experiencing one are more vulnerable to the impacts of other types. This track is focused on how governments can address sudden onset shocks while also dealing with macroeconomic fluctuations. The aim is to explore how new data sources and analytical approaches can help reduce community and individual exposure, and enhance people’s ability to adapt.

Disruptors to development     

  • Progress in the face of multiple shocks
  • Conflict, food insecurity and migration

The first session in the track focuses on economic crises and violence as disruptors, and on their wide-reaching effects on physical safety, food security, population movement, and human development broadly. In a high-level panel discussion, experts will discuss these issues, alongside a ‘data dive’ that enables participants to engage directly with data on the experiences of those fleeing armed conflicts, and a policy simulation game.

Disruptors to development

  • Utilizing the latest technology to transform safety nets and social protection
  • Data and technology in humanitarian crises

The second session of the track focuses on the potential and pitfalls of new technologies to rewire the responses of governments, donors and civil society organisations, including new generations of early warning systems and safety nets. In this track, through diverse approaches – a plenary discussion, policy simulation and data dive – participants will analyse the requirements, risks and rewards of leveraging new data sources and technologies to provide more timely and targeted assistance and support.

Each day will also draw on the latest research and data on economic, demographic, technological and political transitions.

The playable conference

A live simulation game will lie at the heart of the festival, engaging participants in the trade-offs at the heart of SDG implementation. It will foster practical collaboration, provide a safe space to trial ideas and offer an opportunity to reveal assumptions. Participants will be asked to work together to make decisions on critical areas of resource allocation, with the implications of these decisions (on progress towards the goals) transmitted to others through data, audio-visual installations and the festival plenaries. The game will interact with the conference sessions and be available for all delegates to play.