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Oasis Game Urban95

using the power of game to involve children and parents to co-design infant-supportive urban spaces

Photo of Niels
3 11

Written by

Name or Organization

Instituto Elos Brazil


The project is presented by Instituto Elos Brazil, in collaboration with Courage to Love Chicago, inspired and supported by the Urban95 program of the Dutch Bernard van Leer Foundation. Our idea focusses on running a pilot program of the successful methodology of the Oasis Game, focussed on infants, in the Auburn Gresham Community in Chicago.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Oasis Game Urban95 aims to apply the succesful Brazilian participatory community development tool 'Oasis Game', focussed on involving parents, children and other caretakers to co-create urban space from a infants perspective (max 95cms) addressing the lack of child-oriented and development friendly spaces and addressing the lack of use of creativity and input of local residents to co-create solutions in the Auburn Gresham Community in Chicago.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

The Oasis Game is a participatory community development methodology, applied worldwide in over 50 countries, engaging urban planners, citizens, architects and city managers to playfully design and construct public spaces, crawling in the skin of children by working on spaces until 95 cms height. The oasis game is played by a group of actors in a max 10 days process going through 7 steps, that has a social effect (stronger sense of community) and a surprising co-designed and created physical result such as designated leasure and learning streets, library of infant-toys and play-streets.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Science shows that early experiences shape the developing brain and set the foundation for later learning and health. We take it as given that adults make the decisions that shape children’s environment. But what if these adults experienced the world from the perspective of a child? How would their decisions change? Oasis Game Urban95 aims to implement an adapted version of the award winning social tool Oasis Game, focussed on community mobilization, intelligence and action to co-create urban spaces that are supportive to infants and their caretakers. It addresses the challenge of lack of designated safe spaces for infants in dense and impoverished communities worldwide and aims to take previous experience of implementation in Brazilian favela’s to the Auburn Gresham community of Chicago. The project has three innovative aspects; 1. Oasis: the objective of the facilitated process aims to create ‘Oasis’, places in the urban spaces that are save havens and co-constructed using local resources, talents, energy and ideas of users. 2. Game: the process of engagement is fun, accessible and enjoyable through the use of a 7-step game format with exercises, roles, rituals and tools to increase participation. 3. Urban 95: the adapted edition focusses on infants, by asking players of the game to take the infants perspective of life upto 95 cms in daily life. Exploring, mapping and creating solutions crawling in the skin of the child or it’s caretaker.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

In many vulnerable communities there are a lack of safe and supportive development spaces for infants and their caretakers. At the same time parents and caretakers are well aware of what solutions could be implemented to make urban space more supportive to infants, yet they are not finding they have the power, don’t know the right ways or don’t get the right invitations to participate in rethinking and recreating urban space. The Oasis Game Urban95 offers an accessible and dynamic format (Game)

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Our idea focusses on running a pilot program of the successful methodology of the Oasis Game, focussed on infants, in the Auburn Gersham Community. After previous successful implementation of Oasis Games with the given focus and the experience of applying this originally Brazilian methodology in many western context, we aim to implement this in Chicago with our partner ‘Courage at love’. *the Oasis Game: The oasis game is a Brazilian method that is used to mobilize a community to realize their dreams which is mostly expressed in a physical (urban) result, the oasis, in a playful and accessible way (game). After a period of preparation, together we will invite parents, caretakers, their children and professionals in the field of infant-care to take part in a 8-day program. The Oasis Game creates aims to realize the dream of a community by bringing them together to co-dream, co-design and co-create that dream with their own hands and hearts. The process involves a lot of interactive playful tools make it attractive for everybody to join hands in creating a better world together, starting in their own community, starting now. It invites a community to project and build in a cooperative way a challenging project chosen by the members of the community to suit their needs. Projects can range from a square, a park, a kindergarten to a cultural center. A group of 30 participants will than go through the following process; with support of the facilitators and various exercises, roles given, the participants go out into the community to map possibilities, talents, connections and build relationships of trust to talk about dreams people have, finding collective dreams as fuel for joint action (step 1 to 3). After a couple of days the community is invited to a community gathering to affirm these collective visions and translate them into practical ideas and applications on a scale-model/maquete representing a physical space, collectively designing and bringing local knowledge into the urban design (step 4). With that basis and acquired skills for sustainable building techniques the community gathers material, skills and energy to work together in a moment of collective construction, celebrating the result with all community members and volunteers involved (step 5 and 6). To get a better sense of what this means in practice check the following videos: - instruction video: - 7 steps of the Elos philosophy (put on subtitles): - application in European context; *the outcomes: The oasis game has a social effect (empowerment, stronger sense of community) and a physical result (dream is materialized during the process) and is realized in a very short time. We’ve experienced that the Oasis Game meets a pressing need with communities to meet one another more and take matters more into their own hand, without having to fill in 20 forms. In the case of the Urban95 version, the participants are stepping into the shoes of children and their care-takers, executing the activities, tasks and projects literally from that height, often times discovering the place crouched, crawling or sitting down to see what it’s like ‘so low’. * Application in Chicago: This awarded social tool has been applied worldwide in over 50 countries and in many Oasis Game the communities dreams’ are built around safe spaces for children to grow. It has been taken to various western context, including Holland, UK, Germany, Spain and now we aim to bring it to Chicago. The direct impact will be felt in one of Chicago’s 77 neighbourhoods and located on Chicago’s south side, Auburn Gresham has a population of 48,743 and is 98% African American. Twenty-five per cent of families are single mothers with children and the percentage of married-couple families with children is only 9.6% compared to 20.4% for the city. In this community, infants, their parents and their caretakers will benefit by having direct influences on the creation of a child-friendly space, but also will have a stronger support community and will be trained to replicate similar processes in other parts of the city and country. Replication after the pilot The Oasis Game is already freely downloadable, yet with the application in this context we want to create a supportive package for working specifically for this targetgroup.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The direct beneficiaries are located on Chicago’s south side, Auburn Gresham, with 98% African American residents. 25 per cent of families are single mothers with children and the percentage of married-couple families with children is only 9.6% compared to 20.4% for the city. In this community, infants, their parents and their caretakers will benefit by having direct influences on the creation of a child-friendly space, but also will have a stronger support community and will be trained to replicate similar processes in other parts of the city and country. Instituto Elos has a vast experience of working in communities and hosting processes through the application of the Oasis game. In the last 20 years it’s hosted over 300 projects in which more than 75% focussed on children related community-driven solutions. This prompted us to collaborate with the Bernard van Leer Foundation under the Urban95 program in 2017; LINK Courage to love has years of experience of working with infants in Auburn Gresham. Director, Congregational Health Partner, Advocate for Health Care and Reverent Dr. Peachey has been leading the faith and health movement in metropolitan Chicago for over a decade. She has convened and participated in numerous community-based partnerships to address health and is a participating member of the International Religious Health Assets Program, a global CBPR faith and health collaborative, serving on the Campaign to Save Our Mothers and Babies (CSOMB) Council.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

By setting up a pilot project on a local level, we aim to create a case and train a set of facilitators that will take the Oasis Game Urban95 to majority of Chicago's underpriviliged communities by 2020, creating a movement of community-based solutions for infant friendly urban spaces across the US. Within the scope of the project, on the local level the implementation of the project leads to concrete urban adaptions based on needs of- and co-constructed with families and children, examples of previous application for the targetgroup are mobile toy-libraries, roads closed of to become ‘leasure streets’, infant education corners. The shared experience of parents, children and involved institutions in finding solutions together lead to new partnerships on an inter-local level that continue to collaborate for further implementation of participatory projects. Through the learning-by-doing aspect of the training, it gives professionals and parents social tools and experiences to replicate. The Oasis Game as a tool, with all its’ material, is freely downloadable for anyone to use. Through the learning-by-doing and downloadable format Oasis Game has reached 49 countries, impacting over 400 communities in and outside Brazil, impacting over 100.000 people worldwide, with a 70% rate of dreams for children. Our experience is that the surprising and collective results lead to more space, dialogue and policy to consider all voices and co-design of spaces with the targetgroup.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The idea of the program is especially focussed on children in low-income communities. The program and all its’ tools have been developed in and for such conditions, coming from the Brazilian favelas where we work a large part of our time. It builds on the idea that communities have the ideas, resources, talents, solutions and qualities locally available to overcome the challenges they face. In many of the projects where Oasis Game was applied the care for children has been central and community-members have teamed up to create spaces for children to play, learn and grow in a supported manner. In this case we will work in the Chicago, Auburn Gresham community. Thirty-two per cent of the population lives in poverty. In 2011, the median household income was $33,663 compared to $43,628 for Chicago. Twenty-five per cent of families are single mothers with children and the percentage of married-couple families with children is only 9.6% compared to 20.4% for the city. Over 1/3 of the population has less than a high school education. The unemployment rate is 15.9%, nearly double that of Chicago (8.5%). Auburn Gresham is considered a high economic hardship community. In this community we aim to run this pilot project, with the objective of creating a case for infant-centred and community-led solutions for urban design across many cities with low income communities in the US.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

It's innovative in various ways. On one side it's a proven succesful method for community driven solutions we are increasingly applying with an infant and parent focus. For most users and involved stakeholders it's still a complete new way of engaging end users (citizens, parents, children) and putting them completely at the center of the design of the solution in urban space. Within that as a basis there are some additional unique aspects: - participants are really demanded, by using the power of play, to jump in to the 'skin and experience' of being an infant or parent in the given context. Demanding them to move either on the low height or discover the space with strollers. - The gamification elements make it attractive to participate. The Oasis Game works with activity and tip cards, roles that are needed, working with scalemodels, a board to guide the steps, game-flip-charts to harvest the results and more. - what is very disruptive is that the community members are not only co-designing strategies in the urban space, but will within a short period of time get involved in building it themselfs. The direct action and result lead to ownership and care and step past bureaucratic processes that can drain energy. - lastly what is an essential result it offers besides direct physical a strengthened network and community of like minded people and supportive network that can more easily mutually support eachother.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Currently the Oasis Game is already a freely downloadable tool. It’s been applied already in over 400 communities in 49 countries, reaching over 100.000 people in the last 10 years. The focussed adaption of the game for the targetgroups would demand small adaption of exercises and a supporting guide. Yet for quality facilitation we offer experience-based real-life training sessions, where we not only learn to understand the possibilities of the game, but the required attitudes and principles of facilitation of such processes. A smaller part will be able to pick up the game and do it, while at one side the training of replicators is a good model, it’s at the same time a barrier to extremely rapid scaling, considering that training demands time. At the same time the potential is enormous, which has already been proven by the amount of Oasis Games executed in western contexts. It's been applied in Holland (30+ times), Spain (10+ times), Germany (10+ times), UK, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Italy and Montenegro. All together over 70 times in the last 8 years in a loosely organized movement of facilitators. With the lessons learned from these places, a good partner with a strong regional network and acces to various US based supporting partners (incl. Harvard, Columbia and relationships with bigger funders), we see that when this catches fire we have the means in place to support scaling.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

For the application in Chicago we have recently written a project proposal to a Grant that was looking for foreign best-practices to implement in the US around social challenges faced. We wrote a project where we’d implement the Oasis Game in this same community, after being trained in Brazil. This project would include a focus of a 2 year follow up, with additional coaching in replication and the building of a local network of parents, children and professionals to build a community of practice around Aubern Greshum and Chicago. Currently we have no result and guarantee yet. At the same time through writing the plan and mobilizing local partners we have started paving the way for feasibility. On both sides as teams we are technically and operationally ready to go, what’s important important now is to run this first program in the Chicago context to get traction for further investment and partnership. Elos Founder Rodrigo Alonso was recently in New York, where he received an award from the Tällberg Foundation for the Tällberg Global Leadership Prize. This recognition for our 20 years of work in transformation has opened a network of supporters in the education (including Harvard and Columbia University), government, NGO and business sector that could be tapped into after the first pilot. The current need is to see it work out in the local context to have a success experience and ‘proof of concept’, where we don’t depend on success-stories of outside of the US-context.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

As a tool and service the model of training facilitators to generate community driven infant-friendly projects in the urban space, it has already shown to work in other context. There’s a high eagerness to find new ways to deal with challenges where top-down solutions have previously failed. Offering a powerful tool and training facilitators and replicators is very viable, especially since the ROI on social, community, physical and sustainability level go far beyond what is possible to generate by traditional processes. What is rather the question is building relationships of trust with local councils and governments who at times feel challenged to let go of procedures and standards, where this process works with a quality of emergence, co-creation and co-construction. From previous experiences in Europe first experiences and proof of concept calm the hearts and open the mind for the partnerships needed to take it to next levels.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Putting the human at the center of design is the key to the Oasis Game and the underlying philosophy. The tool itself is designed around making the idea of building and tranforming community a fun and attractive thing to do. Within that process the people of community get directly involved in designing the urban space they deem most fitting by using prototypes of the given space. Concretly this means that after defining together the most common dreams and vision for infants, everybody is invited to a community gathering where they work on scale-models and directly co-decide and co-design the space based on their needs. Oasis takes that even further, inviting people to co-construct it, building the solutions together with own hands, talents, local resources and own creativity.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

* Oasis Game: The fundaments for the Oasis Game itself was conceived about 20 years ago, in Santos (Brazil) The idea behind the name Oasis came from history books: an oasis offers hope, refugee and stability for the tired traveler in the desert. Our world is full of vast “deserts”: regions and communities where the vitality was destroyed both socially and/or environmentally. However, in these places, there are still inevitable points of light full of hope, beauty and joy. The Oasis Game has the intention of developing more of these points of light, be it by creating new ones of expanding what is already there. A community can work together in a cooperative, creative and quick way in order to build a modern Oasis in only a couple of days: a physical space that promotes life, joy and restoration. This Brazilian method for bottom-up community development was brought to Holland in 2010 with support of Oxfam’s e-Motive program for reversed development work. They saw that this was a powerful and playful tool to work in several communities where there’s a lack of community and several severe problems arise from that. From intercultural tensions, to problems with youngsters on the streets, lack of social support amongst community members and tensions that arise and play out because people don’t interact with each other, but report problems to the municipality. * Urban 95: the idea of working especially with parents and infants was always in the back of our minds, but was strengthened by the possibility to do a project in collaboration with the Bernard van Leer Foundation, under the Urban95 program. ‘If you could experience a city from 95cm – the height of a 3-year-old – what would you change? Urban95 asks this bold but simple question of the world’s city leaders, planners, architects, and innovators.’ Urban95 is rooted in the belief that when urban neighbourhoods work well for pregnant women, babies, toddlers and young children, they also tend to nurture strong communities and economic development. Check here more info; * Partnership with Courage to Love in Chicago: the partnership with Courage to Love was forged after one of Elos co-founders hosted an introduction workshop in Chicago. The interest to use this methodology in Chicago grew and in recent times two proposals were written to create the conditions for it to happen. Courage to Love Collaborative Leadership is a collaboration under The Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation (The Center) between Advocate Health Care and the Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships (OCEAN-HP) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in this project locally working with Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GADGC), Become Center for Social Engagement and Community Change (Become) and Advocates for Community Wellness, Inc. (ACW)

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

not applicable, we have currently the right partners

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

On the methodological, product/service and targetgroup level we're experienced and have clearity around our concept. What always helps is to share experience and expertise of working with processes and procedures in placemaking, community-led urban development in the US context and the collaboration with stakeholders. Feel free to get in touch!

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

Check here the report of the Oasis Game Urban95 in the community of Santa Maria (brazil)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Herbert de Lima

Great idea. I have the opportunity to work with Elos Institute and its methodology, it is really powerfull and allows the community to really create a new path towards development.

Photo of Moses Mbeseha

Hello Niels, love the concept and the idea behind your program and the population you're working with and bringing the idea here to the United States. A few questions:

1. Utilizing the Oasis Game to strengthen and energize communities sounds extremely promising, and the South Side of Chicago is a ripe place to bring this strategy to the United States. You mentioned in the “Who Benefits?” section of your proposal that Courage to Love and Director, Congregational Health Partner, Advocate for Health Care and Reverent Dr. Peachy have participated in various partnerships of this community-building sort. Could you elaborate on what Dr. Peachy’s role will be in this pilot project, and how, if any, the role of health education will play into the community-strengthening and sustainability aspects of this project?

2. Additionally, you state that this pilot program will run over a span of 8 days, will there be a central location where all the participants will stay? Or will participants be expected to voluntarily come from their homes to the central meeting location each day to participate in the game activities?

3. Who will you aim to train as facilitators? Will these facilitators engage in additional training beyond the initial 8-day game sequence? Will you be asking for facilitators to volunteer? Or will you be using another method to select the individuals that will become facilitators?

Photo of Niels

Dear Moses,

Thank you so much for your feedback and great questions, it’s always great to get to opportunity to clarify and add more info. Let me reply here;

Answer question 1: great question! Dr. Peachy is the one that got in touch in the first place to bring this project to Chicago. She has a very important role as the bridgebuilder, co-entrepreneur of this project and the one creating the conditions and local partnerships for successful implementation. Our collective point of view from the start was that the Oasis Game gives an important community impulse to work already done. It gives shape to a need and desire in the community and the Courage to Love program to bring health education and awareness even closer to its’ people. The Oasis Game will play a role in reaching actively out and building relationships of trust very close to peoples direct living environment, using the power of the informal community network. The impulse the Oasis Game gives is followed up by what we call ‘the re-evolution’, a moment where we look at the process yielded and how can take that forward. Courage to Love and the existing role in the community gives the embedding for sustainable continuation and support, having at that point a closer and more united community to work with. On top of that the place, ‘the oasis’ that’s been constructed, will be another physical space in the community to use as a gathering space to offer health education activities in more accessible conditions.

Answer question 2: So first of all it’s important to share that the 8 days is a concentrated part that takes place after a process of extensive preparation. We’ll invite and mobilize community members and stakeholders in advance, which happens over a period of a couple of months. This coregroup of participants that will ‘play the game’, of about 30 people, will meet each day in a central space in the community, generally a community centre. From there they will go out into the community, guided by activities and task of the 7 steps in a supported manner, talking, listening, relating and building relationships of trust with other community members. I wouldn’t even say that people are asked to voluntarily come from their homes, people get curious to join because they are heard and feel that this process leads to direct and concrete results. During the 8 days there are several public events, of which the most important ones are the moment of the design of the dream in a scalemodel in which people can co-design and decide what will happen and the moment of hands-on. The movement, buzz and sense of having the future of the community in your own hands gets people out of their houses. The 30 people are the motor, the connector, the ones that host and facilitate that process supported by the game.

Answer question 3: Building on to that, the whole program is a learning-by-doing experience, where a majority of the time the participants are in action and learning about the philosophy, social techniques, principles and facilitation along the way. In this case we will aim to select and train a mix of people. Partly local community-members who are active and want to receive support, guaranteeing through their engagement and participation that the project will continue to flourish afterwards. Partly the Courage to Love team and network to give them the skills and experience to continue applying and replicating in other areas of Chicago. Partly other stakeholders and caretakers that are active in the same field, so that it’s not only an empowerment of community-members, but also the wider field of organizations get the opportunity to change the way they work and support the outcome of the Oasis in a more continued way.

We have various selection-processes, but in this case we’ll work mostly with interviews to understand peoples motivation. After the selection and the training the participants will receive access to all the support material and coaching on implementation and replication of their experience. This is generally done with on- and offline gathering in work- and learning groups. All participants are through the experience entering into the wider network of Oasis-facilitators where they can connect with people with similar experience and will be offered additional training and workshop opportunities that will arise.

I hope with this I answered all your questions. Please let me know if you want to know more or need more clarification!