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USING HEROIC IMPROVISATION TO BUILD COMMUNITY RESILIENCE THROUGH FUN TOGETHER- Expert Feedback Updated 12/21

Helping Filipino Youth Prepare Their Communities for Disaster Response Using Theater Improvisation Games

Photo of Mary Tyszkiewicz

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

In my quest to prepare citizens for disaster, I found a natural process that small groups of 16 or fewer people use to solve urgent problems instantly. The desire to help and the ability to work together drive this process. And I discovered that these small group abilities could be practiced using theater improvisation games. I created the Heroic Improvisation curriculum to help everyone get ready for disaster in a fun, low-cost way. Participants increase their ability to make choices together for future high-stakes events in a low-stakes practice environment.
The Heroic Improvisation Workshop was designed with theater games to give small groups confidence in disaster through practice. Derived from improvisational theater concepts in a low-cost format, the Heroic Improvisation Workshop gives groups experience in responding to situations where there is no script. Participants increase their ability to make choices together for future high-stakes events in a low-stakes practice environment.
In the Heroic Improvisation Workshop, the participants practice the innovation abilities of:
• sharpening perception (Step 1: Alert),
• finding resources and overcoming communication barriers (Step 2: Ready),
• forming a team quickly (Step 3: Connect),
• focusing attention to solve the problem (Step 4: Focus),
• moving into action together (Step 5: Move).

WHO BENEFITS?

The Heroic Improvisation Workshop helps people help themselves, catalyzed by fun and laughter. Small groups are the building blocks of communities. When small groups are prepared and resilient, the entire society benefits. This idea will be implemented in poor communities in Manila, the Philippines.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

Urban slum dwellers in Manila are the most affected by severe weather events. Third World Improv (Manila) and Heroic Improvisation (Washington, DC) will train urban youth on small group abilities and Fluid Leadership necessary to respond to extreme weather events using theater improvisation games. Youth (18-24 y.o.) are generally interested in disaster, environment, service, working in groups and having fun. Therefore, training youth to help their communities prepare for future disasters in a fun way is good fit. In February 2014, we piloted the Heroic Improvisation curriculum to 12 groups in 4 regions of the Philippines. We had 216 Filipino participants complete the training, ranging in age from 10 to 70 years old and groups such as airline staff, conference center staff, disaster survivors, emergency response staff, an indigenous tribe and school staff. We have found when we get Filipinos to practice for disasters through low-stakes improvisation games, they get curious about the knowledge and skills needed to be ready for disaster. The improvisation games in the Heroic Improvisation curriculum become the fun gateway to motivate gaining other knowledge and skills about disaster. Our proposed training uses improvisation techniques to build a stronger team, and introduce participants to Fluid Leadership, Heroic Improvisation and Disaster Preparedness. At the end of the training, the team will generate a project idea to reach out to their community to experience disaster preparedness and measure the impact of their training

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

Mary Tyszkiewicz, Ph.D. , founder of Heroic Improv, is an expert on small group innovation and program evaluation. Gabe Mercado is a native Filipino, a corporate trainer, and a man who has a passion for helping Filipinos help themselves. He is the also the founder of Third World Improv in Manila.

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

I have been working on the Heroic Improvisation workshop idea since 2011. Since then, I have run this workshop with hundreds of people in the U.S. and Philippines. In the 15-day Filipino pilot process in 2014, Gabe Mercado and friends harnessed 80 days of volunteer effort to bring the workshop to 12 groups in 4 regions of the Philippines. We had 216 Filipino participants complete the training in English, Tagalog or Waray, and ranging in age from 10 to 70 years old. We brought the workshop to:
• 3 groups of trainers,
• 4 groups of employees (airline, conference center, and school),
• 3 groups of disaster survivors,
• 1 group of emergency responders, and
• 1 indigenous tribe.
The most dramatic outcomes for the 3-hour workshop came from the disaster survivors. Through the workshop process, survivors told emotionally poignant stories of how they got through the storm. The workshop facilitated survivors uncovering their own heroism through their own experience.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

Heroic Improvisation (HI) for disaster preparation is different in many ways. 1. Traditional disaster exercises focus on Knowledge (what to do) and Skills (how to do it). The HI workshop (HIW) is different because it focuses on Abilities - how a small group works in a high-stakes event. 2. Disaster exercises are boring. Heroic Improvisation workshop is fun, using improv games. 3. Disaster exercises sometimes feel distant from how things work in a high-stakes situation. HI improv games help participants feel like they are in a high-stakes event, while practicing using low-stakes games. 4. HI is accessible for all levels (officials, 1st responders and citizens) to practice. 5. Disaster exercises can be expensive. HIW uses actors and imagination to practice for disaster. When we did the workshops after Super-Typhoon Haiyan, we did the games in places without roofs or electricity. 6. We can train youth to learn these games to share with their communities. 7. We can also train the youth to document the impact of how Heroic Improvisation training catalyzes local communities to be prepared for disaster. 8. HIW transcends language. The concepts and games are universal.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

I have had the experience of working with young (18 to 24 year old) American disaster volunteers, who were able to document innovations during Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey in 2012. I believe we could do something similar with Filipino youth. I also would like to use text-based data collection techniques. I also believe that the youth would come up with their own disaster preparedness projects, which would be tailored to their communities. I have not been able to pilot this idea yet.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

Current Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) planning is focused on governmental units, not citizens. In a disaster, the first responder is the citizen. I have found when people care and connect in small groups of 16 or fewer, they can solve problems they have never seen, with people they have never met, in an instant. This small group innovation is under-documented. I believe that people help themselves frequently in high-stakes situations. What the HIW does is just help people feel CONFIDENT that they could move into useful action in a crisis. And it is fun. We need more people feeling confident about helping each other to solve our current issues.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

We learned amazing stories of Filipinos helping themselves through the Heroic Improvisation Workshop. We found in our pilot that applied improvisation techniques work in disasters to help:
• save lives,
• transcend language and
• support diverse people and groups to find solutions in an instant.

Feedback from Filipino participants about the workshop was uniformly positive. Representative comments were:
• Fun, experiential workshop
• Easy-to-follow Heroic Improvisation process
• Imaginative disaster simulations help to practice the process
• Anyone can be the leader
• Everyone can join in and support the action

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

We would like to take this initiative worldwide, with youth groups as leaders. Our current effort is implemented at the grassroots with volunteers. Youth groups would start preparedness efforts with HIW for their community to practice small group ABILITIES for high-stakes situations. They would collaborate with local Red Cross to teach KNOWLEDGE of natural disaster and SKILLS to prepare. The youth would measure the impact of community preparedness. And in a disaster, youth could document the innovation they see around them. Youth would take the lead in TRAIN the TRAINER for disaster preparedness and impact of disaster training. And youth and communities would have fun doing the training.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

Filipino communities found their own insights to solve problems through our project. Engagement with the issues experientially is a great way to start design thinking in communities. Three examples from our 2014 pilot: 1. Professional Manila-based trainers immediately began to update their earthquake knowledge and skills. 2. Special needs school staff saw how disaster abilities track with how they handle challenges with their students daily. 3. The Subic Bay Deputy Fire Chief saw that HIW is a great way to engage citizens in disaster preparedness and volunteered to use his weekends to run workshops for the local community. When we do this with more communities, those communities can generate their own insights. And HI will document these grassroots insights for all to use. See Gabe Mercado's December 20, 2015 comment below for examples of local and national Filipino groups we plan to partner with in demonstrating how grassroots resilience projects can work in Metro Manila.
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Gabe Mercado

Role added on team:

"Gabe and I worked together to pilot Heroic Improvisation Workshop in the Philippines in 2014. He has a great heart for the Filipino people and is an innovative trainer. He is determined to use his abilities and his organization Third World Improv to help Filipinos help themselves in high-stakes events. He is currently connecting with local Manila youth groups to pilot this idea."

Mary's profile

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