Inclusivity training aims to deliver a commercial and a social impact

Games help people become more mindful about what they say and do, and more aware of the consequences of the decisions they make

Anne Holohan is associate professor in the department of sociology at Trinity College Dublin and the co-founder, with Conor McNally, of TiLT, a training start-up focused on making organisations more inclusive through its suite of role-playing games.

There are currently four games in the TiLT portfolio, including one recently launched for the corporate sector which is suitable for any organisation with a diverse workforce. It uses perspective-driven experiential learning to help people become more mindful about what they say and do, and more aware of the consequences of the decisions they make.

“All organisations now operate in an environment of diversity, but diversity does not equal inclusion. There is still an enormous need for training to improve inclusivity across all dimensions of identity but with a particular focus on gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and class,” Prof Holohan says.

“TiLT addresses the gap in the market for a training tool that focuses not on individual unconscious bias training (which has limited effectiveness) but on shifting the norms around social interaction within a whole organisation. In short, our games are nuanced and realistic enough to challenge people into rethinking their behaviour. The ultimate goal is the transformation of organisational culture.”

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Prof Holohan first came up with the idea for what has now become TiLT while working on her PhD at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her research interest was interactional and organisational sociology, and she spent time in Kosovo observing the diverse groups working together there as part of the United Nations mission.

“I realised that the need to get from a diverse to an inclusive organisation is a common one and that a superficial approach won’t work,” she says. “This prompted me to use social science research methods to develop curricula and games that raise awareness of an individual’s own assumptions and how these assumptions impact interactions. We learn better by doing and being immersed in a story so this is why we opted for the role-playing approach. When everyone in an organisation gets the same training it shifts what is seen as acceptable and unacceptable, with knock-on effects for decision-making at every level.”

And improving inclusivity is not just a nice to have. Prof Holohan points out that there are sound commercial reasons for making it a priority as employees who experience bias are three time more likely to leave an organisation, to be disengaged and to withhold ideas.

Role playing is considered an effective form of learning but it’s not widely available and can be expensive. With TiLT’s games, which can be accessed on any digital device, everyone in an organisation can be trained at the same time at significantly less cost per head, Prof Holohan says. The company sells to organisations not to individuals, and new game chapters will be released every quarter to keep the products fresh.

Typical TiLT customers will be organisations in the higher education sector, police forces, the health sector, tech companies and other corporates. The company’s customers to date include TCD, UCC, and DCU and it is currently engaged in trials with the Seattle Police Department, An Garda Síochána and the Scottish police force.

The newly-formed company is already revenue generating and employs seven people. It has received €400,000 in commercialisation support from Enterprise Ireland, and is now embarking on a funding round of €750,000.

“We are starting with the Irish and UK markets but intend to go global as our curricula and games can be customised and localised,” Prof Holohan says. “We already know that our approach works as we have been conducting longitudinal research to measure the impact on players and organisations.

“In general people do not want to cause harm but may do so inadvertently. Our games make individuals more aware and players report a change in how they’re interacting with others because of their learning experience with them.”