GOAL game: Making sense of adolescent outlooks

Tanzania, Jan 24th 2019

Core developed GOAL as a game-based design research tool to understand how adolescents plan for their future, near and far, and the realities they encounter along the way.

To help unpack the factors and circumstances that affect the ability of adolescent girls in rural Tanzania to plan their lives the way they would like, we designed a tool that gamified the experience of goal setting and navigation towards that goal. Through discussions sparked during the game, this tool helps shed light on how adolescents approach goal-setting, the life and health-related circumstances they have to contend with, and also the strategies they adopt to deal with them.

This tool can be used as part of any study that is interested in understanding goal setting and achievement, similar to the Coupling game used by Core in Kenya. It helps visualise the deviations and alternative paths individuals have to often take in the pursuit of goals, and the life realities they have to contend with. Its applicability extends beyond adolescents and SRH: for instance, can be used to map a front line health worker’s daily goals and to understand the challenges they grapple with, in order to achieve them.


The objective of the GOAL game tool as used for Core is to:

  1. Understand adolescent approaches to goal-setting and future outlooks.
  2. Understand how existing elements in her life affect this pathway, how circumstances are dealt with, and how they can be ideally dealt with.
  3. Make the game and sharing of information fun, and not personal. Ensure participants don’t feel threatened or judged in any way.

◆ The GOAL game board. Scroll down the page and download the hires version of the game board


Accessories you’ll need to play this game include:

  • GOAL game board: We printed the game board on a reusable flex material like vinyl.
  • Persona cards
  • Four sets of GOAL game cards:

    • “What if?” cards
    • “Tell me more about” cards
    • “Something happens” cards
    • “People” cards
  • Wild cards: Bridge card and Goal Change card
  • Post-its, marker
  • 1 Dice
  • 2 player pieces or pegs
  • A facilitator


Participants create adolescent personas and play the game on behalf of the personas. They craft the persona’s life story, set goals for them, and traverse different pathways and life situations to reach their goal, resolving questions and scenarios along the way.


Participant profile
Craft your sample in a way that allows for participants to speak freely. Our sample consisted of small groups of friends, or small groups of women or men belonging to a similar age and life stage. Mixed teams with both male and female participants is not ideal as it may inhibit or affect the way participants respond.

Length of the session and size of the group
The ideal number of participants is 2-4, in order for everyone to have a chance to voice their thoughts. The length of the game session is approximately 2.5 hours.

◆ The GOAL game in progress. Landing on different coloured spots on the game track requires them to pick according cards and answer questions


In case the participant group consists of four or more people, split them up into groups of two, and have both groups select a persona. The players make decisions for the personas throughout the game via collaborative discussion, which leads to moving forward and eventually reaching the goal.

How you move forward
By rolling the dice, and by picking different cards, answering various questions, and tackling different scenarios at each step.

GOAL cards help expand understanding throughout the game
As players land on differently coloured spots on the game track, they are required to pick the relevant coloured card which have different questions, scenarios or emerging life situations that come their way. These cards have been designed to help the game serve as a design research tool, allowing the facilitator to ask questions and expand her understanding of the context. The cards correspond with the colours on the board. Please scroll down this page and download the suggested questions for the cards. See the “How to Play” section below to find more information on the cards. You can also create your own cards, depending on your use of the GOAL game.

Role of facilitator
The facilitator plays a key role in guiding the game. Besides reminding the players of their Bridge and Goal change cards (see explanation for these cards in “How to Play” section), the facilitator has to tie the discussion down to the personas that have been created. It is worth remembering it is most interesting to know how participants view every event, what their strategies are in dealing with such events, and what they think is important to keep the personas’ life on track.

How you end the game
The game ends when players achieve the goal which is set at the start of the game, or the adjusted goals created during the course of the game.

The game as a design research tool

  • Remember that the personas are imaginary, but thinking of them as people, even better as people known to players, helps keep it realistic.
  • Remember that the participants play the game from the perspective of the adolescent personas and they should remember to respond on behalf of the personas. Reiterate that as this is a speculative exercise, there are no right and wrong answers. 
  • Remember to probe after each answer whether the response reflects the reality as typically experienced. You might do this by simply asking after each answer: “So tell me, does this happen typically here in your village?”.

How to Play

1. Warm up
Mention that this interaction is meant to be fun. There is no single or right way of defining an adolescent’s life. So it is important for the purpose of the interaction to understand as many types of adolescent lives as possible. Remind the participants that this is not about them, or their friends or any specific person they might know. Iterate that the adolescent is a fictional persona and characteristics attributed to it should be based on what they know and understand from around them. Invite the group to help out with this, assuring them that the exercise is fun and will be followed by the GOAL game. Roll out the game board and lay out all the cards and related peripheral materials neatly. 

2. Persona selection and generating descriptors to build adolescent personas
To begin the game session the facilitator shows the Persona cards for the participants to choose two images to serve as two personas for the game. (Two personas are needed if the group exceeds four participants. A group of 2-3 participants can only choose one persona for the game.) Set the age for the adolescent persona between 14 to 18 years. 

Ask participants to broadly describe the different kinds of adolescents they think are out there. In rural Tanzania, this involved the participants offering up descriptions for the persona: like sweet, rude, pretty, studious, angry, and so on. A selection of these descriptors will then be grouped by the participants to form two personas.

Encourage participants to generate both positive and negative descriptors, as well as ensure the conversation is well-rounded and covers dimensions including, social dynamics, psychological aspects, physical factors, economic concerns and environmental factors. 

Ask the participants to give the persona a name, and to create the story of the persona up till her present age. Engage them to share reasons why they think he/she turned out the way he/she did, remembering to explore events across emotional, social and physical levels. Repeat this exercise for the second persona.

◆ Players write goals for the personas on post-its, and try to reach them

3. Understanding goals and goal-setting
Before beginning to play the game, try and understand what goals and goal-setting mean for the participants: 

  • What do girls this age want for themselves?
  • What are these aspirations or goals that they are moving towards?
  • Who or what helps them dream?
  • What usually poses as a problem or a challenge to dreaming the dream?
  • If they have no dreams or plans at all, why not? When do girls and women start having dreams of their own?

4. Setting goals for the personas
Ask the participants to consider the personas they have created, discussing each one at a time and articulating a goal for them. Write the goal(s) on a post-it and place it somewhere the participants can see it. Use the below prompts to aide the discussion:

  • What is her goal in life right now? (Short term, achievable goals rather than fantasy goals)
  • What does she think is important to help get closer to that goal?
  • What is she doing to get closer to that goal and how is it helping?
  • What is she not doing right now, but intends to do? What’s stopping her from doing so? And how will that help her?
  • Who does she talk to about this? What does she tell them? Does she seek or get advice from anyone?

5. Start to play
Once the personas are ready and the goals are set, the game can begin.

  • Let participants pick a player piece for each persona. 
  • Point the participants to where both personas start (point to start), and where they reach their goal (point to goal). 
  • However, much like life itself, the journey can be straightforward or be long-winded. Ask the participants which direction they are heading next and why. 
  • Remember: When something of interest is said, probe further with additional questions. Roll the dice to move their pieces forward.

5.1  Landing on coloured dots, ladders and goal islands & picking cards

Upon landing on the coloured dots on the game board, pick the according cards and ask questions, probe more, set a new scenario on their path, etc. accordingly.

  • “What if” cards (green): To present a hypothetical situation to gauge the reaction of the participants, which is grounded in realities. Such as: “What if she were to get pregnant right now?”, or “What if her mother gets sick right now?”.
  • “Something happened” cards (blue): These have been crafted using existing data, to mimic the events that affect the plans of girls. Such as: “She got approached by a man with a gift”, or “She found a source of income”.
  • “Tell me more” cards (pink): These are designed to help the facilitator gather more insight into the situation at hand. Such as: “Tell me more about what can help her right now?”, or “Tell me more about how she handles this”.
  • “People” cards (yellow): These are simply images of key relationships in the girls’ lives, to help the facilitator map the persona’s relationship with his/her network.
  • ◆ Various cards were designed to help the game serve as a design research tool, allowing the facilitator to ask questions and expand understanding of the context

    Ladders force the player to change pathways
    When a players arrive at a ladder, it alters the players’ current pathway and leads them into a different one, either slowing them down or speeding them up to the goal. The different pathways all eventually lead up to the goal, but these ladders help visualise forced deviations or changes to the persona’s plan.

  • Goal islands are extra space for newer goals or sub-goals
    Given that over the course of time, life goals do change and adapt over differing circumstances or life events, smaller goal islands stand for any additional or sub-goals that the player develops for the persona as they progress through the game. Typically, this is meant to represent any new goal(s) that come to life every time “something happens”. Write the sub-goal(s) on a post-it and place it somewhere the participants can see it. Sub-goals are green circles made close to the place where the game ends. As all paths can also lead the players to their sub-goals, they have an option to end their persona’s journey if they so wish. The players can also end their journey in both a goal and a sub-goal, or solely the goal.
  • Wild cards to help protect the goals of the persona
    Wild cards are to help the participant protect the path change that a ladder or an event could impose on the persona’s goals. All players are given one of each wild card at the start of the game. The facilitator plays a key role in reminding the players to pick the Bridge and Goal cards.

    1. Bridge card lets the player change pathways to one of their choice, but he/she must back it up with a rationale. For example, if the event of a pregnancy forces a persona to move to a different path, the player can choose to use the bridge card to keep the persona on her current pathway, with no effect on her goals. This allows the facilitator to probe the reasons and conditions that could make this possible in real life. 
    2. Goal Change card lets the players change the main goal set for the persona at the start of the game. He/she may use this at any point, but it must be backed by a rationale or explanation.

6. Ending the game
Eventually after the teams reach their respective goals and the game is over, sum up by asking:

  • Would you have changed the way she lived through these experiences?
  • What allows her to keep all goals alive, or which ones end up suffering?
  • What happens in real life? Do girls actually stick to a goal?
  • Do girls know that life is full of these scenarios that may attempt to change things for them?
  • What advice would you give them to help have a goal, or achieve their goals?

7. Guiding questions for facilitator:

  • “What if” cards:
    • What does this girl feel about this?
    • How could this have happened?
    • Key people that are likely to be involved?
    • How can she avoid such a thing from happening?
    • How can she make such a thing happen?
    • If this were to happen, would it change the way she views her life? Her goal?
    • How does this affect the steps she thought were important to her goal?
  • “Something happens” cards
    • How does the girl feel?
    • How did this happen?
    • What could she have done to avoid this from happening?
    • What did she do to make this happen?
    • Key people involved
    • What sort of questions does she have at this point? Who does she go to?
    • Who is advising her?
    • How do people around her react?
      • How does her family react? What role did they play?
      • How does the community react? What role did/do they play?
      • How do her friends and sisters react? What role did/do they play?
    • How does this change her life on a day to day basis? What does she plan to do now?
    • What positive things does it add to her life?
    • What negative things does it add to her life?
    • How does this affect the goal that she had?
    • How does this affect the things she thought were important to her goal?
    • Does this add another goal to her life right now?
  • “People” cards
    • Who is this person/ people?
    • What role does this person play in her life?
    • What role does the girl play in their life?
    • What sort of things would you discuss with them?
    • What sort of things would you never discuss with them?
    • Could anything that this person/people do harm you in any way?
    • Could anything that this person/people do affect her goal/dream in any way?
    • Does this person give you any advice about what you should be doing in life or with regards to your goal?
  • “Tell me more” cards
    • How it would impact her current life
    • Who is/would be involved in this situation
    • How does this affect her goal, or how does the goal affect this?
    • How is this related to the things she thinks are important to her goal?
    • What can she do to avoid such a thing from happening?
    • What can she do to make such a thing happen?

The Goal Game Board

Persona cards

Suggestions for Goal Game cards

Wild cards

Tips and Notes

  • Do remember to carry project consent forms translated to the local vernacular if necessary, including photo consent and minor consent forms.
  • Carry all tool materials to make the interaction seamless.
  • Bring an audio recorder, camera and notebook to capture interesting moments from the interaction. Ask participants if they’re comfortable being photographed and recorded (audio and video) during the interaction.
  • As you get set to interact with participants, try setting a tone of humility as well as of inclusivity, flexibility and open-mindedness. Ensure they understand that in the interaction there are no right or wrong answers, and that everything they say is valuable!
  • Please be particularly sensitive when talking to young girls. We often wouldn’t know what experiences they are currently going through.
  • Start with introductions. Make sure everyone understands the basics before starting.
  • Make participants aware that they will spend about two and a half hours at the interaction, acquiring their verbal or written consent.
  • The discussion and communication that the game inspires is most important as opposed to the exact rules of the game or where participants end up at the end of the game. Probe, ask and encourage the participants to talk during the game session.