At the first 3-day seminar we organised in Thailand in August 1998, we thought it important to use a participatory (and fun!) method to present Community Currency Systems (CCS). Lectures could be very confusing for people who do not understand economic concepts. Having tried LETSplay!, we felt it did not reflect the realities in so-called ‘Third World’ situations, so we created a CCS role play.
The CCS role play was designed in Thailand and has since been adapted for Indonesia, where, in collaboration with CUSO Indonesia various community currency workshops were organised in which this role play featured.
The role play discussed below is based on the principles of a LETS (Local Employment and Trading System). The role play still functions as a mutual credit system, but unlike LETS, this role play uses coupons or notes while trading. Experienced CCS practitioners should not confuse this with the fiat currency of HOURS-based systems.
The role play is not perfect--it doesn’t attempt to recreate the complexity of a local economy. Nevertheless, it has proven to be a powerful starting point for discussion on various issues related to CCS. We hope it can be of use to other CCS practitioners in their efforts, especially in the Third World. CCS practitioners can adapt the rules however they see fit. We welcome suggestions, criticism and experiences of other practitioners in the field, in order to learn from you and improve our activities.
We start with the objectives of the role play. Next, we explain how to play; and, finally, we will briefly evaluate the role play, based on experiences in the field, as well as suggest some possible adaptations. There is another excel file which you require for this role play.
Print out the following sheets which we will explain and refer to in this document:
Before you consider playing the role play:
- The role play takes about 2 hours to play and discuss.
- It is suggested that facilitators ‘test out’ the game before using it in seminars or workshops.
- Facilitators (about 3) who understand the basics of the game, are needed to ensure the smooth running of the game.
- Ideally, the role play is used with groups of 15 to 30 participants. For this role play, participants will require a basic level of literacy but need not to be able to do accounting. (We have also developed a simpler version of this game for people who do not read.)
- To prepare the role play you need to print (or write) the roles of the participants (Member Cards) and you need to copy some sheets on a big flipchart.
- Organisers will need to create ‘real’ money for the game which is similar to the national currency. For example, in Thailand, we photocopied 10, 20, 50 and 100 Baht notes onto different coloured paper. In Indonesia we used 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 Rupiah notes. The prices in the list of offers and the number of goods members have to purchase, will give you an indication of how many of which denominations you need.
- Organisers will also need to create "community coupons", in denominations that are practical to use in relation to the prices indicated in the List of Offers for Round 2. For Indonesia these denominations diverted substantially from the denominations in the national currency, the Rupiah, whilst in Thailand we kept them quite similar. For example in Indonesia the denominations of the coupons were for example 5, 10, 20 and 50, a factor 100 smaller than the national currency denominations, whilst in Thailand the denominations were the same as the national currency denominations, apart from an extra note of 30. The coupons have to be designed such that they can not be mistaken for the ‘real’ money.
- To summarise trading and discuss the game, we have used overhead projectors, but we would highly recommend using flipcharts, as flipcharts do the same job, are clearer for the audience, are more reliable, do not need electricity and can be posted to meeting room walls for later consultation. (Allocate ample time to prepare these flipcharts.)
The role play has been designed for dissemination purposes in rural prosumer communities. The game is, therefore, heavily biased towards rural activities. Nevertheless, we have also played it with middle class groups from Bangkok and from Java and Lombok. It does not require much work to adjust the game by changing the goods and services to be exchanged. The objectives of the game remain the same.
Objectives of the role play:
- Create awareness of how resources (especially money) flow out of a community
- Show how CCS helps to plug some of these leaks
- Show how purchasing power increases through use of CCS
- Show the interest-free credit creation power of CCS
- Clarify how a basic CCS operates in practice
- Create awareness of how a community can re-assess values (prices) within the community using CCS
- Use as a starting point for discussions to evaluate whether a CCS would be feasible/desirable under local circumstances
Introducing the Role Play
Before we start explaining the role play to the participants, usually we define what we mean by ‘community currencies’, by saying something like, "community currencies are a new type of money. They are interest-free and created by the community. They are used together with the national currency. Community currencies encourage locally based production and exchange. By doing this, they help to reduce the amount of national currency that leaves the community." It’s helpful to pass around a few examples of community currency notes or directories from existing CCS worldwide at this point. Following this (and depending on the audience and time constraints), we might explain a little bit of the history of the development and global spread of community currencies. This should help prepare the participants’ frame of mind.
The role play consists of two rounds. In the first round, community members trade their goods and services using only national currency. In the second round, they trade using national currency AND community currency.
The role play imagines a community of 12 members. We found that working in pairs (i.e. each role was played by 2 participants) was also workable, and sometimes even preferable. Every member has a "Member Card" identifying her/his profession, their savings, what goods they offer and at what price, and under what conditions that member plays the role play (see excel file). Some conditions are general, while others are specific to a particular role. For example, the rice farmer can only sell his/her rice to the merchant and can not directly sell to other community members.
How Round 1 is played (facilitator to explain to participants):
- Show the "List of Offers", on a big flipchart on a wall.
- Community members will buy and sell goods from each other, according to the conditions indicated on their personal member card (facilitator to give a few examples).
- Community members can buy goods listed on the list of offers for the prices given (note that prices are fixed, there is NO bargaining possible).
- The most important rule is to buy 5 different items (goods or services); not more--not less. Once you have purchased 5 different things, you have finished round 1. You may still be requested to sell to someone else who has not finished buying yet (you can sell as many times as you have requests; there are no resource constraints). If the unit is 1 KG of rice, you should not buy 2 KG of rice from the same trader. (This is to make comparisons with round 2 reliable.)
- Community members can not refuse to sell.
- In some cases, community members have to buy inputs for the goods they sell. These purchases do NOT count as one of the 5 purchases (this sounds a little complicated, but in our experience, members did not have any difficulty with this condition). For example, for every dress that the dressmaker sells, s(he) must buy factory cloth from the merchant.
- All the members start the game with a certain amount of savings or, in some cases, they are in debt. Facilitators will give each player as much ‘real’ money as is indicated on their member card under ‘savings’.
- If a community member does not have any initial savings, they can borrow money from the moneylender at any time. (Often members prefer to wait until they have sold enough to buy their 5 units. This prolongs the duration of the game considerably. The moneylender or facilitators should try to spur the member to borrow money.)
- The moneylender should be played by someone who is familiar with the game; this is because the calculations can be a little complicated.
- Community members pay a 10 % interest rate on the amount borrowed from the moneylender, plus 10% interest on the original debt. (Ten percent is a realistic percentage for a Thai government agricultural bank, but informal credit would be much higher, as was the case in Indonesia.)
- At the end of the game all borrowers have to pay a visit to the moneylender to repay; if they can not repay they go further in debt. (see the elaboration of the money lender below)
- After these explanations, facilitators hand out the member cards, including the initial savings. In our experience, it was thought-provoking (and fun) to assign traditional female roles to men (babysitting) and vice versa (motorcycle repair); or assign a role with a low social standing (labourer) to someone who is regarded as being in a high position (government worker).
- Members introduce themselves to the ‘community’ by reading out their role, the good or service they offer, its price and their initial savings.
- After the handouts, there are normally still some questions. Take your time with these—it is much easier to resolve questions now than after mistakes have been made. Also, during the role play facilitators should circulate to answer any questions that may arise.
- Start trading!
- After everyone is finished, each participant reads out their final balance, and the facilitator records this on the trading summery sheet (also attached as an excel file).
The Money Lender
This role needs some further elaboration. As mentioned before, it is advisable that the moneylender be played by a facilitator. The moneylender needs a list of members who are already in debt with him/her, so she can calculate what they owe at the end of each round. The moneylender makes a record of the additional amounts lent and adds new borrowers to his/her list. The member card of the moneylender states that the she has 500,000 Rupiah as savings. This, however, is mainly for presentation purposes only. The moneylender will manage all the money (kind of like the banker in Monopoly) and calculate her final balance by adding all the interest payments (or interest payments still owed) to her initial savings.
Example: A rice farmer who is 50,000 Rupiah in debt at the beginning of Round 1 asks to borrow another 20,000 Rupiah. The Money lender will tell the farmer that at the end of the round, they will have to repay both the principal and ten percent interest. After five purchases, the farmer returns, but only has 10,000 Rupiah cash in hand. The Moneylender calculates an interest payment of 10 % of the outstanding principal of 50,000 and 20,000 Rupiah = 7,000 Rupiah. To arrive at the final balance, it is important to note that only the accumulated interest payments (or interest payments owed) should be recorded. (This means the Moneylender has no costs—admittedly artificial.) The Moneylender should help the farmer calculate his balance. The farmer owes the Moneylender 50,000 + 20,000 (principal)+ 7,000 (interest) = 77,000 Rupiah. However, with cash in hand of 10,000 Rupiah the final balance is -67,000 Rupiah.
The facilitator, when summarising trading, should keep in mind that it is only the interest payments that leave the community, not the principal.
End of Round 1 Discussion
After Round 1 is finished facilitators can opt for a quick investigation of first impressions from all the participants. It is suggested a facilitator writes down on a flipchart some of the points raised as a reference for the general discussion after Round 2 (see discussion). During this quick session facilitators need to collect the money left over from the participants and prepare the Round 2 member cards by attaching the initial savings (same as Round 1).
How Round 2 is Played:
- Round 2 has new member cards for every participant. It is best that participants play the same role as they did in the first round.
- The conditions indicated on the member cards of Round 2 have changed.
- The flipchart with the list of offers for Round 2 should now replace the list of offers for Round 1.
- Use the list of offers to explain some of the new conditions.
- The most important new aspect is that all members can now take out "Community Coupons" (CC) from the community bank (a facilitator to play this new role). Contrary to the moneylender in the first round, the community banker does not charge an interest rate on amounts taken out. The community banker creates an account for the member who requests CC, records the amounts and then members use the CC to do their purchasing. The community banker will use the recorded amounts of the members to arrive at the final balances of these members. There is no need for community members to repay their ‘loans’ during the game (see also discussion).
- It is the objective of the organisers that exchanges are made using CC as much as possible It is necessary that members take out enough coupons to allow trading to occur. The many goods are priced in CC or partly in CC. It is expected that members who are in debt will prefer to take out coupons at the community bank, rather than return to the interest-charging money lender. In our experience, members have always taken out a sufficient quantity of CC voluntarily.
- There are no limits to how much CC that any member can take out (within reason!).
- We have sometimes given the denominations of the community currency a special name, but have decided to simply call them ‘community coupons’. Using a specific name can be misleading and is best decided by the community members themselves.
- Once again, the basic rule is to buy 5 different things.
- The list of offers for round 2 is the same, except for the prices. Goods and services are now priced in national currency, community currency or a combination of the two. The prices remain fixed as in round 1--there is no bargaining possible.
- The moneylender will have little to do in the second round, and can enjoy a well-deserved rest. It is, of course, still possible for community members to take out national currency loans. It is unlikely that they will do so!
- Hand out the round 2 member cards.
- Questions? Start trading!
- After everyone has finished trading, each participant reads out their final balance, and the facilitator records this on the trading summery sheet on a flipchart, next to the round 1 trading summary sheet. (After this has been completed the money and coupons can be collected.)
- Some advice might be here required on how best to explain the community currency balances. The first column shows the initial savings of community coupons(zero). Community currency is created as members take out community coupons from the community bank. This causes some accounts to go into the negative. This negative amount is, in community currency-parlance called a ‘commitment’--not a ‘loan’. This is to differentiate it from regular banking where negative (interest-bearing) balances represent a debt to a private institution. The amount of this commitment is somewhat confused in the role play because members end the round with CC in hand. To arrive at the final balance (the third column and the real commitment of the member to the community), the original amount taken out needs to be subtracted from this "cash" in hand.
End of Round 2 Discussion
Summarise the trading summary sheet. How much national currency was left in the community at the end of round 1? After round 2? How much community currency was left in the community at the end of round 2?
The ensuing discussion should be led by a facilitator who is familiar with the issues. Most points should be raised by community members themselves. Additional points should be made by the facilitator only when necessary to advance the discussion. As pointed out above, the facilitators could opt to have part of the discussion at the end of round 1.
- What are participants’ first impressions? Does the first round of the role play reflect reality?
- Where are the leakages? Results in the trading summary sheet always indicate that more resources (measured in money values) stay within the community when using CC. The game has been designed so that resources flow out via the profits of the outsider and the moneylender. However, it is possible that this does not reflect the real situation in the communities where participants are from. It is important to compare the real situation with the situation in the role play.
and aggregate results It is difficult to determine
who trades how much with whom and if trading behaviour
(or results) from round 1 impacts round 2. It is
possible that some individuals find themselves worse-off
in the second round than the first. Some, for example,
need national currency to pay off debts, but find
it very difficult to sell goods in national currency.
Others may find that in round 1 they could easily
sell their goods/services, but in round 2 there
seems to be no demand. It is impossible to foresee
these individual results, rather it is important
to stress the beneficial outcomes on an aggregate
- Valuation This could be followed by a discussion on how a community values its community members’ goods and services. Should (could) prices (in CC) be adjusted to reflect community values distinct from the market? The role play is designed such that it creates value for herbal medicines and childcare, where it did not do this in Round 1. How do participants feel about this decision?
- Increased economic activity The role play does NOT prove that community currencies increase the ‘multiplier effect’ (the number of times a note changes hands within the community), or the velocity of circulation. Therefore, it can NOT prove that CCS creates extra economic activity. It only shows the potential for that increased circulation. One of the outcomes is that more national currency stays within the community in round 2, despite the fact that each member purchased five goods in both rounds.
- Social Programmes and administration costs Depending on how much time is left for discussion, this could also be an interesting subject. As members in a CCS have developed their own monetary system, it should be relatively easy to show how fees can be levied to keep the system running and also how the community can decide to levy extra fees for social programmes.
- Manipulation Some may suggest that fixing the trading conditions results in a false picture of the community. It is important to discuss these conditions--does the role play reflect the local economy? Rather then seeing the manipulation as a compromise of the role play, the conditions in the role play serve as a tool for community members to reflect on the economic, social and political dynamics in their own communities.
- Traditional forms of non-monetary exchange Organisers might be interested to learn from the participants’ experiences. There are many similarities between traditional exchange systems and CCS (for example, the importance of community reciprocity). Older participants will probably be able to explain how these kinds of exchanges were organised and how they were valued. A big difference between CCS and these informal systems is that no monetarisation (pricing) of the goods and services was used or was necessary; exchange was of a more social nature. CCS do place monetary values on goods and services (remember that these values are set by the community) and we believe a great deal can be learned from these traditional exchange systems. The establishment of a CCS might only be viewed as an interim step in the longer process of revitalising indigenous non-monetary systems of exchange.
- Increasing the number of trades (number of times participants need to purchase) intensifies the general trends of resource outflow. However, it also requires extra time, and participants may find the repetition boring. Reducing the number of trades has the opposite effect.
- Roles and goods traded can be changed to suit local circumstances. We have for example used whiskey in Thailand as a common good traded, whilst this was not appropriate for Muslim communities in Indonesia; we used tobacco instead.
- Prices and interest rates can be changed, in order to reflect local circumstances.
- The community imagines 12 members, but organisers could easily increase/decrease the number of members as they see fit.
Evolution of the Community Coupon Role Play
role play has evolved out of other versions developed
in Thailand. We started the role play using accounts
where members had to record what they traded (as is
the case in a LETS). We adapted the format of the
role play from the use of accounts to the use of coupons
following the urgings of villagers who had played
the game. "Villagers don’t like writing things
down." "Villagers aren’t proficient in arithmetic."
When we suggested the use of coupons instead, everyone
Coupons are well known in Thailand; commonly used in food centres or school lunch programmes to replace cash. Understanding and acceptance has been much easier when we present CCS in a ‘coupon format’. Our experiences in Indonesia have confirmed this observation. As it turned out, the use of coupons also greatly simplifies the management of the role play for facilitators.
In practice, we have also chosen to change the term ‘community currency’ to ‘community coupon’. By using the term ‘community currency’, we risked sounding critical of Thailand’s Royal Family. Thais associate their currency, adorned with pictures of the present and past Kings, with the Monarchy. Furthermore, some felt that the notion of an ‘alternative currency’ might be seen as subversive in a country where the ‘Communist threat’ is still fresh in people’s minds. (For general usage in English, we still believe that the use of "Community Currency Systems" is more accurate.) In Indonesia there seemed to be no problems with the word ‘currency’.