Event Preview: GameChanger Ideas Festival

Written by: Fargo Inc

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Photography by J. Alan Paul Photography and photos courtesy of GameChanger Festival

The GameChanger Ideas Festival is an opportunity for North Dakotans to take a deep dive into a critical issue facing our state, region and nation.

Brenna Gerhardt
Brenna Gerhardt is the executive director of the North Dakota Humanities Council and the founder of GameChanger Ideas Festival.

Founded four years ago, the event picks a different topic each year that’s prevalent in the news and popular culture, and they curate an event around it. The goal is to both explain the scope of the challenge and then offer solutions from some of the most innovative and thought-provoking thinkers in the world.

This year, GameChanger is tackling criminal-justice reform and discussing ways we can reduce prison populations while creating safer communities.

GameChanger Ideas Festival
Sat., Sept. 23
Bismarck, ND

To register, visit GameChangerND.com/Tickets
Use promo code “FARGO” to receive a 10% discount.


1. GameChanger wants to cut through the noise.

Brenna Gerhardt: “We really started GameChanger because we felt like, as Americans, there were critical, civil conversations that we need to be having on issues that just weren’t happening.

“There’s so much noise out there. There are so many different news sources and fake news sources, and we wanted to be a trusted source where we could bring people in to a more moderate, thoughtful and articulate environment where people could communicate views on different sides of an issue.

“The hope is that it’s a place where people can wade through an issue in an environment that’s conducive to learning and can have a conversation and be open and thoughtful about something.”


2. Where TED Talks tend to scratch the surface, GameChanger goes a little deeper.

Gerhardt: “We only invite people who have done something critical to engage in change. They have to have a track record, not just an idea. They have to have experienced it and done it.

“And most of the time, they’ve actually changed their idea. They started out with an idea, and then, as they implemented, they realized it needed to be tweaked or changed. There’s principle, and then there’s practice. And when those two things meet, it doesn’t always go the way you think it’s going to go.

“Another critical difference is that, every year, we take the format we had the year before, throw it out the window, and do something completely fresh and different.”


3. They’re not competing events, though. They’re complementary.

Gerhardt: “I love TED. We have a TEDx in Bismarck. TEDxFargo, which is obviously bigger, is fabulous. But we don’t see them as being competing events in any way, shape or form.


“It’s critical for communities to have many different kinds of cultural events. There’s not just one way to do it. We just want people to get engaged and thinking. And everyone learns in different ways and can be engaged in different ways. So we want to give people different options from which to approach something.”

4. The topic-selection process is crowdsourced.

Gerhardt: “We pick the topic two years out. We have a community advisory committee made up of the mayor, business leaders, and teachers, among others. And we ask them:

  1. What’s happening in our community?
  2. What are you reading about in the newspaper?
  3. What keeps you up at night?
  4. What kinds of conversations do we need to have?


“We arrived at this year’s topic given the number of police shootings we’ve seen over the past couple years and given our desire to dig a little more on topics that people have a lot of questions and misconceptions about.

“And the first thing we did when we decided to have this conversation about police shootings and criminal justice was go to the police themselves. We talked to Chief David Todd in Fargo and Chief Dan Donlin in Bismarck and said, ‘We’d like to have this conversation, and we’d like you to be at the table. Is that something you’re interested in?’ And they very graciously said ‘yes.’


“Because even though we’re taking a look at a critical issue, it’s not an anti-police event in any way, shape or form. We’re trying to be really fair to all sides of the issue and make it a learning experience that makes our whole community better. We’re inviting police officers to come for free to the event so that they’ll be there for the discussion.

“We believe it’s really important to have all the voices at the table and be respectful of the people in the community who are doing those hard jobs like policing.”

5. GameChanger is for the general public, not just content experts in the field.

Gerhardt: “We want people to know that you don’t need to be a content expert on this to come. It really is for the general public. We think that everyone who comes will get something out of it. And this topic touches everyone’s lives—as a taxpayer who’s paying for the prisons, as a public-safety issue, as police officers, as lawyers, as legislators. We really think this is a far-reaching and critical issue. It’s really about exploring ideas and understanding the complexity of ideas. So it’s for everyone.


“It’s an event for everyday citizens who want to understand and participate in our democracy in a way that strengthens us as people who come together in the face of crisis and challenge.”

The day’s events will be moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and 2016 GameChanger speaker Eric Schlosser.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row gap=”2″][vc_column][vc_separator][vc_column_text]


[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]8 a.m.
Registration begins at the Belle Mehus Auditorium

9 a.m.
Intro and opening

9:15 – 10:05 a.m.
Presentation and Q&A: Tom Gash
Author, “Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things”

10:05 – 10:20 a.m.

10:20 – 11:10 a.m.
Keynote presentation and Q&A: Piper Kerman
Author, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”

11:10 – 11:30 a.m.

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
“Meeting of the Minds”
All three speakers will come together for a roundtable discussion to compare and contrast their views on the criminal-justice system.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]12:15 – 12:45 p.m.
Book signing

12:45 – 1:45 p.m.

1:45 – 2:45 p.m.
Local Panel

North Dakota is full of individuals working to make our criminal-justice system the best it can be. No one group can do it alone, and all have expertise in a different area.

2:45 – 3 p.m.

3 – 4:30 p.m.
Theatrical performance of “Cops & Robbers,” a one-man play written and performed by J. Piper, a sheriff’s deputy, writer and actor. The play depicts 17 characters reacting to a cop shooting a possibly unarmed suspect.

4:30 – 5 p.m.
Q&A w/ J. Piper

5 p.m.
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GameChanger Ideas Festival



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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!