New Paper: “Learning to Manage Common Resources: Stakeholders Playing a Serious Game See Increased Interdependence in Groundwater Basin Management”

Playing the Groundwater Game with community water system managers in June 2018, El Centro, California

This paper is the product of a three-year collaborative research project between the Environmental Defense Fund, Colleen Seifert, a UM psychology professor, myself, and several research assistants. In 2017, the Graham Sustainability Institute sponsored a matchmaking event where UM social scientists could interact with EDF staff who had ideas for research collaborations. At that event, I met Christina Babbitt and Ana Lucia Garcia Briones, two EDF staff who manage the organization’s California groundwater program. In the wake of the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), they were interested in developing a serious game which they could use to educate and empower stakeholders to develop groundwater management plans. Colleen Seifert did not have experience with serious games, but was interested in helping us rigorously evaluate the learning and attitudinal changes among players. Over the next two years, we engaged in an intensive process of developing a new game, and playing it with 41 different groundwater stakeholders in California. Our survey evaluation showed the most important learning outcome for players was how it boosted the perceived interdependence among groundwater stakeholders. The paper we published today in the journal Water summarizes the game and survey evaluation results. Here’s the abstract:

This paper reports an empirical evaluation of a new serious game created to foster learning about collaborative management of common pool resources. Stakeholders (n = 41) involved in the implementation of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act were recruited to play a new serious game designed to illustrate how alternative water management strategies, including pumping restrictions and simple trading schemes, affect supply. In the game, a group of six players set in a groundwater basin area enact the allocation, needs, and use of water in rounds representing annual seasons. Pre-post surveys found that the gameplay increased perceived interdependence among stakeholders, and optimism about the groundwater management process. Qualitative feedback suggested that participants gained new insights into the nature of common pool resources and the needs of other stakeholders. Serious games may be useful in fostering attitudes, such as interdependence needed for successful collaborative planning and governance.

Author: Rob Goodspeed