Ruth Meinzen-Dick/IFPRI.

Games for sustainability

Scientists have developed a series of games that can foster collective action for improved water management.

Simulating resource management through game play in India.
Simulating resource management through game play in India.
Ruth Meinzen-Dick/IFPRI.

Poor water management results in lower crop productivity, poor nutrition and increased likelihood of land degradation, leading to poverty and malnourishment. Because many water systems are shared resources, however, improving water management hinges on strengthened collaboration.

In recent years, scientists have begun using games as a way to provide communities opportunities to experience social dilemmas related to the governance of common resources. The games simulate real-life decision making, such as selecting the most efficient irrigation techniques and the best crops for a certain area, and they can be used as an entry point for creating discussion among the community. Players gain insight into the interconnectedness of shared resources, and the games have proven useful in strengthening cooperation.

In the field, scientists have used games to  strengthen collective action for groundwater management in India and surface water management in Colombia; instructions for both games are available online:

  • In one game, participants have to make decisions to invest in the irrigation system maintenance and to extract water for irrigating their individual plots.
  • In another game, participants make decisions about which crop to plant where crops require different amounts of water.

Researchers and practitioners may find the games useful for collecting data, exploring potential for strengthening water management, and fostering cooperation.


The following video provides a description of the groundwater game as used in Andhra Pradesh, India. The video material is provided by Barbara Allen, filmed by Arjun Swaminathanand and edited by Thomas Hawthorne with the help of Sechindra Vallury and Marco Janssen: