A great challenge is faced by the world today: to find ways to equitably share and maintain our precious natural water resources. Fragmented governance systems worldwide have been unable to adequately address the myriad of challenges affecting water resources, including climate change, highly urbanized population and increasing pollution. A transition is needed to innovative partnerships between public, private and civil society stakeholders to ensure sustainable water resources management. Effective collaborative governance relies on sufficient social learning – a form of deep learning that involves diversity, dissonance, social cohesion and reflexivity in addressing sustainability challenges – to take place, so that actors and stakeholders can increase their understanding of the water system and develop transformative strategies for water planning and management.
Effective social learning requires a vertical and horizontal communication of ideas and knowledge, an enabling and democratic environment, and informal and open discourse. Serious games involve simulations of real-world events that challenge players to solve contemporary societal problems. These offer a largely untapped potential to support social learning by facilitating access to information, enhancing stakeholder involvement, empowering the public to participate in decision making, and providing opportunities to test and analyze the outcomes of management solutions. Little is known about how serious games can be used in the context of collaborative water governance to maximize the potential for social learning, and we aim to contribute to developing greater understanding of game based approaches to enhance collaborative water governance.
UpSWinG Project Introduction
Understanding game-based approaches for improving sustainable water governance.
Upper Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin
This 3-year collaborative project focuses on testing the effectiveness of existing serious games to support the creation of a unified vision for the management of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River watershed.
This water body is of international significance, containing approximately 20% of the world’s freshwater resources, and supporting recreational activities that are a fundamental part of the Canadian as well as North American way of life and that is in everyone’s interest to preserve. This water body faces a particularly complex set of governance challenges, while jurisdiction is shared between two countries, several states and provinces, and numerous local governments, which leads to the involvement of a diverse range of stakeholders including the general public, industry, farmers, small business owners, and civil servants and politicians of various levels.
The basin’s complexity and size challenges attempts to understand its dynamics, while limited interactions and disagreements between stakeholders impede management actions. Such governance challenges require novel methods of encouraging dialogue, while facilitating learning and enabling systemic institutional change, so that decisions can be made from a position of shared knowledge and understanding.
Advanced ICT and Serious Games
Advanced information and communication technologies (ICT) offer innovative and promising solutions for enhancing social learning and collaborations to overcome water governance challenges, even more so in a transboundary context. Advanced ICT involve the use of computing and networked infrastructure, which could include the use of Web 2.0 tools (e.g. interactive websites, social sharing services), virtual research environments and serious games. Despite their significant potential, the use of advanced ICT to stimulate social learning and collaboration has not been sufficiently explored in the water resources field in Canada and the United States.
Serious games, which are the main focus of this research project, have been successfully used in other sectors (e.g. education, military and health) and are now beginning to change the way water is governed. These types of games combine computer simulation with role-play as an integrated method for complex policy making while triggering discussion and learning among stakeholders. Serious games involve simulations of real-world events or processes designed for the purpose of solving contemporary societal challenges, and these games are therefore designed for a purpose beyond entertainment.
Advanced ICT tools offer a largely untapped potential to improve water governance by facilitating the flow of and access to information, thereby enhancing overall transparency, accountability and stakeholder participation. Serious games in particular provide new opportunities for multidirectional collaborative processes by: bringing diverse stakeholders to the table; providing more equal access to a virtual negotiation or learning space to develop and share knowledge; integrating different knowledge domains; and providing opportunities to test and analyze the outcomes of novel management solutions.
Serious games can provide support in embodying collaborative governance models and processes that enable stakeholders at different levels to form, engage, create, learn and share group knowledge creation.
With our proposed partnership, we aim to develop interactions and synergies between existing, ongoing and future research and practice on water resources management and digital games. Our multidisciplinary team of practitioners and researchers will co-create research findings, which will facilitate knowledge exchange and embed non-academic partner perspectives. These findings will be disseminated to the academic community, serious game developers, decision-makers and water managers both in and outside the study areas.