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Special Issue "Understanding Game-based Approaches for Improving Sustainable Water Governance: The Potential of Serious Games to Solve Water Problems"

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2017

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Wietske Medema

Department of Bioresource Engineering, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, Canada
Website | E-Mail
Interests: integrated, collaborative and adaptive water resources management; transboundary watershed governance; systems thinking; institutional development and capacity building; social learning; virtual and interactive learning networks and partnerships; change agents; knowledge co-creation; transformational leadership
Guest Editor
Mr. Chengzi Chew

Serious Games at DHI, Agern Allé 5, 2970 Hørsholm, Denmark
Website | E-Mail
Interests: hydro-informatics and water management; combining numerical models with game mechanics to develop serious games for educational purposes and to improve stakeholder processes in the field of water; public–private partnerships on the application of serious games; data management and visualization; mobile and web applications
Guest Editor
Prof. Jan Franklin Adamowski

Department of Bioresource Engineering, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Quebec H9X 3V9, Canada
Website | E-Mail
Interests: hydro-meteorological time series improvement (i.e., filling gaps, extending short records, etc.); input variable selection for hydrological models; hydro-meteorological trend estimation; hydrological forecasting; stakeholder engagement; integrated and adaptive water resources management; participatory modeling and management; “social-hydrological” modeling
Guest Editor
Prof. Igor Mayer

Academy for Digital Entertainment, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, Monseigneur Hopmansstraat 1, 4817 JT Breda, The Netherlands
Website | E-Mail
Interests: playful organizations and learning systems; gaming-simulation and serious games for policy analysis, decision-making, management and organization; digital game and media technology for innovation in trade, industry, social and public sectors; sustainability
Guest Editor
Prof. Arjen Wals

Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Website | E-Mail
Interests: education; educational research; environmental education; transformation; participation; learning; social learning; sustainability; sustainable agriculture; sustainable development; sustainable energy; sustainability transitions; learning processes

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The sustainable governance of water resources relies on processes of multi-stakeholder collaborations and interactions that facilitate knowledge co-creation and social learning. Governance systems are often fragmented, forming a barrier to adequately address the myriad of challenges affecting water resources, including climate change, increased urbanized populations as well as pollution. Transitions towards sustainable water governance will likely require innovative learning partnerships between public, private and civil society stakeholders. It is essential that such partnerships involve vertical and horizontal communication of ideas and knowledge, an enabling and democratic environment characterised by informal and open discourse. There is increasing interest in learning based transitions. Thus far, much scholarly thinking and, to a lesser degree, empirical research has gone into understanding the potential impact of social learning on multi-stakeholder settings. The question of whether such learning can be supported by forms of serious gaming has hardly been asked. This Special Issue critically explores the potential of serious games to support multi-stakeholder social learning and collaborations in the context of water governance. Serious games may involve simulations of real-world events and processes, and are aimed at challenging players to solve contemporary societal problems; they therefore have a purpose beyond entertainment. They seem to offer a largely untapped potential to support social learning and collaboration by facilitating access to and the exchange of knowledge and information, enhancing stakeholder interactions, empowering a wider audience to participate in decision making, and providing opportunities to test and analyze the outcomes of policies and management solutions. Little is known about how serious games can be used in the context of collaborative water governance to maximize their potential for social learning. While several studies have reported on examples of serious games, there is comparably less research about how to assess the impacts of serious games on social learning and transformative change.

Dr. Wietske Medema
Prof. Jan Franklin Adamowski
Prof. Arjen Wals
Prof. Igor Mayer
Mr. Chengzi Chew
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Water is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


Water resources management; policy analysis; decision-making; transformative change; social learning; multi-stakeholder collaboration; consensus building; trust and social cohesion; advanced ICT; gaming-simulation and serious games

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Models, Simulations and Games for Integrated Water Management: a Comparative Q-method Study in the Netherlands and China
Author: Qiqi Zhou and Igor Mayer
Abstract: How do policy analysts and policy makers perceive the various roles that models, simulations and games (MSG) have, or can have in integrated water management  (IWM)? A total of sixty respondents in the Netherlands and China were interviewed, following the requirements and steps of the Q-method. Comparative analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data show that: 1. The debate on the role of MSG for water management is structured around five frames in the Netherlands and four frames in China. 2 The frames in the Netherlands and China are significantly different, however with a similar ‘sceptic’ frame in both countries. 3. In China, there is a predominant frame that perceives MSG for water management as ‘data driven simulation and visualization technology’ which is less significant in the Netherlands. 4. The reverse is true with regard to MSG for ‘social learning’ – which is a significant frame in the Netherlands, and not at all in China. The conclusion is that frame differences can easily confuse professional and academic debates about MSG for policy making; within the same institutional and cultural context, but even more so in Netherlands-China water management co-operation projects. Frames are also relevant when designing, using or evaluating innovative methods for integrated water management.

Model-based games as tools to support social learning for sustainable water governance
Author: Joop de Kraker, Astrid Offermans, Merel van der Wal
Abstract: Social learning among the multiple actors involved in governance of water resources can play an important role in creating the cognitive and relational basis for collective or coordinated action. Simulation models and model-based games are claimed to be effective tools to support social learning for resource governance. However, a process-based conceptualization of how these tools could support social learning is still lacking. In this paper, we first review the literature on model-based games as tools to support social learning for the sustainable governance of water and other natural resources. From the literature we then develop a conceptual framework of model/game-supported social learning, focusing on the social-cognitive dimension. Finally, we analyze sessions with a multi-player simulation game in river management to test the assumptions of the conceptual framework and inform its further development. The analysis integrates both quantitative (statistical analysis of players’ decisions in 15 game sessions) and qualitative approaches (content analysis of communicative exchanges between players in 3 game sessions).

Title: Socio-psychological perspectives on the potential for Serious Games to promote transcendental values in IWRM decision-making 

Author: Dianna Marini, Wietske Medema, Igor Mayer, Arjen Wals, Neil Randall, Jan Adamowski

Abstract: Modern day challenges of water resource management involve difficult decision-making in the face of increasing complexity and uncertainty. However, even if all decision-makers possessed perfect knowledge, water management decisions ultimately involve competing values, which will only get more prominent with increasing scarcity and competition over resources. Therefore, an important normative goal for water management is the long-term cooperation between stakeholders. According to principles of integrated water resource management (IWRM), this necessitates that managerial decisions support social equity and intergenerational equity (social equity that spans generations). The purpose of this review is to formulate preliminary recommendations for the design of serious games (SGs), a potentially valuable learning tool that can give rise to shared values and engage stakeholders with conflicting interests to cooperate towards a common goal. Specifically, this discussion explores whether SG could promote values that transcend the self-interest (transcendent values) based on the contributions of social psychology. The discussion is organized in the following way. First, reasons are provided for why understanding values from psychological perspectives is both important for water management and a potential avenue for learning in SG. Second, the description of values and mechanisms of value change from the field of psychology is presented. Third, the key psychological constraints to learning or applying values are highlighted. Fourth, recommendations are made for SG designers to consider when developing games for water management, to promote transcendental values. The main conclusions from exploring the potential of value change for IWRM through SG design are that: 1- SG design needs to consider how all values change systematically, 2- SG design should incorporate the many value conflicts that are faced in real life water management, 3- SG could potentially promote learning by having players reflect on the reasoning behind value priorities across water management situations, 4- intergroup conflict is an important barrier to value change in water management, and that this can be further explored in SG, 5- value change ought to be tested in an iterative SG design process using Schwartz’s Value Survey (SVS) survey (or something akin to it).

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