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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: 1 May 2018

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).

Title: Marine Spatial Planning Challenge 2050: A Game Experiment to Enhance Collaboration for the Sustainable Planning of Maritime Activities
Author: Laura Gilbert, Steven Jean, Wietske Medema, Igor Mayer and Jan Adamowski
Abstract: Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) aims at helping to establish coherent networks of Marine Protected Areas, for which cooperation on planning across borders and boundaries is essential. It is important to ensure the participation of diverse stakeholder groups in these planning processes. These processes are about planning human activities in order to ensure their efficiency and sustainability, and involve stakeholders in a transparent way in the planning of maritime activities. Marine Spatial Planning Challenge 2050 is a serious game simulation that has been initiated in 2011 by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment and an executive agency called Rijkswaterstaat in the Netherlands. As part of this study, a 2-day MSP experiment was organized involving master students from Memorial University and McGill University, as well as various stakeholders from the Newfoundland area involved in MSP activities. This game experiment consisted of a board game that the participants played during the beginning of the event, followed by a computer supported face-to-face role play, moderated by a moderating team. Participants were split into five teams of 4-5 people who each took on diverse MSP roles within their teams. Interactions within and between these teams were video recorded to allow for an interaction analysis. This interaction analysis involves an empirical investigation of human-to-human and human-environment interactions, while paying close attention to verbal, as well as non-verbal interactions, and also to the use of artifacts and technology. Before, during and after-the-game surveys were sent out to participants to collect more details on their backgrounds, individual and collective game experiences and interactions. A social network analysis is conducted to support the measurement and visualization of connections and relations between participants to better understand the dynamics that either hindered or facilitated collaboration during the game experiment. This study provides a greater insight into the potential of serious game simulations, such as the MSP Challenge 2050, to increase participants’ understanding of MSP while enhancing interactions and connections between participants over the course of the game experiment.

Title: Serious gaming techniques used in a collaborative modeling process for flood impact analyses
Author: Micheline Hounjet
A flood can damage critical infrastructure networks directly through water depth and waterflow, but also indirectly through cascading effects caused by interdependencies between different critical infrastructure networks. It is not always possible to collect the amount and type of data needed to make a good impact analysis on critical infrastructure networks. The data is often seen as vulnerable and sensitive. To be able to learn from knowledge from different network representatives and collect qualitative and quantitative information a collaborative modeling process was designed. This process is called CIrcle (Critical infrastructures: relations and consequences for Life and Environment) and uses different serious gaming techniques in each step to enhance knowledge and data collecting, awareness raising and decision making.
The first step in the CIrcle process is about discussion and sharing knowledge. The most important aspect is to bring experts from different critical infrastructure network together and discuss possible flood scenario’s and the effects on their networks. With the use of the digital CIrcle tool, the qualitative and quantitative knowledge is entered in the tool and possible cascading effects become visible. Because in this first phase the discussions are more general about vulnerabilities and possible cascades, and because an easy visualization is used, attendees are more inclined to think about possible direct and indirect effects. The tool itself is very easy to use and has a comprehensive visualization. The workshop itself is about trust and sharing knowledge. If an attendant soes not want to share certain information, than he can choose not to share the information. The group process works in such a way that when there is trust, people will be willing to share a bit more and learn about interdependencies and cascades during the workshop.
There is also a non-digital CIrcle tool with which we aim to collect the same type of data and knowledge. This tool is used in settings where the workshop is outside for instance or where it is difficult to use the digital version. This non-digital version uses the same knowledge sharing principal as the digital tool but emphasizes the knowledge sharing part with actual sharing of game board elements with the other members.
In the 2nd step the collected data is used to visualize possible cascading effects in a 3D, interactive game environment. This set-up was chosen in such a way that the critical infrastructure network representatives are challenged to play with their data. Within the model the cascading effects are not only visualized, the player can test vulnerabilities of objects as well and increase their robustness. For instance: a transformer can function up to a water depth of 50 cm. When this threshold is exceeded by a larger water depth, electricity outages will be the result in a part of the network. A player can raise the threshold of the particular object to see whether this measure will solve outage problems in the surrounding area. This model is not only used to demonstrate the result of the data collection but is also an extra phase to collect more knowledge about the specific area. There could be exceptions to the rules they have provided earlier. For instance: this particular water tower has been disconnected from the network recently and therefore does not have a function anymore and will not cause cascading effects anymore. The interactive model uses open-ended play to be able to use it during discussions and make it possible for different representatives to test measures that they have in mind and see the effects on the other networks. The tool emphasizes the interactivity in the discussion itself.
In the third phase the results are used to determine resilience strategies. With the gained knowledge of the participants of the interdependencies between their networks, resilience strategies might change. Measures to increase robustness for entire networks are not always possible and redundancy, flexibility or resourcefulness might be options as well. The group of critical infrastructure representatives look into the balance of different strategies and determine which locations or parts of networks should be more robust and determine where more redundancy is more beneficial.
The paper will describe the abovementioned steps by discussing results from different international case studies.

Title: Multi-stakeholder development of a serious game to explore the water-energy-food-land-climate nexus: the SIM4NEXUS approach
Author: Janez Sušnik, Chengzi Chew, Xavier Domingo Albin, Simone Mereu, Antonio Trabucco, Barry Evans, Lydia Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia, Dragan A. Savić, Chrysi Laspidou, Floor Brouwer
Abstract: Water, energy, food, land use and climate form a tightly connected nexus in which actions on one sector impact other sectors creating feedbacks and unanticipated consequences. This is especially so because at present much scientific research and policies are constrained into silos based on disciplines/sectors often not interacting (e.g. water-related research/policy). However experimenting in interaction and determining how a change in one sector could impact another may take unreasonable time frames, be very difficult in practice, and may be potentially dangerous, triggering any one of a number of unanticipated side-effects. Therefore a safe environment is required to test the potential cross-sectoral implications of policy decisions in one sector on other sectors. Serious Games offer such an environment by creating realistic similes, where long-term impacts of policies may be tested and rated. The EU Horizon2020 project SIM4NEXUS will develop Serious Games investigating potential plausible cross-nexus implications and synergies due to policy interventions for 12 multi-scale case studies ranging from regional to global. What sets these games apart is that stakeholders and partners are involved in all aspects of the modelling definition and process, from case study conceptualisation, quantitative model development including the implementation and validation of each Serious Game. In this paper, this process for a proof-of-concept study for one SIM4NEXUS case study (Sardinia) is presented. The value of multi-stakeholder involvement is demonstrated, and critical lessons learned for going forward in SIM4NEXUS, and for Serious Game development in general, are presented.

Title: Exploring the role of relational practices in water governance using game-based approach
Author: Piotr Magnuszewski, Karolina Krolikowska, Anna Koch, Michal Pajak, Jan Sendizmir, Craig Allen, Noelle Chaine, Danielle Haak, Michelle Hellman, Ilonka Zlatar, Hannah Birge, Maggi Sliwinski, Denise Marie Weide, Victoria Chraibi, Donald Pan, Anil Giri, Nathan Rossman
Abstract: Growing complexity and interdependence of water management processes lead increasingly to the involvement of multiple stakeholders in water governance. Multi-party collaboration more and more often becomes necessary at the level of both strategy development and implementation. Multi-party collaboration involves a process of joint decision-making among key stakeholders in a problem domain directed towards the future of that domain, however, the common goal is not present from the beginning but results from the process of collaboration. The outcomes of social learning might be both technical, like effectiveness, sustainability, and integration, as well as relational or normative, like the sense of the ownership of solutions by different stakeholders, active citizenship, inclusive governance, and self-governing capacities.
Unfortunately, when conflicting interests of different actors are at stake, the large majority of environmental multiparty efforts do not deliver expected results. One of the reasons for this, which is already established in many case studies, is the missing social learning with the focus on relational practices.
The purpose of this paper is to present the design and outcomes of the pilot study utilizing the game-based approach to explore the effects of relational activities on the effectiveness of water governance. We have used the game Lords of the Valley that focuses on a local level management of the river valley involving many stakeholders. We have used an observation protocol to collect the data on the quality of relational practices and compared it with the quantitative outcomes achieved by participants in the game. In this pilot study, we have run the game three times with different groups of participants, and we provide here the outcomes of this study with the focus on verification and improvement of the used methods.

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