River Basin Game (aka The Water Marbles Game)

The River Basin Game is an effective simple-to-operate common-pool game using glass marbles and a sloping table or board. It promotes mutual understanding of different people’s levels of access to water and allows participants to actively react to scenarios. Experience shows that participants become highly animated and, by the end of the game, have a good understanding of system dynamics, common-pool resource pitfalls and of which issues are most critical and of what solutions might be considered. If the game-playing is part of a workshop that is spread over two days, participants are able to contribute in detail to new solutions and institutional agreements. The second day can follow up on lessons learnt and bring together various institutions to assist improving the equity of supply. The game can also be conducted in sessions that last 1-2 hours and alongside other decision-aid tools such as spreadsheets. The cited paper includes a literature review of gaming in water resources management, a complete description of the game, details of the practical arrangements required to organize a game-playing session and possible approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of a session (Lankford, et al., 2004). The River Basin Game is a dialogue tool for decision-makers and water users that has been tested in medium to small catchments in Tanzania and with many other types of stakeholders over a decade in countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia and Swaziland. The 'marbles game' (also known as) has been applied to these river basins: Nile, Zambezi, Mekong and Rufiji. It comprises a physical representation of the catchment in the form of a large wooden board. The central river flows between the upper catchment and a downstream wetland, and has on it several intakes into irrigation systems of varying sizes. Glass marbles “flow” down the channel represent river water. Participants place small sticks acting as weirs across the river to capture the marbles and scoop them into irrigation systems where they sit in small holes - thereby meeting the water requirement of that particular plot of rice or irrigation activity. The players learn that being at the top of the river has advantages, whilst tail-end systems experience water shortages. The game purposively goes through four stages; an introduction; a competitive stage whereby individuals compete for marbles (the search for water); a livelihoods stage when players consider 'the search for money' and a final collaborative stage where players cooperate over the distribution of the marbles to the different sectors on the board. Players then break into discussion groups to explore two related questions. These are: 'what technical and institutional solutions need to be considered and be initiated in order to arrive at a more equitable and productive sharing of limited water supplies? The second question is: What measures need to be taken to promote the sharing of water resources by those advantaged and located at the top of the catchment or irrigation system? The implications of different management strategies can be evaluated by various stakeholder groups including users and support agencies (Lankford, et al., 2004).

Summary of uses: • Entering into, framing and resolving issues of conflict over natural resources

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Website http://brucelankford.org.uk/research/natural-resource-gaming/
Contact person Bruce Lankford
Alternate contact Bruce Lankford
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Tool manual/User guide Lankford, B. Sokile, C., Yawson, D., Levite, H. and Sally, H. (2004).The River Basin Game: A role-playing board game for initiating discussions on visions and strategies of water allocation. Paper for Water Resource Management For Local Development Workshop: Aventura, Loskopdam. South Africa, 8 – 11, November. Accessed 22 December, 2013 at ftp://ftp.fao.org/agl/emailconf/wfe2005/Lankford_river_basin_game.pdf
Citation Lankford, B. Sokile, C., Yawson, D., Levite, H. and Sally, H. (2004).The River Basin Game: A role-playing board game for initiating discussions on visions and strategies of water allocation. Paper for Water Resource Management For Local Development Workshop: Aventura, Loskopdam. South Africa, 8 – 11, November. Accessed 22 December, 2013 at ftp://ftp.fao.org/agl/emailconf/wfe2005/Lankford_river_basin_game.pdf