Serious games contribute to stakeholder dialogue

How drinking water companies can engage in dialogue with the field

Drinking water companies work with numerous different stakeholders with different interests. That requires dialogue, not only with partners working in the water sector but also with partners from other sectors such as energy and food, spatial planning and the climate. Serious games can also facilitate the water sector’s consultations with a range of stakeholders, and therefore contribute to insight and awareness. In this blog, we will discuss recent examples from EU projects in which serious games have been used for this purpose.

Drinking water companies are responsible for delivering adequate supplies of high-quality drinking water. They depend on the natural water system to source that water. However, they are not alone in that respect. It is becoming increasingly clear how many relationships and dependencies there are between the water sector and other sectors, such as energy and food, spatial planning and the climate. The strong interdependency of all these sectors also means that numerous parties are involved. Serious games can help to engage stakeholders in consultations with each other. Playing a game is a form of social interaction and communication that has been around for centuries. The goal of a ‘serious game’ is to understand a complex problem better. The structure and rules of the game help to further interaction between stakeholders. A number of recent examples from Europe.


The SIM4NEXUS serious game is a tool that can help the water sector to understand complex situations better, to create awareness, to collaborate better, and to establish understanding and consensus among different stakeholders. It was developed as part of the Horizon 2020 research project SIM4NEXUS (2016-2020). That project adopted a water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus approach (WEFE), developing serious games for four different cases in order to work together across sector boundaries. In one of the case studies in this project, the Baltic Environmental Forum in Latvia analysed the stakeholders involved in the challenges Latvia faces to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. This analysis served as the basis for the development of a serious game which was used to support the dialogue initiated with the aim of working with these stakeholders to establish a joint package of policy interventions. The SIM4NEXUS serious game is a successful tool for working with stakeholders to compare the impact of different policy options on the nexus and to reflect with stakeholders on the importance and consequences of that impact for policy and practice.

Stakeholder analyse

Figure 1: Result of stakeholder analysis by Baltic Environmental Forum, Latvia. The colours show the sectors in which the stakeholders are active.


The Horizon 2020 research project NEXOGENESIS (2021-2025) is further investigating the relationships between different sectors and interactions in the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to develop a model in which these interactions are made visible and to determine the impact of policies on the nexus in five case studies in Europe and South Africa.


Another example of a serious game that is important for the water sector is the NextGen serious game. It was developed as part of the Horizon 2020 project NextGen. The goal of the game is to understand the transition to a circular economy better. Players can try out measures in a city’s water system, such as savings in domestic water consumption or reusing rainwater. The challenge is to improve a city’s circular economy. Because there are always trade-offs, even with successful measures, it emerges that no individual measure produces a maximum improvement. An important conclusion from the experiences in this game is therefore that a balanced package of measures is needed for the circular economy to function as well as possible. An interesting additional benefit of the experience gained in the NextGen serious game is the conclusion that recovering metals from waste water can make a significant contribution to reducing the carbon footprint.

Fig. 2: Illustratie NextGen Serious Game on circular economy for water (meer informatie)

Figure 2: NextGen Serious Game on circular economy for water.

Aqua Ludens

Serious gaming is also being used in the Netherlands. In the Aqua Ludens project, KWR teamed up with the Groningen water company, NHL Stenden, the University of Exeter (UK) and WLN on the development of a serious game to address freshwater challenges with all stakeholders in the province of Groningen. The aim of the game is to support the communications process to arrive at shared solutions. In particular, the game helps stakeholders to arrive at a better understanding of the water system, and each other’s position and importance in it. In the first steps made on the development of the serious game, simply working together on the investigation of the many interactions and interdependencies between the sectors produced new, shared insights.

Integrated asset management

A serious game can also be used to engage internal stakeholders in mutual discussion. KWR has developed a game for integrated asset management in the collective Sector Research Programme of the drinking water companies, Vewin and KWR. It identifies the considerations that play a role in decisions at the strategic, tactical and operational levels. Swapping roles in the game allows people to understand each other more. As a result, this is also expected to establish more shared responsibility and improve communications between different perspectives.

The experiences acquired in these EU projects highlight the importance of understanding the interactions and interdependencies inside, across and between the boundaries of the water sector. They also show that serious gaming in the water sector can make an important contribution to indispensable stakeholder dialogue.

More information

Are you interested in more information about the nexus or serious gaming? In the webinar The Nexus – Building Synergies Across Sectors, researchers and drinking water companies will tell you more about the connections between sectors and the importance of the interactions and interdependencies between different sectors. More information about serious gaming can be found in the blog Serious gaming can raise stakeholder awareness about water supply and demand by Stefania Munaretto (KWR) and in the webinar Serious Gaming – Enabling Stakeholder Dialogue and Decision Making.

These webinars were part of the international webinar series ‘Sharing International Experiences in Water Supply’ organised by KWR as part of the Drinking Water Sector Research Programme in collaboration with Watershare. Read the blog about this series: Finding appropriate water management practices: a shared responsibility – KWR or watch the webinars at BTO en Watershare delen kennis in internationale webinarserie – KWR.