Serious gaming can raise stakeholder awareness on water supply and demand

Gaming has always been an integral part of human culture. One of the oldest forms of social interaction and communication, games have enabled civilisations to bond and thrive as communities.

While the primary function of many of these games is entertainment, serious gaming meanwhile has developed with the primary goal of education and learning. Serious gaming facilitates interaction by creating a safe environment with rules, structures and objectives. Participants are taken out of the everyday context and play a role with the freedom to make decisions without impacting tangible world assets. Ultimately, the goal is to bring learning into practice.

Serious gaming in the context of water

Serious gaming is a tool to facilitate interaction, communication and learning. It can raise stakeholder awareness and learn about water supply and demand in a specific region. It can enable water utilities to interact internally to understand their operations better and externally with their customers and stakeholders to build understanding and consensus on water uses and allocation.

By using gamification, stakeholders in the water supply chain can better understand each other’s roles and responsibilities. The game enables stakeholders to exchange roles virtually and explore the impacts of their actions. This experience ultimately can support strategic decision-making on, for example, asset maintenance or replacement priorities in the utilities and policy options.

KWR and the Dutch drinking water utilities are currently developing a serious game where asset managers can play out the roles of their colleagues.

Connecting the nexus through Sim4Nexus

Serious gaming can also support the integration and sustainable management of resources. One example is the four-year, Horizon2020-funded Sim4Nexus project that finished in 2020. The project investigated bio-physical and policy interlinkages across five nexus domains: water, land, food, energy, and climate, facilitating learning and the design of policies within the nexus.

The game shows the impacts of resource use and relevant policies on the nexus through a model-based analysis that uses actual data from selected case studies at regional, national and transboundary scales. A total of 12 case studies were included from 26 partners across Europe, with the ambition to develop serious games in each region.

One of the case studies is the South-West region of England. The project partner, utility South-West Water, developed and now uses the Sim4Nexus serious game to help plan decisions as part of its business plan for the next five years. The game embedded elements such as socioeconomic and cost assessment into different decision options in the game.

The future of serious gaming within the water sector

We expect that serious gaming will inevitably become more prominent in the future. Droughts are here to stay, and we need to find engaging ways to show all stakeholders that water demands go beyond their own needs. Through a serious game, regional water authorities can use future demand and supply predictions to foster discussion and engage with stakeholders on distributing and managing water most effectively. Serious gaming can also help evaluate circular water solutions by integrating all the nexus – energy, agriculture, food production and the water sectors.

As water scarcity bites, we must find better ways to work together and share this valuable resource. Serious gaming is one tool that can help make everyone understand the interdependencies of our complex world and the priorities of others in a collaborative and safe environment.

On 3 March 2022 from 13:00-14:00 (NL local time), the Joint Research Programme (BTO) and Watershare will organise the webinar “Serious Gaming: Enabling Stakeholder Dialogue and Decision Making” as part of a “Sharing International Experiences on Water Supply” webinar series. The webinar will present various serious games in water supply that can enable water utilities to better interact both internally with their operations and processes and externally with their customers and stakeholders to better manage their systems while also developing a good understanding and consensus with their stakeholders on water uses and allocation. You can register for the webinar here.