Saturday, 24 May 2014

Playing Lasarus: Gaming the Path to Resilience or the Next Unused Toolkit?

Dr. Luis Garcia-Barrios presents Lasarus : an interactive farming game. Photo: Nilar Chit Tun
Lasarus: an interactive farming game (Pic: Nilar Chit Tun)
by , Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog: 

This post is part of the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog’s month-long series on Resilience.

During the recent Resilience 2014: Resilience and Development Conference in Montpellier, one clear trend was evident: everyone has a game to play.

Resilience is something that “comes from within rather than without,” emphasized David Nabarro, United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, delivered his opening remarks at the 2020 Resilience conference.

“If our resilience building efforts are to be successful, they must enable and empower people, societies, and institutions to strengthen their own livelihood systems and make them more resilient to shocks,” he said.

Shocks are something that most farmers are too familiar with: droughts, storms, and natural disasters can devastate decades of work. As such, most researchers have found through their work, many farmers are risk averse to new methods and technologies that could affect their crop yields.

In an attempt to demonstrate options and possibilities beyond the complex crop models and coding structures - researchers have come up with games to help role-play the possibilities and options.

There is a potential for behavior change through the use of games. In fact, many presenters at the conferences presented success stories on how these games permitted the very same farmers who were reticent to use the advice based on models to actually consider different ways of improving their daily work.

In the NonCropShare Coordination Game, currently being employed by farmers in Cambodia through IFPRI, the game investigates how choices to maintain non-crop habitat or employ pesticides shift in response to changes in incentives. To play the experimental field game, it requires four players and works as a coordination game.

During the panel on ecosystem services and sustainable intensification, several agricultural games targeting farmers and land owners were featured in different areas of the world.

Luis Garcia-Barrios presented gaming and simulation to explore collaborative land use decision-making in complex social ecological systems called Lasarus.

The game reveals the cascading effects of resource collapse. The game revolves around local land use planning; the players (6) act as farmers and can choose revolving land use and resource management tools. Personal income is chosen in each round. The game continues until no further change is desirable.

Clearly, success stories are going to be featured in a major international conference - but this begs two main questions:

1. How effective are the games in the long term? Or is the goal simply to create a safe platform for discussion?

2. What does success look like in the long term? Is it linear to the point that the farmer uses a game - the farmer changes behavior - the farmer gets better yields?

An oversimplification surely - but the research and gaming effects remain to be seen.

Failed attempts at behavior change in the form of onsite workshops, toolkits and mobile applications are plentiful in the world of agriculture - many of these knowledge dissemination tools employ one-way communication - the expert gives the information and the audience absorbs. Games can open the door to two-way communication.

It is important to note that many of these games arise from failed attempts at modeling and decision-support systems, which were to solve our problems with the touch of a button.

Unfortunately, they often require experts to input and output the information, which was often not useful for decision-makers. Games may be one approach that can lead to the gap where many previous predecessors have fallen short: human contact and stakeholder participation.

About the Author

Nilar Andrea Chit Tun is a Communications Specialist at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), headquartered in Washington DC. She has an MA in International Communications from the American University School of International Service.

Previous to IFPRI she has worked in Communications and Knowledge Management with the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

Her field experience includes assignments in Haiti and Myanmar. She is originally from Washington DC and speaks English, French, Burmese and Italian.

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