Drops of knowledge

Water in Cities

How to break down barriers with social learning

Transitions towards sustainable water governance will likely require innovative learning partnerships between a variety of stakeholders. It is essential that such partnerships involve novel methods for communicating ideas and knowledge while offering an enabling environment to connect various stakeholder groups informally.

Exploring management situations without real-world repercussions

The question whether such learning transitions can be supported by forms of serious gaming has hardly been asked. As part of the UpSWinG project, advanced Information Communication Technology (ICT) is identified as a possible approach to enhance multi-stakeholder learning and collaboration. The research team has focused on exploring the potential of serious games to support learning and interactions in the context of water governance.

Fact box:
What is a serious game?

Any game-based initiative with a ‘serious’ agenda can be termed as a ‘serious game’.

Aqua Republica is a serious game that focuses on promoting sustainable water resources management. Underlying environmental models power the game and allow for an accurate portrayal of the physical and social issues that face a developing watershed. The game allows players to try out a variety of possible management situations without the risk of real-world repercussions. This also allows for participants to exchange perspectives and ideas while coming up with a management plan together.

What about social learning?

Little is known still about how serious games can be used in the context of collaborative water governance to maximise their potential for social learning.

Games such as Aqua Republica allow people to interact with more ease, and is innovative learning tool for tackling complex water governance challenges. © McGill University

In this light, researchers with McGill began studying the potential and benefits of Aqua Republica by organising a variety of simulation gaming events with both students and stakeholders working in the field of water resource management. The first event was populated by students of McGill’s Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) master program. After its success, McGill’s researchers began to work with a variety of stakeholders across Canada.

Subsequently, events involving Aqua Republic were planned in Moncton, Halifax and Ottawa. Members of local government were sitting next to summer employees of a watershed association as games were played.

‘Planners were playing the game with engineers; board members were interacting with employees in a way they had never before. It became clear that games, such as Aqua Republica, offer the unique ability to remove tensions from a room and allow people to chat and interact with far more ease.’

A proven innovative learning tool

McGill also offered Aqua Republica as a module for an online course on Integrated and Adaptive Water Resources Planning, Management and Governance to professionals all over the world.

Although more research must be conducted to assess the impacts of serious games on social learning and transformative change, the Aqua Republica game has shown to provide an innovative learning tool that is an essential component to tackling complex water governance challenges.