Using Rapid Game Design for Zambia’s Lower Kafue Basin challenges

Achieving a balance between social and economic development and environmental conservation requires innovative approaches.

by Freddie Siangulube

RGD offers a novel and engaging approach to multistakeholder dialogue by harnessing the power of gamification of complex issues. Photo: IWMI
RGD offers a novel and engaging approach to multistakeholder dialogue by harnessing the power of gamification of complex issues. Photo: IWMI

Effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders with different perspectives are crucial for successful multistakeholder platform (MSP) functioning. This is more evident in landscapes facing complex social, ecological and development challenges, such as the Lower Kafue Basin in Zambia. Here, achieving a balance between social and economic development and environmental conservation requires innovative approaches to foster dialogue and collaboration among diverse stakeholders.

One of the approaches that is gaining traction in MSP governance is rapid game design (RGD), which facilitates meaningful conversations and drives actionable solution pathways for sustainable development.

The Lower Kafue Basin is a landscape of immense ecological and economic significance, supporting the livelihoods of over one million people. The basin is home to a diverse array of actors, including government agencies, local communities, NGOs, industries, energy and conservation groups, each with their interests, priorities, and perspectives. Engaging such diverse stakeholders presents high potential but also a formidable challenge. Some argue that regular meetings of MSPs are often too slow to help deliver outcomes at a pace fast enough to match the evolving issues concerning water, energy and food.

In the context of the Lower Kafue Basin, RGD offers a novel and engaging approach to multistakeholder dialogue by harnessing the power of gamification of complex issues. The game designing process unravels waterscape and landscape issues through interactive stakeholder experiences that encourage inclusive collaboration, problem-solving and empathy while breaking down sectoral barriers and fostering understanding between stakeholders about common concerns.

Playing the long game for water, energy and food security

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI), through the CGIAR Initiative on Aquatic Foods, supported the RGD multistakeholder workshop on April 4, 2024, for members of the Lower Kafue Basin MSP. This workshop asked stakeholders to think about how to deliver water, energy, and food security sustainably and equitably while ensuring the functioning of the basin ecosystems using a nexus approach. The approach acknowledges the complexities at the landscape scale and seeks to find interlinkages between sectors to highlight the potential synergies that benefit all the stakeholders.

The RGD process begins with identifying stakeholders and understanding their interests, concerns and objectives. Facilitators then stimulate small groups of five to eight stakeholders to co-create a game that reflects the opportunities, challenges and trade-offs inherent in managing the resources in the basin. Through iterative design sessions, the game evolves to illustrate the diverse perspectives and landscape dynamics. The stakeholders participating in the game assume different roles, representing various stakeholder interests, and collaborate to make decisions that impact the virtual ecosystem. Through the game designing, stakeholders gain insights from translating between the ‘game world’ to the ‘real world’.

The rapid game design yielded promising game outcomes for the Lower Kafue Basin management. MSP participants developed seven games that depict contemporary challenges in the water sector.

  • The game, Exploring the Lower Kafue Nexus Spin Challenge, illustrated the need for collaboration between sectors to achieve mutual benefits. It emphasized the interconnectedness of mining, fishing, finance, community, and energy within the basin.
  • In the game, Functional Landscape Nexus, players engaged in activities reflecting the dynamics in the basin, aiming to strike a balance between nexus gains and losses to promote a healthy landscape. Discussions revolved around concepts such as endogenous knowledge, bylaws and planning, highlighting their impact on the nexus approach.
  • The game, Kafue Flats: A Win-lose Nexus, illustrated how economic activities affect various sectors, communities and the environment. Stakeholders navigated trade-offs and agency roles, aiming for a ‘win-more, lose-less’ scenario and emphasising the power of rewards for responsible management.
  • The game Trees and People focused on the tree-people relationship in combating deforestation while facing a number of risks. Actors from the community, NGOs, charcoal producers and commercial farmers explored the delicate balance between livelihoods and conservation.
  • The Power and Water game delved into the roles of a regulator among competing water needs, highlighting issues of justice, equity and power dynamics.
  • The Drought Fight game revealed the socio-economic impacts of drought within the Kafue Basin, emphasizing penalties as a deterrent to law enforcement and compliance.
  • Finally, the Equitable Water Allocation game tackled governance dynamics, the challenges of managing the commons, and the importance of collective actions and negotiation, all central to the nexus approach.

Breaking barriers one game design at a time

By providing a shared platform for dialogue, stakeholders developed a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, appreciated trade-offs in stakeholder activities, and helped build trust and mutual respect. Furthermore, the RGD process and outcome typifies the essence of MSPs by ensuring stakeholders collectively brainstorm their differences and leverage their synergies.

While the Lower Kafue Basin MSP considers gender equality, social inclusion and understanding power differential dynamics as key to delivering equitable outcomes, the RGD also demonstrated its democratic ability to promote equality, where men, women and youths inclusively engaged with each other as they developed the games. Such an approach ensures that the outcomes are representative of all perspectives.

The experiences from the RGD workshop offer valuable lessons. Beyond fostering dialogue, insights generated by building games can inform policy decisions, resource allocation, community initiatives and promote inclusive and sustainable development practices in the basin. Further, the RGD workshop shows that by harnessing the immersive and collaborative nature of gaming, stakeholders can transcend barriers, build consensus and chart a course towards a more sustainable future outcome. However, how these outcomes will translate into actual implementation of actions within the Lower Kafue remains to be seen.

This blog received contributions from Everisto Mapedza, Marie-Charlotte Buisson, Bruce Lankford, Kezzy Besa, Viktoria Wörther, Sepiso Ikasaya, Maritza Astello, Ben Muke, Rhoda Kabaso, Monica Kaluba, Florence Ng’ambi and Winnie Pele Kasoma. 

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