Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment / CBIE Working Papers / Playing Games to Save Water: Collective Action Games for Groundwater Management in India

Playing Games to Save Water: Collective Action Games for Groundwater Management in India



Groundwater is one of the most challenging common pool resources to govern, resulting in resource depletion in many areas. We present an innovative use of collective action games to not only measure propensity for collective action, but to improve local understanding of groundwater interrelationships and stimulate collective governance of groundwater, based on a pilot study with NGOs in Andhra Pradesh, India. The games simulate crop choice and consequences for the aquifer. These were followed by a community debrieng, which provided an entry point for discussing the interconnectedness of groundwater use, to aect mental models about groundwater. A slightly modied game was played in the same communities, one year later. Communication within the game increased the likelihood of groups reaching sustainable extraction levels in the second year, but not the rst. Individual payments to participants based on how they played in the game had no eect on crop choice. Either repeated experience with the games or the revised structure of the game evoked more cooperation in the second year, outweighing other factors such as education, gender, and trust index scores. After the games were played, a signicantly higher proportion of communities have adopted water registers and rules to govern groundwater, compared to other communities in the same NGO water commons program. Because groundwater levels are aected by many factors, games alone will not end groundwater depletion, but can contribute to understanding of the role of crop choice and collective action, to motivate behavior change toward more sustainable groundwater extraction.

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Published January 25, 2017

Ruth Meinzen-Dick, International Food Policy Research Institute

Marco Janssen, Arizona State University

Sandeep Kandikuppa, University of North Carolina

Rahul Chaturved, Foundation for Ecological Security

R. Kaushalendra Rao, Foundation for Ecological Security

Sophie Theis, International Food Policy Research Institute