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Support modeling in Massaï country: Use of role-playing games to promote social learning on adaptive co-management of natural resources

Christophe Le Page, Arthur Bostvironnois, François Mialhe, Yanni Gunnel

Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), France

Coping with complex political dilemmas characterizing the management of common resources requires developing stakeholder learning networks to create a cooperative decision-making environment in which trust, understanding, and mutual trust develop over time. Involved in such social learning processes, local actors are strengthened, their empowerment being a consequence of their involvement rather than a starting point. Fostering the dynamic of involvement of local actors in the processes of adaptive co-management should then allow the creation of a virtuous circle. Researchers have proposed several tools and methods to foster social learning among small rural farmers, role-playing being one of them. An RPG session takes place as a succession of game turns, which encourages participants to build together iteratively a mutual understanding of the interdependencies connecting the entities of the simulated system. On this basis, participants seek agreements to define and implement management measures. In this sense, an RPG session constitutes a “shared experience” to which it may be interesting to refer in order to introduce local populations to concepts linked to the commons such as “commoning”. Here we present how RPGs are used with Masai pastoralists living around Amboseli National Park (Kenya). We first conducted three sessions of a generic RPG called ReHab (Resources and Habitat), initially intended to make students aware of the importance of communicative rationality in contested landscapes. An inhabitant was trained to facilitate the sessions. The participants had no difficulty in “entering the game “. Certain situations that arose during the game clearly echoed existing practices in reality (for example, collective decision to enter the protected area in the face of a critical situation, collective decision to create a reconstitution area). Now that the local players have understood the advantage of working with such stylized tools, we are going to develop a contextual game to specifically address their current problems.

Modélisation d’accompagnement en pays Massaï : Usage des jeux de rôles pour favoriser l’apprentissage social sur la cogestion adaptative des ressources naturelles

Christophe Le Page, Arthur Bostvironnois, François Mialhe, Yanni Gunnel

Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), France

Pour faire face à des dilemmes politiques complexes caractérisant la gestion des ressources communes, il faut développer des réseaux d’apprentissage des parties prenantes afin de créer un environnement décisionnel coopératif dans lequel la confiance, la compréhension et la confiance mutuelle se développent au fil du temps. Impliqués dans de tels processus d’apprentissage social, les acteurs locaux sont renforcés, leur autonomisation étant une conséquence de leur implication plutôt qu’un point de départ. Favoriser la dynamique d’implication des acteurs locaux dans les processus de cogestion adaptative devrait alors permettre la création d’un cercle vertueux. Les chercheurs ont proposé plusieurs outils et méthodes pour favoriser l’apprentissage social parmi les petits exploitants ruraux, le jeu de rôle (RPG) étant l’un d’entre eux. Une session RPG se déroule comme une succession de tours de jeu, ce qui encourage les participants à construire ensemble de manière itérative une compréhension mutuelle des interdépendances reliant les entités du système simulé. Sur cette base, les participants recherchent des accords pour définir et mettre en œuvre des mesures de gestion. En ce sens, une session RPG constitue une «expérience partagée» à laquelle il peut être intéressant de se référer afin d’introduire aux populations locales des notions liées aux communs comme le «commoning». Nous présentons ici comment les RPG sont utilisés avec les pasteurs masaï vivant autour du parc national d’Amboseli (Kenya). Nous avons d’abord mené trois sessions d’un RPG générique appelé ReHab (Ressources et Habitat), initialement destiné à sensibiliser les étudiants à l’importance de la rationalité communicative dans les paysages contestés. Un habitant a été formé pour animer les séances. Les participants n’ont eu aucune difficulté à “”entrer dans le jeu””. Certaines situations survenues pendant le jeu faisaient clairement écho aux pratiques existantes dans la réalité (par exemple, décision collective d’entrer dans l’aire protégée face à une situation critique, décision collective de créer une zone de reconstitution). Maintenant que les acteurs locaux ont compris l’intérêt de travailler avec de tels outils stylisés, nous allons élaborer un jeu contextuel pour répondre spécifiquement à leurs problèmes d’actualité.


4 Responses

  1. Thank you Christophe. I could follow most of it via the automatic translation :-). One query I have with the use of the games you describe is that they depend on academics moderating the session. Do you think these kind of exercises might become part of the toolbox of extension agencies? And would that be desirable?

    1. Hi Marco, thank you for watching my frenchy talk 😉 You’re right, training a local facilitator is key. In the case presented here, the two first sessions were co-facilitated and the last one was handled by the local facilitator without me. Involving people from extension agencies with excellent skills in communication and education is a strategy that proved to be efficient in past similar processes we implemented in Bhutan. Learning to master the playing rules and the game mechanics is not such a big issue with this kind of simple games. It might be slightly more tricky to convey the idea of using the game to support social learning consistently with the principles of the companion modelling approach. The debriefing of the gaming session is not meant to formulate recommendations but to identify questions to be investigated in a collaborative and transdisciplinary way. Yet, clearly, such tools might be used to convey pre-established messages: the possibility of using them to manipulate local people exists. We must remain vigilant in transferring not only the tool but also the approach that aims to use it to promote the collective commitment to envision jointly trajectories towards sustainable futures. I’m convinced we should foster ways for academics and extension agencies to work together more closely.

  2. Looks like an interesting process for bringing people together to learn. Could you explain a bit more if there are ways that the participants can creatively contribute to defining management measures, modifying any provided by the researchers or coming up with new management measures of their own?

  3. Hello Bryan, thank you for your comment!
    During the sessions played in Kenya, the role of the protected area manager was not assigned to one of the participants: the zoning of the protected area (3 cells) was set up by the session facilitator without the explicit intervention (as a player) of the manager himself. We then observed how the participants took this information into account when choosing the zones in which they decided to harvest resources, and whether they decided on their own on collectively validated measures to ensure that the harvest was sustainable. In one session, the players decided to reduce the number of people they sent to harvest resources, in another one they decided to set up their own system of rotating the harvesting zones. In companion modeling games, rules are left open: participants have a great deal of freedom to propose measures of their own not mentioned as rules of the game. It can even go as far as the creation of new roles, and sometimes the result of a session of a generic game like the one we used in Kenya leads to the creation of a specific game.

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