Background and history

Before the origins

Playing with or for water sharing and management has probably been the origin of one of the most common existing distribution game (outside the Go), the Awele or Mancala families ( with a principle of distributing tokens and getting and emptying places. We'll see how WAG is similar to this, and very different meanwhile... We found track of popular use of these games in the regions of development of WAG, like this picture from the Sekororo municipality in South-Africa.

The origins

WAT-A-GAME has been designed as a follow-up of series of applied projects (Barreteau et al., 2001; Ferrand, Nancarrow, 2005; Cavailles et al, 2005; Farolfi, Rowntree, 2007; Daniell, 2008) dealing with water management and governance, using games as educational, exploratory and transformative processes.

From a modelling process for schools...

Between 2003 and 2007 we have played more than 30 times a first educational river basin game. Designed to be used during half-day sessions with non trained teachers in classes of pupils age 8 to 15, it was to be simple and with no preparation. It had also to contribute to the learning of integrated water management and its main concept. Therefore in a first stage, the young participants, gathered in groups of 3 to 5, had to draw a scheme of their overall water system, on a large white page showing only the sky on top and the sea at the bottom, and based on series of stickers showing the names of key concepts or entities (“river”, “pump”, “spring”, “farmer”, “pollution”, “forests”…).

They could also add new ones on post-it. The form of the drawing was an hybrid spatial and functional map, and it could be done either on paper boards, or on computer, using tools like Cmap (IHMC, 2007). This scheme was showing the transfer of water from the sky to the sea, passing through all uses and processes. Some corrections and additions could be made at the end by the teacher. Then in a second phase, the facilitator or teacher put a large bunch of water tokens (usually paper binders or flat marbles) in the “sky” and step by step flew it through the system, splitting it and moving throughout the graph. This qualitative “hand ran” simulation led to simply demonstrate evaporation, run-off, infiltration, and sharing water among the different uses. Eventually not enough water was still flowing downstream the basin and left for these users. In some cases pupils could play the role of some of the users (farmers, dam managers, mayors, river ecologists) and had to argue about the water.

Figure 1 : A scheme produced (2004) by pupils age 11-12.
Water tokens are flown on this graph using paper staples as drops !

...To a prototype of water management game

However, teachers, not being experts themselves in water management, felt uneasy with running manually this simulation. To improve this, we have started designing a new version with a student group of DIFED (Cavailles et al, 2005), including more prepared materials, and especially transfer or consumption functions for the different activities. But we wanted to keep the participatory design phase, critical for learning, and the tuning of the support scheme to the known, sensible, water system of participants. A trade-off between preparation, calibration and appropriation had to be found.

Meanwhile we have pursued operational games where many features appeared to be common and some repetitions were experienced in the development. Still, both in terms of scientific issues addressed and in terms of tuning to the specific cases, differences exist, especially in the settings of the targeted river system, and in the complexity of the management process. Again, a trade-off between genericity and adaptation was to be sought.

...a supporting formal model : KNOWTS

At the same time, we have started working on the "KNOWTS" model and protocols, targetted at testing the capacity of s
takeholders groups to manage complex systems, and how much the knowledge about this system can help managing it. KNOWTS is based on a simple flow-stock transfer system, with multi-dimensional components flown, substituability (e.g. water-->crop production), and thresholds. A mathematical, a board and a computer (Netlogo) versions have been developed. This was the base for the discussion for a simplified yet representative version of WAG.

KNOWTS is still under development and used in exploratory experiments.

...And some developments on "upscaling companion modelling" in South-Africa

More recently, looking for strategies toward “upscaling” the “Companion Modeling Approaches” (Commod, 2003), one of the options for bringing these processes to higher and wider decision levels has appeared to be their generalization and the capacity given to non expert facilitators to adapt and repeat games at lower cost.

As a potential methodological choice for M. Manuel Magombei phd research (who had supported the implementation of an intermediary test of the RiverGame of Bruce Lankford ), we have proposed (2007) to develop a inter-scale model in northern South-Africa.

Following these various rationales, we have started assessing the needs for a generic infrastructure, called WAT-A-GAME, and which could facilitate and speed up development of new applications. In a second step, we have designed, built and tested two versions, through experiments in educational context in France, and operational context in South –Africa – where it’s been renamed as “Amanzi”, water in the local dialect xhozi.

Design and improvements through tests and versions

Since 2008 we have designed, pre-tested and operationnaly tested several versions of WAG, dealing with all the constraints of use, usefulness, playability, complexity, etc. Through the tests we have step by step improved the game, including new approaches of the social and economic issues, the water dynamics, and the actions by players. 

Moving forward to  an open kit and version for dissemination

In 2010, after the selection of WAG as pre-industrial project by Cemagref and CIRAD, we have started designing a specific version for building a toolkit to be disseminated. We have based much of the improvement on various sessions of course with executive students from Agence du Bassin du Niger, South-African Dept of Water Affairs Executive Course, Niger basin course, and other participants in France. 

Back to the north

Since late 2010, we have started, with LISODE, developing a mediterranean version and a north european version, which we start promoting and disseminating for european institutions and partners.

INIWAG kit, and more

In 2010, the INIWAG kit is finally launched, and available on demand.

Numerous projects and trainings in countries in Africa (10 years) and Europe, with hundreds of participants, allow to adapt and mature solutions. In cooperation with LISODE, the INIWAG-kit has been delivered since 2012, to help groups to model and explore a simplified watershed. Parallel to the COOPLAN method for participatory planning, the JUST-A-GRID protocol on equity, and the ENCORE paradigm for integrated evaluation are refined and broadly tested. The European project Afromaison (5 African countries) implements all those tools together in an operational framework, and evaluates them. In France, partnerships have led to games on floods of the Meuse river (EPAMA), on irrigation on the Têt river (P. Robin, LEGTA Théza), on quantitative management (Lannion), as well as to different prototypes of undergraduates (>40). In 2014, the WAG group designed for CASDEN the teaching kit « L’Eau en Jeu » ® (“Water at stake”), which is distributed in 5000 copies in public schools in France.

Future generations

WAG has thus produced the CooPLaaGE family (“Combine open and participatory tools to let water management stakeholders adapt themselves”), which now combines 10 tools and relies on electronic support. Research on their design and evaluation of effects continues. Trainings are now available to accompany new partnerships, and a transfer to economic agents.