Knowledge is power in this game of chance (called life)

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22 April 2012

I roll the die once: five. The group rolls a second die: six. Total: 11. Result: I lose. In this game of chance where I’m playing the role of a farmer, my crops are wiped out by heavy rains and my kids will go hungry.

Dice used in a game at the 6th international conference on CBA.

I have no weather forecasts to predict regional rains so I don’t know if I need to invest in crop insurance or not. I gamble and lose. I hand over 4 of my 10 beans at the participatory game session held at the 6th International Conference on community-adaptation to climate change.

But I learn from this experience. Perhaps because I’m a mum I begin to play more cautiously and invest in insurance (by handing over a precious bean) almost each round. The strategy pays off. When we count our beans at the end, I have 4 — the highest number of beans in my group.

After two rounds, we’re offered the chance to bid for weather forecasting information. My group bids low and we miss out. Big mistake. The two teams that bid higher with their beans receive weather forecasts to help them decide whether to take out insurance. In the rules of the game, this means that they can see the roll of the group die before deciding whether to invest in insurance. The result? At the end they have 40 beans while our team, with no access to weather forecasts, has 11.

The message is clear: weather forecasts save farmers money and help them make informed decisions. Unfortunately, the lessons aren’t so clear for donors. According to Suarez, NGOs are investing close to nothing in using and understanding forecasts. More of them clearly need to attend Suarez’s workshop.

Maps explaining gradients of atmospheric pressure sound complicated. They look complicated too with their different colours representing different levels of potential rainfall. As a farmer, after looking at one it’s doubtful you’d be any closer to being able to answer two pressing questions: Do I plant cassava, or not? If not, what do I plant?

But games are a great way of communicating “decisions and their consequences,” says Pablo Suarez, Associate Director of Programmes at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies climate centre, and that’s why they’re so good at explaining the “humanitarian consequences of a changing climate”. They allow players to make a cost-free choice and experience the potential outcome in play so that they can apply those lessons learned in real life. And they explain hard-to-understand science and risk in a fun way. “You explore, you play and you figure out relationships and patterns, and think differently,” said Suarez.

In the video below Suarez discusses how a game was developed with humanitarian workers and farmers in Nuevo Guayabo, Guatemala to explain the links between upstream deforestation and flooding experienced by people living downstream. As a result of playing the game, they developed a model to resolve the problem.

Certainly, I leave the session convinced on the merits of participatory game playing, and hooked. Pass the die please.

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