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Gaming the System: Stimulating Rules and Behavior Change for Governance of Groundwater and Conjunctive Use in India

IWRA 2020 Online Conference - Addressing Groundwater Resilience under Climate Change
THEME 4. Groundwater Governance, Management and Policy
Author(s): Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Thomas Falk, Pratiti Priyadarshini, Subrata Singh, Rajesh Mittal

Ruth Meinzen-Dick1, Thomas Falk2, Pratiti Priyadarshini3, Subrata Singh3, Rajesh Mittal3

1. IFPRI - International Food Policy Research Institute
2. ICRISAT - International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
3. FES - Foundation for Ecological Security

Keyword(s): Hard rock aquifers, behavioral games, social learning, groundwater governance, conjunctive use


Groundwater is one of the most challenging resources to govern, especially in developing countries with smallholder agriculture. The invisible, fugitive nature of the resource makes it especially hard to monitor, and hard to understand the resource dynamics. The result is seen in falling water tables in much of South Asia. Because of the dispersed nature of groundwater resource use, externally imposed rules are unlikely to be enforced or followed unless users understand how their behavior affects the resource, and internalize the rationale for rules.

This paper reports on interventions using behavioral games as a tool for social learning about groundwater. The potential of games as a tool to improve system understanding, facilitate changes in mental models, and trigger participatory institutional change, and ultimately change behavior has been receiving attention.

We have developed water management games that provide an engaging way for farmers to experience several simulated seasons of irrigation in a short period, to see the effects of water-consumptive crop choices, as well as challenges related to water harvesting. The games were followed by community debriefing to discuss how the game relates to the local situation. The games were piloted in 107 communities with hard rock aquifers in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, India. We observe significant impacts of the games on groundwater governance, the likelihood of debates about water management, adoption of rules, and reported management changes.

Learning from these experiences, we revised the games to be more interactive and more closely simulate the situation in the communities. The games were applied in 184 more communities across three states to initiate discussions, followed by crop water budgeting. This led to improved awareness of the communities, along with cropping changes by 3357 farmers, leading to water saving and improved productivity as an outcome of awareness and evolving rules related to water use and water sharing among community members.

While diverse actors acknowledge the importance of water governance, agents directly working with farmers often lack in particular scalable tools to support local water governance. Games offer experiential and social learning in a clearly structured way which allow extension officers and others with more technical expertise to address the governance dimension of water management. The games alone will not solve the immense water management challenges in India but they offer an additional entry point to engage resource users in governing the resource and using it more sustainably.

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