Board game to GROW sustainable development in rural areas

Annette Willemse -- Mon, 06/15/2015 - 10:36

Board game to GROW sustainable development in rural areas

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Serious Games Institute of South Africa (SGI-SA) have joined forces to create a unique board game aimed at facilitating and teaching individuals – mostly from rural communities, on sound decision making processes. 

The interactive board game – GROW, emanated from research conducted by the Unit for Natural Resources and the Environment within CSIR on decision making relating to the use of land for agricultural purposes in rural areas.

According to Ms Irma Myburgh, member of the SGI-SA team, the board game represents a culmination of empirical research data and infotainment. The latter referring to a type of media which provides a combination of information (in this instance, research outcomes) and entertainment (the joy derived by playing the game). A prototype of the board game will be piloted in rural areas throughout the Limpopo province.

“GROW is a game and a practical decision making process wrapped in one. It helps to facilitate coordinated and integrated decision making, involving different people with different interests and objectives. GROW was initially conceived to teach and facilitate land use decision making on restitution land.  However, the process has evolved and can be used in any setting where consideration of different factors in group decision making is required,” explains Dr Constantia Musvoto – senior researcher at the CSIR and GROW project leader. 

Tokens represent various players in the game All decisions must be made taking all three entitities in mind Voting is an important part of the process
Each decision has various pro's and con's Wish Cards and Events Cards are important The game is played over 12 blocks (grids)

More about GROW

The game allows for six players to participate simultaneously and three scenarios are offered to the players, namely that of a vegetable farm, a piggery and a tourism prospect. Each game has a facilitator – someone who explains the rules of the game and facilitates the play, whilst each player is assigned a specific role to play within the realm of the game. These roles can include: an authoritative figure such as a tribal leader; a vegetable farmer; a spiritual leader; a shopkeeper; a village community leader; a village elder; a villager living downstream of a project; a resident of a village or a neighbouring villager; a village water representative or an elected community leader.

Tokens are used to identify each player whilst a series of cards stipulate the role of each player. A scenario – such as the vegetable farm, the piggery or the tourism prospect, is played out along 12 blocks on the board game. During each scenario the players cast various votes. For example: a Wish Card is drawn which states that five hectares of land – that was initially set aside for forestry, can now be used for the vesting of a communal vegetable garden.  If the votes are in favour of the proposed scenario – that is, the vegetable garden, then certain questions have to be answered such as: “What will the impact be on the environment?”  What will the impact be on the social cohesion of the village?” Is there any economic impact? If at this stage one or more players realise that the outcome may not be favourable, the rules allow them to change their votes.

A set of Event Cards are used to test the players’ awareness of the impact of their choices on the game as a whole. An event card may state the following consequence: Ancestral graves will be destroyed when the land is being prepared for farming. By means of the event cards, players have to anticipate possible outcomes by means of continues environmental and social scanning.

SGI-SA and CSIR – a unique collaboration

According to Dr Musvoto the CSIR is a leading scientific and technology research organisation which implements projects throughout African and by doing so make a difference in the lives of millions of people across the continent. “We (CSIR) asked around for experts in the gaming industry, and SGI-SA came highly recommended,” says Constansia whilst explaining that the researchers’ aim was to find a partner who could develop a decision support game which the CSIR had initiated.

By means of the board game individuals are empowered to make sound decisions which are transparent and integrated, i.e. equally considerate of social, economic and environmental factors. Such decision making would be balanced and avoid unintended consequences which stem from focusing on only one aspect. For example, decisions that are based solely on profit could harm the environment and people, while decisions that only consider social needs could result in financial loses and/or degrade the environment.

According to Ms Myburgh, both she and Mr Werner Ravyse – Manager of SGI-SA, were involved in the collaboration with the CSIR. “Since each scenario offers a range of pro’s and con’s it is important that each decision within the game is thought through extensively, “ says Irma and adds that the board game goes a long way in teaching individuals to debate and investigate opportunities and alternatives.

The board game will be officially launched at the end of the year.