28 March 2014

Africa: Card Game Aims to Guide Better Climate Adaptation Decisions

A group of researchers based in Africa are using a game to explain a concept they have developed to help people adapt to climate change.

"Flexible and forward-looking decision making" aims to help communities adapt effectively to growing changes and uncertainty. But putting the rather abstract notion into practice demanded something new - and a game was the answer, said Lindsey Jones of the Overseas Development Institute, who helped lead the research along with the African Climate Change Resilience Alliance.

The game the researchers developed uses cards for different types of investment and development, and a wheel that represents extreme events and ways to protect one's district. The game is being piloted with district-level decision-makers in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.

"The thinking was that we would take this and try to make it more actionable, more practicable, so that people could actually use it," Jones said.

Games are being increasingly used by a range of aid organisations, governments and other non-governmental organisations to help people around the world more easily grasp how to make good decisions in a world that is quickly changing as a result of climate change.

Some have focused, for instance, on how to manage worsening natural disasters or effectively battle malaria in more unpredictable and extreme weather situations. Others have helped African farmers and herders understand the value of index-based insurance.

ODI found that the process of learning what action communities might want to take to protect themselves from changing pressures was much more interactive than normal using the game, Jones said.

"They evaluate the problem, they try measures, they strategize to try to find the right solutions. Through the process of running the game, hopefully, they will have learned a little bit about the real world as well," he said.

"It's also not a one-way communication of knowledge, it's two-way, where they're actually learning and experiencing."

A MIRROR ON REAL LIFE

The game's rules make it accessible but also complex, in order to mirror real-life decision-making as closely as possible.

After conducting workshops with district leaders in the three African countries, ACCRA concluded that using a game could enhance understanding, but only if followed by some reflection after playing.

"More important than the game is to be able to translate what you've just done, how you've just played, your strategies, into the real world," Jones said. "It's hard to take that next step."

Rosalind Comforth, a University of Reading meteorologist and one of the panelists at an Overseas Development Institute event where the game was presented, said it was important to tailor how information is delivered to march local ideas and views.

"It's important to understand the context, the audience that you're working with, how people absorb information, (whether) they need participatory information," she said.

The next challenge, Jones said, was to translate some of the findings from the game into meaningful change on the ground.

"With this research in mind, we can go and scale up work, we can try to train more people with the game, and we can, where possible, move from the game to trying to deliver change," he said.

Samuel Mintz is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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