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Strategy games to improve environmental policymaking

Abstract

While the scientific community documents environmental degradation and develops scenarios to identify the operational margins of system Earth, less attention is given to how decisions are made that steer the system in one direction or the other. We propose to use strategy games for this purpose, increasing the representation of human agency in scenario development and creating spaces for deliberation between different worldviews. Played by the right people, strategy games could help break free from established norms and support more transparent democratic dialogues, responding to the human and social limitations of current decision-making. The question is, who gets to play?

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Fig. 1: How and why the forest transition will happen.
Fig. 2: Designing landscape change.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Mazas for designing the illustrations; the Forest Stewardship Council Congo Basin Office, its former director M. Auger-Schwartzenberg and his colleagues O. Rickenbach and W. Lawyer for entrusting us with the facilitation of the Regional Working Group on High Conservation Values (HCV-RWG) session in Brazzaville in 2017; and H. Vellema, R. Jezeer, E. Speelman and A. Fellay for their support. The empirical examples given here stem from the work of the CoForTips project (ANR‐12‐EBID‐0002) funded by the ERA-NET BiodivERsA, with the national funders ANR, BELSPO and FWF, as part of the 2012 call for research proposals, and the OPAL project financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (r4d-Ecosystems) grant no. 152019. The MineSet model was developed by the CoForSet project, funded by the FRB 2013 call for research proposals 'Scenarios of Biodiversity for Sub-Saharan Africa', with support by the FFEM. MineSet was tested by Tropenbos International at their offices in Wageningen.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

C.A.G. and P.O.W. developed the initial draft. S.S., R.W.V., S.A.S., P.F., G.D.P. and M.BA. contributed to improving the draft. All other authors contributed to revising the manuscript. This Perspective builds on the discussions previously held by the authors in the development of two papers: Garcia et al.19 and Waeber et al.5.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Claude A. Garcia or Patrick O. Waeber.

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Competing interests

L.B., P.S., L.F. and H.D. work for CIRAD, a French public research centre. C.A.G., P.O.W. and A.D. are shareholders of LEAF Inspiring Change (https://leafic.ch/), a Swiss spin-off of ETH. F.Q. works for Biotope (https://www.biotope.fr/), a French consultancy company. CIRAD, LEAF and Biotope all offer, among other consultancy services, the use of strategy games to clients in the public and private sectors.

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Peer review information

Nature Sustainability thanks Meine van Noordwijk, Glenn Wright and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Note 1: Axiology; Supplementary Note 2: Letter from FSC.

Supplementary Video 1

Tropenbos International organized a full-day demonstration of the MineSet game in 2017. The video shows a time-lapse of the board as it changes through the game. Players take the role of logging and mining companies, securing concession rights, developing roads, extracting timber and interacting with local communities. With the development of human activities, dense forests (dark green hexagons) are fragmented and opened (light green) and eventually transform into mosaïc landscapes with crops, infrastructures and trees (yellow). That is, unless players sustainably manage the forest resources and the landscape. The session report is accessible here and https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.26134.24644.

Supplementary Video 2

The issue of palm oil is controversial and complex. Simple answers will not help transform the supply chain. How to convey this complexity without drowning people with facts and figures? This small animation video presents the supply chain in Cameroon as it is described in the CoPalCam Game. Designed by Sylvain Mazas and Claude Garcia, the clip lists the different issues stakeholders are confronted with—from the risks of losing a crop to the reduced efficiency of the artisanal mills. Details on the use of the game are available at opal-project.org/.

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Garcia, C.A., Savilaakso, S., Verburg, R.W. et al. Strategy games to improve environmental policymaking. Nat Sustain 5, 464–471 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00881-0

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