Nile Basin Development Challenge experience in Ethiopia shows that natural resource management (NRM) requires multi-sector integration and the strong involvement of farmers to identify problems and implement solutions. However, research shows there is a ‘disconnect’ between farmers and decision makers in their perceptions of NRM problems and ideas for solutions.

Participatory tools – such as ‘WAT-A-GAME‘ that can be used to encourage better communication and joint understanding among different actors are essential for successful planning processes. NBDC researchers, in collaboration with the AfroMaison project and local partners, have been experimenting with the WAT-A-GAME tool in Fogera, Ethiopia. 

Learning event

Mulugeta Lemenih facilitates the WAT-A-GAME learning event (Photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

Mulugeta Lemenih facilitates the WAT-A-GAME learning event (Photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

In February 2013 a ‘learning event’ was organized to present the tool and experiences from Fogera woreda to an expert group of regional and national partners. The participants included representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ethiopian Insitutue of Agricultural Research, OXFAM- African Climate Change Resilience Alliance, Forum for Environment Ethiopia, Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association, Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, Ethiopian Rainwater Harvesting Association, World Vision Ethiopia, Hundee-Oromo Grassroots Development Initiative, Fogera Woreda Livestock Agency and SOS Sahel Ethiopia.  The aim of the event was to discuss the tool and its potential use in supporting landscape scale strategy development for integrated NRM at a larger scale. Participants played the game using two similar game boards designed for the Fogera landscape. Seven volunteer participants from each group represented the farmers living in the highland, mid-land and wetland areas and also a landless farmer.

After the learning event, participants raised many questions:

  • Was the tool new?
  • Does ‘landscape’ mean the same as ‘watershed’?
  • Were users surveyed before and after they played the game?
  • What time framework is involved in playing the game?
  • Participants gave constructive feedback on the game itself and how to make it useful for other organizations and experts working in the area of NRM.

All agreed on the need to simplify the tool and called for further research to investigate ways in which the tool could be used to complement current government approaches towards watershed management. They also suggested that community level representatives should be grouped by gender and that land management strategies should be developed separately to ensure that women’s views are recognized.

More generally, playing the game stimulated a discussion around different approaches towards integrated planning of NRM used in Ethiopia. It seems that most of the approaches in the past lacked genuine community participation and they failed to create a sense of ownership. At the learning event it was agreed that the WAG tool could usefully complement ongoing watershed management planning and implementation.

Participants also felt that the role playing element would help communities better understand their problems, from household to landscape levels, and give them an opportunity to identify potential solutions from their own perspectives. The game also presents an opportunity for decision makers to better understand the challenges facing communities in the implementation of NRM interventions.

Some participants showed interest in taking and adapting the tool to their own organizations and programs. However, a simple set of guidelines is needed to explain how to design the game board for a specific landscape and then to use the game effectively to reflect and address different actors’ views. This will help the scaling up of the tool by other organizations. In-depth training is also needed for organizations that are interested to use it in their project sites with necessary documents and materials.

See this presentation about using WAT-A-GAME for participatory NRM planning in Fogera – presented at the NBDC science meeting in July 2013:

Read the WAT-A-GAME brief