An educational simulation tool for negotiating sustainable natural resource management strategies among stakeholders with conflicting interests

L.E. Garcia-Barrios, E.N. Speelman, M.S. Pimm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Biotic communities subject to productive transformation - and social relations among stakeholders involved in their management - are complex, nonlinear, adaptive processes. The inner workings and potential behaviors of such processes are not always easily grasped. It is important to help people understand the dynamic nature of sustainability attributes and to better address the issues, tradeoffs and conflicts associated with sustainable management of natural resources. We have developed a number of graphic, interactive simulation tools - coupled with role-playing games - that allow stakeholders to explore scenarios and negotiate collective decisions regarding such management. The free-ware tool described here is called "Negotiated Design of Sustainable Production Systems among Social Agents with Conflicting Interests" ( It is an interactive drama in three acts. In act 1, users play the role of slash-and-burn farmers compelled by the government to leave a biodiversity reserve zone and to intensify maize production in a smaller area using nitrogen fertilizer. Users simulate production under different fertilization scenarios and decide if they can sustain their families under the government's proposal. In act 2, other users play the role of rural families who depend on ecotourism in a clear lake downhill and who anticipate that their livelihood could be threatened by lake eutrophication caused by nitrogen runoff. As part of the negotiations with uphill farmers, they need to know how much N can lixiviate from the fields before the lake becomes murky. Time series, coupled with parameter-sensitive cup and marble models that run as real-time animations, allow the user to better understand the dynamics of this bi-stable lake ecosystem. In act 3, stakeholders negotiate possible solutions, combining computer use and group dramatization. They search for nitrogen management strategies based on maize monocrop and maize-leguminous shrub systems. Technical decisions change output variables that are monitored through a graphical multi-criteria analysis of environmental and social sustainability attributes. Results from 12 workshops show that participants usually come up with creative solutions that meet the biodiversity conservation and rural livelihood interests of all stakeholders involved. Through these dynamical modeling games, users better grasp the meaning of productivity, stability, resistance, resilience, reliability, adaptability and equity. They also understand concepts such as bi-stability, thresholds, risk, catastrophic shift, hysteresis and restoration. Ultimately, they get an opportunity to become familiar with more creative and open-minded attitudes when defending interests and making collective decisions in a multi-stakeholder environment
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-126
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • ecosystem management
  • water
  • complex
  • model


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