Gaming for smallholder participation in the design of more sustainable agricultural landscapes

E.N. Speelman, L.E. García-Barrios, J.C.J. Groot, P.A. Tittonell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Smallholder farming systems often consist of a mosaic of interlinked forested and cleared-field patches that together provide a diversity of services to local and non-local stakeholders. Designing and adopting more sustainable farming systems for such mosaic landscapes involves communal decision-making and active participation of local smallholders. Currently, a wide variety of participatory approaches to involve individual farmers in such design processes is available. However, methodologies that address communal decision-making processes as seen in complex smallholder agricultural landscapes are still rare. Here, we present a gaming methodology developed to (i) actively involve farmers in the process of agroecosystem design, and (ii) to identify factors and patterns of communal decision-making through an in-depth analysis of game strategies deployed by participants. At the basis of this methodology is the RESORTES board game; a stylized yet complex land-use game rich in ecological and social outcomes. Results of four pilot sessions in a usufruct community in the buffer zone of a Man and Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico, showed that the game sessions created an open and active discussion among participants. Discussions concerned land-use issues in the game and in real-life. It allowed participants that were new to active involvement in communal decision-making to openly discuss and share their ideas. The highly structured monitoring and analysis scheme for ex-ante/ex-post analysis was easy in use and identified communication, leadership and relatedness among participants as influential factors that smoothened the collective decision-making process. The RESORTES board game and related games can shed light on farmer’s actual views on and responses to multifunctional agricultural landscape planning and the land sharing vs. land sparing dilemmas currently in debate in academic and policy-making settings. The findings of this paper can be useful to inform strategies for community involvement in agroecosystem design in a broader set of complex socio-environmental context, using serious game to guide agricultural landscape planning processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-75
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • role-playing game
  • educational simulation tool
  • laboratory experiments
  • collective action
  • biosphere reserve
  • field experiments
  • decision-making
  • social dilemmas
  • lab experiments
  • strategies

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