“Basin Winner”: A Sustainable Education Board Game

By Zhiqiang Chen 18 October, 2019

River management may be difficult but it can actually be tons of fun - find out more from Greencity's Chen

Water is a shared resources for everyone to use & manage - yet organising interested parties to participate in river basin management is not easy, therefore 'Basin Winner' was designed
By proposing & debating real-life event cards & their potential impacts to river basins, players can understand different parties' interests & necessary trade-offs for balanced development
'Basin Winner' has been implemented in universities, corporate training & more; developers will improve the content & rules, plus develop a Wechat applet for scoring & online version of the game

With the advancement of integrated river basin management in recent years, China’s water environment has been greatly improved. At the same time, we have also observed that many engineering solutions have reached their physical limits to further improve the health of aquatic ecosystems.

More and more administrators realise that we need more systematic problem analysis, broader participation, and better governance. As water is a shared resource, every person and organisation is a user of water resources, a producer & an emitter of pollutants, who can also be a problem solver.

To encourage participation in watershed protection, it is necessary to create a collaboration platform

In order to raise people’s awareness in basin management, encourage them to participate in specific watershed protection actions, and cooperate synergistically to address problems of basins’ ecological environment, it is necessary to abandon the mindset of solely relying on the government and create a collaboration platform for interested parties to participate.

Yet, organising interested parties to participate is not an easy task…

…’Basin Winner’ was thus designed to allow participants to role-play as different parties

However, organising interested parties to jointly participate in river basin management is not an easy task. Therefore, instead of adopting the traditional one-way education, we design an innovative board game to allow participants to role-play as different parties. We hope that participants can enhance their knowledge, willingness and capability through this game to participate in real-life basin management.

Development of the board game was funded by the SEE Pearl River Project Centre. From October 2017 to September 2018, experts from Guangzhou Qingcheng Environmental Culture Development Centre (Greencity), Alliance for Water Stewardship Asia Pacific (AWS AP), and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) designed and developed the “Basin Winner – an Education Board Game” and its associated educational programs.

As an innovative and experiential teaching method, the “Basin Winner” can strengthen participants’ management capabilities and sharpen their environmental senses.

Increasing fun of learning through role-play, negotiation & competition

9 players (max. player in one table) will be randomly assigned a role from nine specific characters among three stakeholder types: the government, the business and the civil society – each has different interests in relation to water. If more people are playing, several tables representing different parts – upstream, mid-stream and downstream of a large basin can play at the same time.

One not only has to pursue the highest score for oneself but also consider the balanced development of the river basin

For every round, each player is allowed to propose one project or event with cards in their hand. They then have to explain the rationale, rally support from other players, and finally make joint decisions on every proposal, thereby gaining or losing points associated with that proposed project. During the course of the game, one not only has to pursue the highest score for oneself but also consider the balanced development of the river basin.

Economic, social & environmental impacts need to be considered & balanced

To make the game more realistic, during the development phase, the team reviewed past media news and government plans in order to design three set of real-cases event cards for upstream, middle-stream and downstream as well as another set of news cards that represents natural events/national-level policies. The team then sent out a comprehensive questionnaire to a number of catchment experts and asked them to decide the score for each event or news, which reflects the events’ impacts to the economy, society and environment.

The team reviewed news & government plans in order to design real-cases event cards & natural events/national-level policies news cards

Through discussing and debating about each event and its potential impacts (score), participants can better understand the perspective of different players, as well as the trade-offs the group needed to make in order to balance the sustainable development of the entire river basin and interests of different stakeholders.

Practical applications in areas such as university education & public environmental education

On November 23 2018, Greencity brought the “Basin Winner” game to Guangzhou University. More than forty students majored in environmental engineering played the board game during their class. Students were grouped into 3 groups and played 3 rounds in total. During the 2 hours, more than 120 event cards were played and discussed, with the upstream table won the final highest score.

“Basin Winner” has been applied in uni’s, corporate & NGO staff training & more

Students’ feedbacks showed that the game helps them to better understand watershed management, related knowledge and the challenges of collaboration. Up to now, “Basin Winner” has been applied in university, large corporate staff training, students summer camp, NGO training sessions, fundraising activities and exhibition. Through the training program – “train the trainer” (TOT), a group of personnel and institutions are now capable of carrying out activities.

As part of corporate volunteer activities and various environmental protection-related activities, we are seeing more and more opportunities for the board game to be widely applied.

Future plan to develop online version

Currently, the first official version of the “Basin Winner” has been completed with related game props being produced. Through more and more applications, we and our partners will continue to improve the content and rules. We also plan to develop a Wechat applet for scoring, as well as an online version of the board game in the future, so that more people can play the game and learn together.

Also plans to develop a Wechat applet for scoring, as well as an online version of the board game in the future

With the knowledge and practical experiences gained from playing the game, more individuals will understand sustainable catchment management and be willing to contribute to a shared water future for people and the environment.


Further Reading

  • Blue Peace Index 2019 – Water is a geopolitical risk. What is the real state of transboundary river cooperation? What are the best practices? Economist Intelligence Unit’s Matus Samel & Beth Warne introduce the Blue Peace Index (BPI) which explores these issues in 5 basins across 24 countries
  • Stormwater Recovery For A Healthy Sydney – Every drop counts. Star Water’s tech to clean and reuse stormwater keeps Sydney healthy plus saves water costs. Find out how from their CEO Christopher Rochfort in three case studies
  • Building Flood Resilience For Hong Kong – HK is the rainiest city in the Pacific Rim and with the threat of climate change, it’s heading for a wetter future. The Drainage Services Department’s senior engineer Patrick Chan shares the city’s strategies to improve flood resilience
  • Rising Drought Risks In The Era Of Climate Crisis – With agriculture and power most at risk from drought, what should businesses do? Can individuals push them to action? We sat down with Juliane Vatter from WWF as she expands from their latest report
  • 3 Takeaways From The Fortune Global Sustainability Forum – Green is growing up with innovations for food, renewables, plastics and more on show but as China Water Risk’s Woody Chan reviews in his takeaways, there are still gaps to be filled before “business unusual” really comes to life
  • Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus In Asia’s Large River Basins – The water-energy-food security nexus is complicated but as Maija Taka, Marko Keskinen & Olli Varis show, the tensions can be alleviated. Plus, they share 3 WEF cases in Asia’s largest river basins
  • Water Wars: What Policymakers Can Do – Water conflicts within countries are increasingly prevalent with industrial and even transboundary implications. What can policymakers do? We sat down with World Bank’s Scott Moore to find out
  • China’s River Chiefs: Who Are They? – River chiefs were first implemented in 2007 following a pollution incident. Now, by 2018 all of China’s rivers/lakes will have river chiefs. How will this work & what do they do? China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu expands
  • Managing China’s Water Stress Drop By Drop – What are the trends in managing China’s water stress? WRI’s Dr Jiao Wang finds that while there is good and bad news, the Three Red Line regulations and local policies seem to have overall positive impacts
  • Upper Yangtze: Integrated Water Management & Climate Adaptation – Experts from China & Switzerland introduce their joint project to enhance water management & climate adaptation in the Jinsha River Basin. What lessons have been learned & what is next?

Zhiqiang Chen
Author: Zhiqiang Chen
Chen Zhiqiang graduated from South China University of Technology with a major in environmental engineering. He is currently the Principal of Environmental Culture Development in GreenCity Guangzhou, the Secretary-General of the National Nature Education Network, and a member of the Guangdong Environmental Protection Volunteer Service Lecturer, and a member of the Guangzhou Greenpoint Public Welfare Environmental Promotion Association. Executive director of Guangdong Environmental Education Promotion Association. Since university, he worked as the former Hong Kong Friends of the Earth (FOE) mainland project manager responsible for the implementation of the cross-border project “Dongjiang River Partner Program”, focusing on promoting cross-border upstream and downstream interactions, the former IUCN Senior project officer in South China responsible for the implementation of the project “Vibrant Dongjiang, Charming Xunwu”, mainly in the areas of water source protection, rural community development and upstream and downstream interaction in the basin. Years of work, he won the Ford Motor Environmental Award, the National Protection Mother River Award, and the China Water Environmental Public Welfare Person Award. He was a member of the first Guangzhou Municipal Solid Waste Treatment Public Consultation Committee and a consultant to the Hong Kong University “Smart Plan” Dongjiang Cross-border Water Treatment Project. Because he loves nature, he has been engaged in ecological protection for many years. His footprints are all over the country, and he has mastered rich natural ecological knowledge and first-line work experience.
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