The River Basin Game: A Water Dialogue Tool


Raising Irrigation Productivity and Releasing Water for Intersectoral Needs’ (RIPARWIN) is a study of river basin management in the Great Ruaha River, Tanzania. The objective of the study is to examine the theory that if irrigation productivity can be raised then water can be released to meet downstream and intra/intersectoral needs. In similar situations role-playing tools have proved to be effective in solving water management conflicts. The River Basin Game described in this working paper is a dialogue tool for decision-makers and water users that has been tested in Tanzania. It comprises a physical representation of the catchment in the form of a large wooden board. The central river flows between the upper catchment and a downstream wetland, and has on it several intakes into irrigation systems of varying sizes. Glass marbles that ‘flow’ down the channel represent the river water.

Participants place small sticks (like weirs) across the river to capture the marbles and scoop them into the irrigation systems where they sit in small holes—thereby meeting the water requirement of that particular plot of rice or irrigation activity. The players learn that being at the top of the river has advantages, whilst tail-end systems experience water shortages. The implications of different and new management strategies can be evaluated in depth by various stakeholder groups.

The game promotes mutual understanding of different people’s levels of access to water and allows participants to actively react to scenarios. Experience shows that participants become highly animated and by the end of the game, they have a good understanding of system dynamics and common property pitfalls, of which issues are most critical and of what solutions might be considered. If the game-playing is part of a workshop that is spread over two days, participants are able to contribute in detail to new solutions and institutional agreements. The second day is used to follow up on lessons learnt and to bring together various institutions to assist in improving the equity of water supply.

This report includes a literature review of gaming in water resources management, a complete description of the game, details of the practical arrangements required to organize a game-playing session and possible approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of a session.


Working Paper 75. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute. ISBN 92-9090-564-6, 39 pp.

The River Basin Game: A Water Dialogue Tool

Published 1 January 2004