SimBasin is a basin management simulation game designed to bring stakeholders and scientists closer together. It’s based on WEAP water resources modelling software from SEI, and provides an engaging workshop format.

Managing the Magdalena for people and nature

The Magdalena-Cauca macrobasin accounts for 24% of Colombia’s land area and over half of its economic potential, including hydropower, agriculture and fisheries. 77% of Colombians live in the basin, and 50,000 families depend on fish from the basin to survive. The basin is also home to incredible biodiversity, including almost every type of Colombian ecosystem, from highland cloud forests to wetlands and coastal zones.

Fishermen in the wetland region of the Magdalena-Cauca (source: TNC)

This pressure on the basin has led to a dramatic fall in fish populations, increased flooding (such as the severe nationwide floods caused by La Niña in 2011), and habitat loss. Climate change and economic growth are expected to make things worse in the future.

Managing such complex systems is a challenge worldwide. To make the task manageable, we tend break it down into bite-sized chunks: Energy ministries plan reservoirs, Fisheries ministries set fishing quotas, and so on. However, this ignores the complex relationships between sectors, and often doesn’t lead to sustainable management. Scientists are producing useful information on how these systems work, but it’s often difficult to feed this information into planning processes.

Serious gaming and SimBasin

“Serious gaming” is increasingly used in these cases to break down barriers between sectors and between science and policy. “Serious games” are, quite simply, games played for a serious purpose. By simulating the real system inside a game environment, stakeholders can discuss, learn from each other and experiment with strategies in a “safe zone”, before making decisions in the “real world”.

SimBasin game interface

Whilst working at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Colombia, I developed “SimBasin“, a simulation game for the Magdalena-Cauca basin. During the game, groups of players are challenged to develop a fictional basin over 30 years, balancing agriculture, flood protection, nature conservation and hydropower generation. The impacts of their decisions are simulated by a model of the basin built in WEAP water modelling software.

Using the game

Since then, the game has been used around the world: a beta version was tested at an SEI Asia modelling workshop in Bangkok, in Colombia the game has been used with various groups of stakeholders for river basin planning, and students have played it during courses at IHE Delft and the Universidade Federal do ABC in Brazil.

Playing the SimBasin game at the Magdalena forum

The game’s most high-level application to date was the Magdalena River Basin Management forum held in Bogotá in October 2016. Representing the environment, hydropower, risk management and food production sectors, more than 60 high-level decision makers got the chance to play at developing the fictional basin, taking similar decisions to those they take every day in the Magdalena.

Closing the event, Juliana Delgado, a TNC freshwater specialist, gave a presentation introducing SIMA (a decision support system being developed for the basin), and inviting all the different actors to come together and build a shared vision of the basin. She highlighted what had become clear during the discussions: that the best decision is not one which seems best in the short term, but one which opens up a sustainable and equitable development pathway, for the economy, the environment, and people.

More information:

SimBasin can be used in English, Spanish or Portuguese, and only requires Microsoft Excel and WEAP (free to many users) to run. Interested in organising a workshop using the game and looking for advice or tips? Feel free to get in touch!