Rolling the dice: Learning through games to make better decisions for resilience

Game simulations as a tool are increasingly being used to train pilots, operators, defense strategists, and many other professions that demand complex decision-making. So why not for disaster risk management professionals yearning to make better decisions to make infrastructure more resilient to compounding shocks?


The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), with support from the Government of Japan, is using innovative tools to support the inclusion of disaster risk reduction and infrastructure resilience in the development agenda. Utilizing funds from the Japan World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries, the team has conceptualized, designed, and deployed a simulation tool that helps to better understand resource allocation to promote resilience in infrastructure investments for ports and airports in Cabo Verde.


The simulation game involves multiple participants assuming roles as decision-makers. They must make recommendations on the annual budget allocation to the Prime Minister, to increase the resilience of infrastructure buildings on the islands of Cabo Verde. To get ahead in the game, participants must build resilient infrastructure that minimizes the losses before natural and man-made hazards hit the vulnerable islands. Projects range from increasing resilience of local ports and airports, establishing new domestic and international air and sea connections, and protecting the economy and the people against disasters. The game emulates the complexities of real-life scenarios such as limited financial resources, and the participants are encouraged to discuss the reasoning behind their decisions to learn from each other. Players need to collaborate towards common objectives, compete for limited resources, and navigate through conflicting interests to ultimately reduce the impacts from disaster events.


On June 23, 2022, the GFDRR team collaborated with the department for International Partnerships at the European Commission to run a simulation exercise using the game. The objective was to provide a glimpse of the possibilities that such a method can offer to support a better understanding of the challenges of complex decision-making for resilient infrastructure projects. First, a half an hour presentation on resilient infrastructure was made to provide a summary of key principles on the Bank’s resilient infrastructure financing, using the case study of the flood resilient highway project in Belize. This was followed by an hour and a half of simulation exercise, where more than 40 professionals engaged in discussions on resource allocation in an informative, challenging, and fun environment.


What did we and the players learn?


Immediately after the event, a short survey was taken, and 17 participants provided feedback. Here is what we, and the participants learned.


Format: Respondents were split on whether they favored the simulation games which gave them real-life scenarios to solve, or the presentation beforehand which enhanced their understanding of resilient infrastructure financing decisions. Combined, both formats seem to have provided a comprehensive understanding of the challenges for decision-making in resilient infrastructure.


Participation: The simulation exercise encouraged active participation, and many of the respondents indicated that they are more likely to participate in a simulation game exercise again. This type of involvement can be a critical advocacy and information-sharing tool to promote active dialogues among policymakers and private investors.


Experience: The design, the user interface, and the online application being used to play the game could be improved for a better overall experience. Furthermore, the rules of the game could be simplified as one participant commented that “rules are quite complex and should be better explained in the beginning to avoid frustration”. The duration of the simulation game may also have been too short for the players to reap the full benefits of the exercise.


The way forward


Unquestionably, there is enough evidence of how useful game simulation tools can be. If refined and further improved, these tools could be optimized to train professionals involved in the advocacy and implementation of resilient infrastructure projects to reduce the risks of climate change and natural hazard-related disasters.


Source: World Bank