Part 2: A Town Meeting on Pollution in Mississippi River Watershed


In this role-playing game, students are assigned a stakeholder group which will explore specific issues related to the instructor-selected pollutant (nitrogen, antibiotics, or mercury) in the Mississippi River Watershed in the fictional location of Misiziibi (the Ojibwe Native American name for the Mississippi, meaning "Great River"). This will take place in a mock town meeting where the mayor is requesting input for how to address the challenges of reducing pollution. Along with Part 1, the stakeholder mapping exercise, the town meeting allows students to learn how multiple perspectives and different stakeholder interests factor into the complexity of the wicked problem.

Learning Goals

After completing the module, students will be able to:

  1. Locate and describe interactions between human and natural systems.
  2. Diagram key components of a complex system focused on water quality and identify different stakeholder perspectives or interests associated with water use.
  3. Explain how differing power dynamics among stakeholders creates conflict and the potential for social/environmental injustice.

Context for Use

This activity is Part 2 of a three-part module designed to cover approximately 1-2 weeks of class time, depending on how the module is implemented with respect to in-class and outside-of-class work. While the module designed with face-to-face interactions in mind, it can be adapted for remote learning, with various asynchronous and synchronous options. The module can be used in any undergraduate course, and can be tailored to the level of the students.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will make a case for water decisions that reflect their stakeholder perspective. They will also need to take notes on the interests of other stakeholders, so that they understand how interests of some stakeholders may result in vulnerability, or challenges of environmental injustice, for other stakeholders or community members not present (i.e., when poor communities, communities of color, or other marginalized groups are disproportionately impacted).

Students are given the background reading and stakeholder positions. Suggested group size is no more than 5 students. Students should be given a few days to prepare and the exercise itself will take up to one class period.

Each group of stakeholders will select one spokesperson to make their statement. The other group members should help in answering questions. Groups represent their stakeholder's interests and perspectives throughout the exercise and hold their questions until all groups have presented.

Each group will have 5 minutes to present their positions. [Note that the allotted time can be reduced to allow more discussion.] Once all groups have presented, the mayor (instructor) opens the floor for questions, discussion, and debate. In support of the discussion prompts below, each group should also appoint an "advocate" that keeps the group cognizant of power dynamics among the stakeholder groups that can lead to various forms of social or environmental injustice.

Prompts for groups to address in their presentation preparation (also in the module overview PowerPoint slides):

  1. What is the major problem the city must address with respect to nitrogen/antibiotics/mercury pollution?
  2. What evidence supports your position?
  3. What is your solution?
  4. Who benefits from your solution? Who is disadvantaged?

Discussion questions after all groups have made their presentation (also in the module overview PowerPoint slides):

  1. What were some of the perspectives and evidence you learned from other stakeholders?
  2. What other stakeholder positions can you think of that would be useful to this decision that were not present?
  3. Can all perspectives and interests be met in one solution? Why or why not?
  4. How might a powerful interest result in an environmental injustice to a more vulnerable stakeholder?

Note: Students should also be provided with a copy of the Assessment Rubric for Group Presentation in Roleplay below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There are different stakeholder position groups for the 3 different instructor-selected pollutants (nitrogen, antibiotics, or mercury). The student guide contains additional information for students about each pollutant.


Students are evaluated by their presentation of their stakeholder position, as well as a self-reflection and self-evaluation based on the Town Meeting exercise.

References and Resources

See the stakeholder group descriptions for resources and references.