Risky Business: Using Games to Understand Farmer Decision-making in Sri Lanka
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description and Teaching Materials
In coupled natural and human systems (such as farming), decision-making is rarely straightforward since it is influenced by myriad factors. The context for the activity is summarized in this brief video: 3MinuteThesis_Presentation (MP4 Video 156.1MB Aug31 17)
In class, the students will step into the shoes of a farmer in Sri Lanka and understand the complexity of decisions they face by playing the game mentioned in the video.
As part of the setup, the students are given some farm land, startup capital, crop cards to plant (that include the associated costs to plant), and a return sheet that summarizes the crop returns for each weather conditions. In each round, the students are given a seasonal weather forecast and asked to select crops to plant, with the crop options have different costs and rules for return (rice is fixed while onions depends on fellow players' decisions as well). Then the "wheel of rain" is spun to determine the actual weather and the crop returns are doled out. The wheel is then reset to another forecast and play continues for a few more rounds. Once game play ends, the students tally their tokens and engage in a discussion of their game strategy.The Risky Business_Lesson Plan (Acrobat (PDF) 648kB Aug25 17) contains specific details about the lesson plan layout and suggestions regarding the game materials, game rules, and debrief questions. The Game Materials (Zip Archive 362kB Aug25 17) contains templates for the farm land, crop cards, return sheets, and forecast wheels that could be printed and cut.
Teaching Notes and Tips
- The game has been successfully played during a 50-minute class period, with 10-15 minutes of overview and setup, 25 minutes of game play, and 10-15 minutes of debrief.
- The collection and distribution of money/tokens as well as tallying the numbers of onions planted each round does take some time. So I encourage the instructors to have no more than 7 farms in play per facilitator. If there are more than 7 students, consider pairing or grouping the students on each farm. This adds an extra dimension of "family-style" decision-making, that has it's set of dynamics and challenges that can be explored during post-game activities.
- Don't forget to have the players verify each others' finances - facilitators should pay attention to whether the students are paying the right amount to the banker and students should pay attention to whether the facilitators are paying them the right returns.
- The Risky Business_Class Slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.2MB Aug25 17) contains slides that could be used to set up the context, game play (especially for online casino wheel version), and results of research in class. Or if limited time is available, consider just using the 3MinuteThesis_Presentation (MP4 Video 156.1MB Aug31 17) video for establishing context.
- The game was designed as part of a research effort that aimed to understand farmer adaptation and decision making in Sri Lanka. The data collected from the farmers using the game were incorporated into a system dynamics model that was used to explore how climate change could influence farmer livelihoods. We encourage you to read this open-source paper, since it provides a lot of valuable context for both the system and the game as a whole: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa5ef7/meta. For undergraduate students, a possible pre-activity assignment would be to have the students read the paper.
- For graduate students, a discussion about the different datasets used to develop the model could be added to the discussion. The model could be directly accessed at https://www.openabm.org/model/5395/version/1/view
- Note: the discussion focus typically tends to reflect the age group. For example, the "wheel of rain" and associated probability discussions is a major focus for middle school students while undergraduate students in social sciences tend to focus more on farmer interactions.
- Note: if the "flood" option occurs in the first couple of rounds, often the students all become bankrupt, in which case, you can reset the game from the beginning. Don't forget to reflect on the issues associated with extreme events in the debrief.
- Last but not least, have fun! The whole point of this activity is to engage the students about agricultural decision-making in a fun, interactive way!
- I routinely update my teaching materials. So if you use this activity in your class, I would appreciate a short paragraph summarizing your reflections on what was or was not successful. Please send me your thoughts via email: tgunda [at] gmail [dot] com.
If the research paper is assigned as a reading assignment, the students could be asked to answer some basic questions about the reading. Possible questions include:
- What crops do farmers in system M/H primarily choose between?
- What physical and social factors influence farmer decisions?
- What are the strengths of field vs modeling studies on assessing the impacts of seasonal climate forecasts?
- Did incorporating forecasts into planting decisions generate higher net agricultural income for the farmer in the study?
- How do varying crop economics moderate net agricultural income changes under different climate conditions for the farmer in the study?
References and Resources
- The research paper for which this game was designed, can be accessed freely: Gunda, T., Bazuin, J.T., Nay, J., and Yeung, K.L. (2017) "Impact of seasonal forecast use on agricultural income in a system with varying crop costs and returns: an empirically-grounded simulation." Environmental Research Letters, 12(3):034001, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa5ef7. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa5ef7/meta.
- The model developed using insights from the game can be accessed at: https://www.openabm.org/model/5395/version/1/view
- More information about the Sri Lanka project can be found here: https://my.vanderbilt.edu/srilankaproject/.