Simulation Games as New Methods for Understanding Stakeholder Interaction and Decision-Making in Complex Systems

A research project which uses social simulation as a new method to examine stakeholder cognition and interaction, and explores how gaming-based empirical observations may be used in quantitative analysis.

© Xillergmbh | Dreamstime

© Xillergmbh | Dreamstime

Fostering sustainability transitions in our interconnected world requires keen appreciation and incorporation of the many ways in which the beliefs, norms, decisions and interactions of today shape the pathways and possibilities for tomorrow. While substantial progress has been made in understanding the natural environment, we are far from grasping the critical elements of stakeholder decision-making processes and the complex interactions that underpin coupled human-natural systems.

In this cross-cutting project, researchers from Risk and Resilience, Water, and Advanced Systems Analysis programs will use social simulation — or ‘serious game’ or ‘policy exercise’ — as a new method to examine stakeholder cognition and interaction and explore how gaming-based empirical observations may be used in quantitative analysis. A series of stylized modeling examples will be developed which translate observed behaviors into decision rules for different modeling types, including agent-based modeling (rule-based), utility function (optimization), and system dynamics (stocks and flow models).

Simulation games have unique potential to expand the understanding of stakeholder dynamics, teasing out behavioral pitfalls that may prevent effective the collaboration, coordination, and collective action necessary to foster transition towards sustainability. We will run pilot studies of the newly developed methodology in two empirical settings (capacity building in the water-energy nexus and climate adaptation decisions) where stakeholders face sustainability transition challenges.

Implementation partners

International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Engagement Lab at Emerson College, Sustainable Energy for All, Centre for Systems Solutions, Poland with external advisors participating from Maastricht University and RAND Corporation.

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Last edited: 10 October 2019


Junko Mochizuki

Research Scholar Water Security Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program


June 2016 - May 2017

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313