The Groundwater Game

Tragedy of the Groundwater Commons
Project Information
2008 - Present

Groundwater Game session in Niger
Groundwater Game session in Niger

In the Groundwater Game, created in 2008 by IGRAC, each player is a farmer who makes a series of decisions around the development of groundwater for irrigated agriculture. Each decision has consequences for the resource and surrounding environment. The game presents a potential “Tragedy of the Commons” and embodies dilemmas around human use of common-pool resources articulated by Garrett Hardin and Elinor Ostrom. In playing the Groundwater Game, can you and your colleagues prosper while avoiding resource depletion and environmental disaster?

In the Groundwater Game, each player owns 5 ha of land and is part of a rural community of farmers. Each player/farmer has a well and irrigates crops with groundwater. The goal of the players is to reach prosperity and well-being, but conflicts of interest arise between the individual user, the community, the resource, and the environment. The game develops through different scenarios during which elements influencing players decisions are added or removed. Various features related to groundwater exploration and management are considered and the main challenge for players is to find the best strategies to utilise groundwater sustainably, recognising, for instance, that increasing pumping costs can lower profits and the potential environmental costs of groundwater use associated with a nearby lake.

The game

The Groundwater Game is a spreadsheet-based simulation that is managed through an app and supported with a PowerPoint presentation

Learning objectives

The game provides opportunities to learn concepts related to groundwater use such as drawdown and depletion as well as gain insight into common pool resources, groundwater governance, groundwater management, and collective action.

Game developments

Groundwater game app
The new groundwater game app, the players use for submitting values

The first version of the Groundwater Game was developed in 2008 and has since gone through a series of improvements. It was used extensively by the GroFutures consortium under the UPGro programme. Feedback from these game sessions have been used to further improve the game, adding new content and improving the interface. The latter was done by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), a partner in the GroFutures, by developing an app that significantly boosted and reinforced the game dynamics. 


If you are interested in including the groundwater game in a project, workshop, training programme, conference or class, please contact:

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0

The Groundwater Game has been made available under the following creative commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). 

Read the full legal code here.

Contact us about this project

Stefan Siepman, Communication Specialist at IGRAC
Senior Communications Officer
Office Phone
+31 15 215 1265