The ability to act collectively and share responsibilities among a wide range of actors is considered vital to manage adaptation to climate change, but collective responses are often difficult to achieve due to scientific uncertainty, complexity, resource restrictions, competing priorities and differences in risk perception (Biesbroek et al. 2011; Moser & Ekstrom 2010; Susskind et al. 2015). Role-play simulations have generally been suggested to help overcome these difficulties and to enhance “individual and collective readiness to prepare for and respond to climate change” and to improve “coordination among diverse stakeholders within communities and across scales of governance“ (Rumore et al. 2016:745-746), despite different perspectives and areas of responsibility (Susskind et al. 2015). Recent evidence suggests that role-play simulations can provide new avenues for communities to adapt to climate risks by building capacity for collective responses (Rumore et al. 2016). Given that this and other types of serious games are well established in complex policy-making contexts, they may also prove an effective tool in climate policy-making (Haug et al. 2001; Mayer 2009; Parson 1997).

Compared to traditional forms of policy-making, the proposed approach benefits from the ability to “capture and integrate both the technical-physical and the social-political complexities of policy problems” (Mayer 2009:825). Therefore, a role-play simulation may not only help clarifying technical risk issues but also provide a unique opportunity to bridge (risk) appraisal gaps between public and private actors involved in climate risk management. These deep differences in risk judgments, notably addressed in the “Deficit Model” by Irwin and Wynne (1996) and reported by numerous previous studies (Slovic 1987; Bostrom 1997; Sjöberg 1999, 2001; Rowe and Wright 2001), are among the central reasons why efforts in risk communication often remain ineffective (Bostrom 2003).

Compared to traditional forms of policy-making, this game-based approach may benefit from the ability to “capture and integrate both the technical-physical and the social-political complexities of policy problems” (Mayer 2009:825)

Building on the principles of role-play simulations, a specifically designed “climate risk role-play simulation game” may open up an incubation space for jointly developed climate risk reduction strategies, freed from the pressures and power relations that are present in real-world situations. A game-based approach may have the potential to bring together public and private actors and to involve them collectively in climate resilience planning. For the game to be successful, participants from various stakeholder groups need to be recruited, possibly including but not limited to representatives of local authorities, entrepreneurs, NGOs, professionals, institutions and local residents. Negotiations are expected to evolve around the bearing of risk and allocation of risk layers (i.e. sharing the responsibility for risks among actors, depending on the combination of probability and severity of the climate risks under discussion).

The game requires each player to take on the role of a stakeholder and to read his or her role’s briefing instructions before playing the game (Stokes 2014). After the completion of each round, participants are instructed to adopt a new role, challenging them to reinterpret information (Aubusson et al. 1997). By changing roles, participants need to make sense of how different parties conceive risk issues, possible solutions and responsibilities differently. The game needs to be chaired by a moderator, assigning roles, facilitating the process and mediating potential conflict situations. A role-play simulation may conclude with a debriefing that discusses the process and outcomes of the negotiations between the stakeholder roles and if a social optimum solution could have been achieved. In the process of negotiating responsibilities and risk reduction activities, the participants are required to collectively identify a climate risk resilience strategy that is beneficial to all parties.

The ultimate objective of the role-play simulation is to formulate an aligned perspective on how responsibilities for climate risks should be shared within a community. The game can also facilitate social learning (Pahl-Wostl & Hare 2004; Reed et al. 2010) by developing a collective intelligence and shared understanding of local risks, roles and possible actions. The role-play allows stakeholders to discover the benefits of cooperation and which scenarios maximise both, the individual and collective optima.

The game may also facilitate social learning by developing a collective intelligence and shared understanding of local risks, roles and possible actions.

Role-play simulations in the context of climate risk policy-making are expected to generate important insights for both theory and practice of climate risk management. The gaming-approach may help uncover how initial risk attitudes may change within the course of the role-play, how switching roles may alter the willingness to take risks and responsibilities and how the socially optimal solution is negotiated. Furthermore, insights from the simulation game may also result in a more detailed understanding of risk attitudes and behaviors of the broad spectrum of stakeholders involved in or affected by climate risk policies. A more precise understanding of how at-risk populations react to climate risks and how a socially optimal configuration could be negotiated are crucial to make current climate risk communication strategies more effective.


Aubusson, P., Fogwill, S., Barr, R., Perkovic, L. (1997). What happens when students do simulation-role-play in science? Res Sci Educ, 27, 565–579.

Biesbroek, R., Klostermann, J., Termeer, C. & Kabat, P. (2011). Barriers to climate change adaptation in the Netherlands. Clim. Law, 2, 181–199.

Bostrom, A. (1997). Risk Perceptions: Experts Vs. Lay People. Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum, 8(10), 101-113.

Bostrom, A. (2003). Future Risk Communication. Futures, 35(6), 553-573.

Haug, C., Hujtema, D. & Wenzler, I. (2011). Learning through games? Evaluating the learning effect of a policy exercise on European climate policy. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, 78, 968–981.

Irwin, A. & Wynne, B. (eds) (1996). Misunderstanding science? The public reconstruction of science and technology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Mayer, I. S. (2009). The Gaming of Policy and the Politics of Gaming: A Review. Simulation & Gaming, 40(6), 825-862.

Moser, S. C. & Ekstrom, J. A. (2010). A framework to diagnose barriers to climate change adaptation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA, 107, 22026–22031.

Pahl-Wostl, C. & Hare, M. (2004). Processes of social learning in integrated resources management. J. Commun. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 206, 193–206.

Parson, E. A. (1997). Informing global environmental policy-making: a plea for new methods of assessment and synthesis. Environ. Model. Assess, 2, 267–279.

Reed, M. et al. (2010). What is social learning? Ecol. Soc. 15, r1.

Rowe, G., & Wright, G. (2001). Differences in Expert and Lay Judgments of Risk: Myth or Reality? Risk Analysis, 21(2), 341-356.

Rumore, D., Schenk, T., & Susskind, L. (2016). Role-Play Simulations for Climate Change Adaptation Education and Engagement. Nature Climate Change, 6(8), 745-750.

Sjöberg, L. (1999). Perceived competence and motivation in industry and government as factors in risk perception, in G. Cvetkovich and R. Löfstedt (eds) Social Trust and the Management of Risk, Earthscan, London, pp. 89–99.

Sjöberg, L. (2001). Limits of knowledge and the limited importance oftrust. Risk Analysis 21, 189–198.

Slovic, P. (1987). Perception of Risk. Science, 236(4799), 280-285.

Stokes, L. C., & Selin, N. E. (2014). The Mercury Game: Evaluating a Negotiation Simulation That Teaches Students About Science-Policy Interactions. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 1-9.

Susskind, L., Rumore, D., Hulet, C. & Field, P. (2015). Managing Climate Change Risks in Coastal Communities: Strategies for Engagement, Readiness, and Adaptation. Anthem.