Play, learn, explore: grasping complexity through gaming and photography


  • Patrick O. Waeber 1: ETH Zurich, Ecosystems Management, Forest Management and Development Group, Universitätsstraße 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland. 2: Madagascar Wildlife Conservation, Lot 17420 bis Avaradrova Sud, 503 Ambatondrazaka, Madagascar.
  • Arnaud De Grave Ecopalimpsesto(Photo)Graphies, 76 rue du pla, 11510 Fitou, France.
  • Lucienne Wilmé 1: Missouri Botanical Garden, Madagascar Research & Conservation Program, 101 Antananarivo, Madagascar. 2: University of Antananarivo, School of Agronomy, Water and Forest Department, 101 Antananarivo, Madagascar. 3: World Resources Institute, 10 G Street, NE, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20002, USA
  • Claude A. Garcia 1: ETH Zurich, Ecosystems Management, Forest Management and Development Group, Universitätsstraße 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland. 2: UR Forêts et Société (F&S), Département Environnements et Sociétés du CIRAD, Campus International de Baillarguet, 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France.


photography, role playing game, social-ecological system


Increased demand for agricultural products, the aspirations of rural communities and a growing recognition of planetary boundaries outline the complex trade-offs resource users are facing on a daily basis. Management problems typically involve multiple stakeholders with diverse and often conflicting worldviews, needs and agendas, in an environment with growing uncertainty. How to improve the flow of information between decision makers? What future landscapes will best resolve the apparently conflicting demands? To address these questions, our methodology has been based on participatory modeling and ‘ethnophotography in environmental science’, a term we have coined to describe our use of photography to explore the perceptions of landscape by resource users. We apply these coupled methods in the social-ecological landscape of the Alaotra, Madagascar. Within the realms of the AlaReLa (Alaotra Resilience Landscape) project, we have developed conceptual models that link actors, resources, norms and institutions, ecological processes and social dynamics through participatory modeling workshops. These involved farmers, academics, conservationists and decision makers. Recognizing and understanding the multiple linkages and feedback loops between all of these components and processes is a crucial first step in the design of socially acceptable strategies. In this paper we highlight the interaction of participatory research and photography, to show how they exchange and nurture each other, and how this approach allows the evolution of a common understanding of a social-ecological system.



L'augmentation de la demande de produits agricoles, les aspirations des communautés rurales et la reconnaissance croissante d’une planète aux frontières limités mettent en exergue les compromis complexes auxquels les utilisateurs des ressources sont confrontés de manière quotidienne. Ces problèmes de gestion impliquent généralement de multiples parties prenantes ayant des visions du monde et des besoins variés et souvent conflictuels, dans un environnement où l'incertitude augmente. Comment peut-on améliorer le flux d'information entre les preneurs de décision ? Quels futures utilisations du territoire résoudront au mieux des demandes apparemment contradictoires ? Pour répondre à ces questions, notre méthodologie a été basée sur la modélisation participative et l'« ethnophotographie en sciences de l'environnement », terme que nous avons créé pour décrire notre utilisation de la photographie afin d’explorer les perceptions de leur environnement par les utilisateurs de ressources. Nous appliquons ces méthodes couplées dans le paysage socio-écologique de l'Alaotra, à Madagascar. Dans le cadre du projet AlaReLa (Alaotra Resilience Landscape), nous avons développé des modèles conceptuels qui relient les acteurs, les ressources, les normes et institutions, les processus écologiques et la dynamique sociale à travers des ateliers de modélisation participative. Les participants en étaient des agriculteurs, des universitaires, des conservationistes et des décideurs. Mettre en évidence et comprendre les liens multiples et les boucles de renforcement entre tous les composants et processus est une première étape cruciale dans la conception de stratégies socialement acceptables. Dans cet article, nous soulignons l'interaction entre la recherche participative et la photographie, afin de montrer comment elles échangent et se nourrissent l’une de l’autre, et comment cette approche permet une évolution vers une compréhension commune d'un système socio-écologique.


Butchart, S. H. M., Walpole, M., Collen, B., van Strien, A., Scharlemann, J. P. W. et al. 2010. Global biodiversity: indicators of recent declines. Science 328, 5982: 1164–1168.

Cardinale, B. J., Duffy, J. E., Gonzalez, A., Hooper, D. U., Perrings, C. et al. 2012. Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486: 59–67.

Cole, J. 1997. Sacrifice, narratives and experience in east Madagascar. Journal of Religion in Africa 27, 4: 401–425.

Copsey, J. A., Jones, J. P. G., Andrianandrasana, H., Rajaonarison, L. H. and Fa, J. E. 2009a. Burning to fish: local explanations for wetland burning in Lac Alaotra, Madagascar. Oryx 43, 3: 403–406.

Copsey, J. A., Rajaonarison, L. H., Randriamihamina, R. and Rakotoniaina, L. J. 2009b. Voices from the marsh: Livelihood concerns of fishers and rice cultivators in the Alaotra wetland. Madagascar Conservation & Development 4, 1: 25–30.

Coser, L. A. 1992. The revival of the sociology of culture: the case of collective memory. Sociological Forum 7, 2: 365–373.

Deguignet, M., Juffe-Bignoli, D., Harrison, J., MacSharry, B., Burgess, N. D. and Kingston, N. 2014. 2014 United Nations list of Protected Areas. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.

Etienne, M., Bousquet, F., Le Page, C. and Trébuil, G. 2014. Transferring the ComMod approach. In: Companion Modelling. M. Etienne (ed.), pp 291–309. Springer, The Netherlands.

Ganzhorn J. U., Lowry II, P. P., Schatz, G. E. and Sommer, S. 2001. The biodiversity of Madagascar: one of the world’s hottest hotspots on its way out. Oryx 35, 4: 346–348.

Garcia, C., Dray, A. and Waeber, P. 2016. Learning begins when the game is over: Using games to embrace complexity in natural resources management. GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society 25, 4: 289–291.

García-Barrios, L., García-Barrios, R., Cruz-Morales, J. and Smith, J. A. 2015. When death approaches: reverting or exploiting emergent inequity in a complex land-use table-board game. Ecology and Society 20, 2: 13.

Golden, C. D. 2009. Bushmeat hunting and use in the Makira Forest, north-eastern Madagascar: a conservation and livelihoods issue. Oryx 43, 3: 386–392.

Grindle, M. S. 2004. Good enough governance: poverty reduction and reform in developing countries. Governance 17, 4: 525–548.

Guillou, M. and Matheron, G. 2014. Will there be enough land? In: The World’s Challenge. M. Guillou and G. Matheron (eds.), pp 115–140. Springer, The Netherlands.

Innes, J. L. 2010. Madagascar rosewood, illegal logging and the tropical timber trade. Madagascar Conservation & Development 5, 1: 6–10.

Jenkins, R. K. B., Keane, A., Rakotoarivelo, A. R., Rakotomboavonjy, V., Randrianandrianina, F. H. and Razafimanahaka, H. J. 2011. Analysis of patterns of bushmeat consumption reveals extensive exploitation of protected species in eastern Madagascar. PloS ONE 6, 12: e27570.

Kates, R. W., Clark, W. C., Corell, R., Hall, J. M., Jaeger, C. C. et al. 2001. Sustainability science. Science 292, 5517: 641–642.

Kolstad, I. and Wiig, A. 2009. Is transparency the key to reducing corruption in resource-rich countries? World Development 37, 3: 521–532.

Lang, D. J., Wiek, A., Bergmann, M., Stauffacher, M., Martens, P. et al. 2012. Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability Science 7, S1: 25–43.

Le Page, C., Dray, A., Perez, P. and Garcia, C. 2016. Exploring how knowledge and communication influence natural resources management with ReHab. Simulation and Gaming. 47, 2: 257–284.

Max-Neef, M. A. 2005. Foundations of transdisciplinarity. Ecological Economics 53, 1: 5–16.

Mezirow, J. 1997. Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education 74: 5–12.

Ostrom, E., 2009. A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science 325, 5939: 419–422.

Pett, T. J., Shwartz, A., Irvine, K. N., Dallimer, M. and Davies, Z. G. 2016. Unpacking the people–biodiversity paradox: a conceptual framework. BioScience. 66, 7: 576–583.

Ralainasolo, F. B. 2004. Action des effets anthropiques sur la dynamique de la population de Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis ou “Bandro” dans son habitat naturel. Lemur News 9: 32–35.

Ralainasolo, F. B., Waeber, P. O., Ratsimbazafy, J., Durbin, J. and Lewis, R. 2006. The Alaotra gentle lemur: Population estimation and subsequent implications. Madagascar Conservation & Development 1, 1: 9–10.

Randriamalala, H. and Liu, Z. 2010. Rosewood of Madagascar: Between democracy and conservation. Madagascar Conservation & Development 5, 1: 11–22.

Randrianja, S. 2012. Love me tender—Transition vers où? Madagascar Conservation & Development 7, 1: 9–16.

Ratsimbazafy, J. H., Ralainasolo, F. B., Rendigs, A., Mantilla-Contreras, J., Andrianandrasana, H. et al. 2013. Gone in a puff of smoke? Hapalemur alaotrensis at great risk of extinction. Lemur News 17:14–18.

Reibelt, L. M., Moser, G., Dray, A., Ralainasolo, I. H., Chamagne, J., et al. 2017 (In press). Tool development to understand rural resource users’ land use and impacts on land type changes in Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development.

Waeber, P. O. and Wilmé, L. 2013. Madagascar rich and intransparent. Madagascar Conservation & Development 8, 2: 52–54.

Waeber, P. O., Wilmé, L., Ramamonjisoa, B., Garcia, C., Rakotomalala, D. et al. 2015. Dry forests in Madagascar: neglected and under pressure. International Forestry Review 17, S2: 127–148.

Waeber, P. O., Reibelt, L. M., Randriamalala, I. H., Moser, G., Raveloarimalala, L. M. et al. 2017a (In press). Local awareness and perceptions: consequences for conservation of marsh habitat at Lake Alaotra for one of the world’s rarest lemurs. Oryx.

Waeber, P. O., Ratsimbazafy, J. H., Andrianandrasana, H., Ralainasolo, F. B. and Nievergelt, C. M. 2017b (In press). Hapalemur alaotrensis, a conservation case study from the swamps of Alaotra, Madagascar. In: Primates in Flooded Habitats: Ecology and Conservation. A. Barnett, I. Matsuda and K. Nowak (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Wilmé, L., Goodman, S. M. and Ganzhorn, J. U. 2006. Biogeographic evolution of Madagascar’s microendemic biota. Science 312, 5776: 1063–1065.

Wilmé, L., Ravokatra, M., Dolch, R., Schuurman, D., Mathieu, E. et al. 2012. Toponyms for centers of endemism in Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development 7, 1: 30–40.

Worm, B., Barbier, E. B., Beaumont, N., Duffy, J. E., Folke, C. et al. 2006. Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science 314, 5800: 787–790.

ESSA Forêt students playing the wetland game at the AlaReLa conference in November 2016. copyright 2016 Arnaud De Grave / Agence Le Pictorium






Short Notes

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 3 4 > >>