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Natural Resource Governance around the World

Playing before paying? A PES simulation game for assessing power inequalities and motivations in the governance of Ecosystem Services

Documents of reference

Ecosystem Services 34 (2018) 218–227

2212-0416/© 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Market-based conservation instruments, such as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES), have become a dominant paradigm for environmental policies. Despite their broad endorsement, the implementation of PES schemes often rests on deep-seated power asymmetries and, therefore, risks reproducing existing inequalities. Thus, examination of PES should include how these schemes are constructed and negotiated between different actors, explicitly recognising their varying social positions, value frameworks and conflicting or collaborative relations. In this article we present a ‘PES simulation game’ as an alternative methodology to enhance understanding of complex negotiations between diverse actors involved in Ecosystem Services (ES) governance. The game mimics historical processes of agrarian change and social differentiation, simulates a range of ES governance interventions, and creates space for participants to collectively reflect on the motivational and socio-political dynamics triggered by the interventions. We discuss some of the main game dynamics as well as reflections generated by the game while examining a PES intervention in the Nicaraguan agricultural frontier. We illustrate the game’s potential for improving understanding of farmers’ constraints in decision-making processes and of the ways in which patronclient relationships within divergent value systems interact with specific ES governance interventions.

Final version in open access until the end of January 2019


© 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved