Water institutions and efficiency and equity in climate adaptation: searching for general behavior responses in bargaining under uncertainty


Water scarcity and its possible exacerbation due to climate change have advanced the priority of water management on societal and governmental agendas around the globe. Increases in average scarcity could be costly, as could an increase in the variability of rainfall and water availability.

Many settings of water stress and transformation also feature strong links to population growth and rapid urbanization with water scarcity faced by a suite of both rural and urban stakeholders. Putting all of these together, we believe there is a need to understand both efficiency and equity implications of current and potential decision processes, or institutions, relevant for rural-urban water transfers in regions characterized by variation in the supply as well as demands for water.

We note in particular that recent emphasis on decision support has at times cleanly incorporated what is known about the impacts of climate upon water and agriculture. However, a focus upon supply of technical information can fall short in examining the actual impact of such knowledge. One way to address this gap is to work directly with those stakeholders who could make use of it to understand not only the supply but also demand for not only water but also water information.


We propose to work directly with Colombian stakeholders using water-decision-making games. These games reflect central features of upcoming water allocation decisions under uncertainty with payments to participants, based on their play, to create realistic incentives for allocations.

Our group blends experience with such games, field experience in Colombia, and new ideas to:

  1. Examine whether results from current NSF experiments for NE Brazil hold also in Colombia. Carrying out pilot analogs in the field to existing institutional games will permit a new proposal. Examining the generality of our initial results is important for commenting upon water policies.
  2. Build on the strengths of working group members to try new experiments, done in Colombia but of general relevance due to new strengths in hydrology, psychology, narrative, and conflict. All of these dimensions could strengthen the existing experiments and suggest novel variations.

Working group members

Alex Pfaff, Sanford School of Public Policy and Nicholas School of the Environment
Maria Alejandra Velez, Universidad de los Andes, Columbia
Ana Barros, Pratt School of Engineering
Dan Ariely, Fuqua School of Business
Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School of the Environment
Frederick Mayer, Sanford School of Public Policy