Use of Game and Systems Theory to Improve Decision-making for Future Water Security Issues

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Decision making is a cognitive process in models of natural intelligence, with choice being the outcome of combinations of repetitive cognitive functions of statistics, experience and morality. This can be split into two categories: descriptive and normative. Descriptive being the analysis of how decisions are made, and normative being the assessment of decision outcomes. Game theory (GT) is a branch of normative decision theory, used in analysis of decision-making processes between multiple players. The defining factor of GT is its inclusion of strategic action between multiple decision makers.

Water security is a term used to describe the ability to obtain and provide sustainable water, of adequate 'for-use' quality, to satisfy demand. The concept of sustainability here is to provide water security for future generations, regardless of how the way we live and the world we live in will change. This is not limited to the sustainment of human development, but also environmental and ecological nourishment and protection. However, achieving water security is not simple due to water's duality as a social and environmental necessity, and finite economic good. This causes water-based intervention to be crucial in the longevity of our world and society; however, executing this can become politically driven and, in some cases, a catalyst for conflict as a product in opposing attitudes. GT is already well integrated into fields such as computer science, socio-economics and politics; however, utilisation in assessing issues related to water resource have only been explored relatively recently. The use of GT for studying water security issues holds advantage over other analytical models, due to its capability to incorporate elements of higher complexity other than those associated directly with finance and cost. This provides context to solutions, with foundations in social and political behaviour, needs, and tensions, which are often neglected in a traditional engineering approach. However, current GT application still focuses around normative modelling through optimisation of utility functions, focussing on economic efficiency, with benefit allocation gravitating towards monetary value over social and environmental impacts. An approach that could be argued as outdated and non-holistic.

Applying GT alone to water security issues presents problems associated with a static, reductionist, traditional optimisation, allocation approach. The crux of these issues are formed from arguments of human rationality and idealisms of cooperation and system equilibria. The only means of assessing the risks associated with future water security issues is through an approach that can consider both descriptive and normative aspects of human-water system interaction. Hence, a combination of game and systems theory is suggested.

As a bigger picture, water security can be assessed as the linkage between water systems and human decisions; exploration of how these influence one another, how both these systems can be managed sustainably through intervention, and ultimately why the tackling of issues, such as water security, are problems of behavioural and systems change. If anything, literature review highlights the capability of GT to combine complex systems with a variety of domains. In this sense, GT should be exploited as a tool that has the capacity to consider a wide spectrum of systems and human interactions over time, with insights into how these change under pressures such as increased water variability and population. The general aim should be to integrate multiple elements of much wider issues related to water security, rather than a reductionist approach centred on improving economic efficiency and
allocation of monetary benefit.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509528/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
2274928 Studentship EP/N509528/1 23/09/2019 31/03/2023 Xanthe Kate Polaine
EP/R51309X/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2274928 Studentship EP/R51309X/1 23/09/2019 31/03/2023 Xanthe Kate Polaine