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Avoiding the “resource curse” in Petronia

petronia-postcard.jpeg

Extractive industries can be an important part of the economy in developing countries, providing substantial export earnings and employment. However, oil and other mineral wealth can also come at a cost: royalties can be siphoned off by corruption; mineral rights might be allocated through murky processes, mired with bribery and other illicit influence; exports might cause overvaluation of the national currency (“Dutch disease”), stunting other industries; environmental degradation might be overlooked; and state revenues may be used to finance repression and patronage politics (“rentierism”), dimming the prospects for democracy. Collectively this is often referred to as the resource curse.

The National Governance Resource Institute has created an online educational game to explore these issues: Petronia.

NRGI is proud to announce the arrival of Petronia, an interactive online course unlike any other in the resource governance field, where learners can “play” at influencing resource governance outcomes in a simulated context.

More than any other NRGI resource to date, Petronia makes learning about resource governance fun and interactive with dynamic animations and a close focus on learning through roleplaying and gamification. It is ideal for online learners with limited background in the field, but a desire to understand key issues.

The course explores the policy challenges in the Republic of Petronia, a fictional developing country that has made a potentially game-changing oil discovery. Learners join a team of experts deployed to advise the country’s policy-makers in a series of missions exploring different aspects of resource governance over time. Learners build their knowledge of the technical issues while developing an understanding of the different perspectives and complex trade-offs of managing resource wealth for development.

Learners not only think and reflect about policy choices in Petronia, they can also “do” by consulting stakeholders, analyzing government and international data, and developing recommendations with their team. We hope this “serious gaming” aspect will appeal to both adult and youth learners alike.

In the game, the newly-elected President of Petronia and her team of advisors must decide how to address current and future development of the oil sector. Much of it is “click and be told information or be given things to read” variety, which is then followed by periodic quizzes. Players get few (if any) chances to make meaningful choices that impact game play, so it’s all rather more like an instructional video than a game, with a lot of clicking things/sliding things/reading along the way. That will work with some audiences, but I suspect that others (many university students, most development professionals) will find it a somewhat fiddly and time-consuming way of accessing information and insight.

In this regard, I think that Mission Zhobia (previously reviewed at PAXsims) did a better job of harnessing the strengths of a game-based approach to development education. Still, the National Governance Resource Institute are to be praised for their innovative effort. The supporting materials in the simulation are also very good, and players will learn much if they read them.

You’ll find an article on Petronia here, from the The Economist.

h/t Rory Aylward

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