Life in the Village Simulation Activity

Life in the Village Simulation Activity

“Life in the Village” Simulation Activity

Version as of 11/26/2012


Village B: Facilitators Guide

Approximate Runtime: 1 hour

Number of Participants: Ten

Number of Facilitators: Two (Main facilitator and assistant)

Supplies Needed: Paper, printer, scissors, pencils

Documents Needed:

  • Household Balance Sheets (Life in the Village Balance Sheets 11.26.12.xlsx)
  • Income Parameters Handout (Life in the Village Income Parameters 11.26.12)
  • Playing Cards (Life in the Village Playing Cards VilB 11.26.12)


“Life in the Village” is a simulation activity originally created by Anicca Jansen and Lena Heron of the USAID Bureau for Food Security for use in an agriculture training course for USAID staff. The activity has been play-tested in several different contexts and has undergone several revisions. The full simulation involves three villages – A, B, and C – each with different scenarios. Village B is the most well-vetted and can be played on its own; thus we are releasing the materials for Village B to the public for off-the-shelf use.

The purpose of "Life in the Village" is to teach participants about the difficult decisions faced by vulnerable populations in underdeveloped nations, and how certain types of interventions may or may not make a difference. It is best played with ten participants, split into five households of two people each. The participants can sit around a large table, in a circle of chairs, or on the floor. Each household receives a paper balance sheet and a handout listing income parameters for the village (the "rules" within they must operate). The households will simulate four years of decision-making in the face of unexpected shocks and newly-offered financial services.

If you have any questions about how to implement the activity, or if you have implemented it and are willing to share your experience, please contact us and let us know. We are always looking for feedback to make the tool better.

Contact: Zachary Baquet () or the Agrilinks team ()

A) Introduction & Review of Activity Parameters (15 min)

1)Divide participants into Households (5 minutes)

  1. The Village has five households.
  2. We recommend that two players be assigned to each household, to allow the players to discuss household decisions with one another. Thus, the ideal number of participants for this activity is ten.

2)Provide an overview of the activity (5 minutes)

  1. This activity is meant as an opportunity for experiential learning, to help participants understand the impact of rural and agricultural financial services to the poor.
  2. It should be noted that Life in the Village is not a “game,” and the exercise is not meant to make light of the conditions of the very poor.
  3. Each household is asked to make decisions over a series of rounds, each representing a single year.
  4. Some households will find that they have very limited choices – that it okay.
  5. It should be noted that this is a very stylized game. The following are some assumptions that are made for the sake of simplification:
  6. Everything is monetized: you cannot eat the crops you grow but can exchange their value for food.
  7. All households have three children, the same amount of land, and must spend 80 schillings on food.

3)Give a general description of Village B

Village B had five households. Everyone is fairly poor, but some are better or worse off than others. Each household has 3 school aged children. Households 1 and 3 are first cousins. Household 1 also has a niece in the city who intermittently sends remittances to them. Some households have a mango tree as an asset, and others have chickens. As we move through four rounds, each household will need to make tough financial decisions.

4)Hand out game materialsto each household

  1. Household balance sheets with scenario descriptions
  2. There are five different balance sheets, one for each household
  3. We suggest providing two identical balance sheets to each household, so that each participant has one to write on
  4. Income parameters handout (one sheet per household)
  5. Pencils (Important! Expect participants to need to erase)

5)Explain balance sheets and income parameters handout. Allow participants to read the household descriptions on their balance sheets.

B) Orientation Round: Introduce Balance Sheets &Income/Expense Decisions

Orientation Round, Base Year (0): (10 minutes) (Note – The orientation round may be combined with Year 1)

Purpose of round:To orient people to their household and other households in their village. They should also understand choices in the game in terms of household income and expenditures and how to track them using the balance sheets provided.

Round Activity:Facilitator invitesparticipants,with their partners, to talk through the pre-selected household choices made this year for their household. Reiterate that spending is pre-determined for this first round. It is a time for questions and clarification if they don’t understand [facilitators circulate]. At the end of the round, have each household share with the rest of the village what happened to their household and where this leaves them at the end of the year – a snapshot of their household’s story.

Household / Action: Each household’s pre-determined decisions explained in their balance sheets
HH 1 / Income- Full harvest Expenses- food, full seed, school fees (2)
HH 2 / Income- Full harvest , egg income Expenses- food, full seed, school fees (2)
HH 3 / Income- Full harvest Expenses- food, full seed, school fees (1)
HH 4 / Income- Full harvest , mango income Expenses- food, full seed, school fees (3)
HH 5 / Income- Full harvest, mango income Expenses- food, full seed, fertilizer, school fees (3)

See Annex 2 for written descriptions of each household.

C) Household Decision Making

Year 1: (15 minutes) (Note – The orientation round [Year 0] may be combined with Year 1)

Purpose of round:To allow households to make decisions in an “average” year about how they will allocate their resources and what priorities/investments through the balance sheet.

Round Activity: Facilitator invites participants now to go through and make decisions jointly with their partners for their household. Facilitators respond to questions and check that households are using balance sheets correctly. Each household should make purchasing decisions based on their income, and should make sure to fill out their final “Net” savings at the end of the Year 1 column.

As the round comes to a close, the facilitator should invite each household in turn to share with the rest of the village their choices and where this leaves them at the end of the round. Consider asking participants to highlight any particular challenges or interesting changes they experienced this round (if time allows).

Household / Action
HH 1 -5 / Households each make own selections based on available information- no shocks or new concepts introduced. HH 1 received remittance in this round.

Discussion points:

  • What (if anything) was special about your household? Give the 1-minuite “story” of your household.
  • Did you have a lot of options or were your decisions very limited?
  • Did you choose to send your children to school? Why or why not?

D) Household Decision Making in the Face of Shocks

Year 2: (10 minutes)

Purpose of round: To enable households to see the impact of shocks (positive and negative) on their decision making process. They feel benefits of positive shocks and are constrained by negative shocks.

Round Activity:At the beginning of the round, the facilitator announces that therewere a number of unexpected events affecting households in the village and introduces these events as shocks. Shock cards are passed out and households need to factor them into their decisions for this round of the game.

At the end of the round, each household shares what kind of shock their household experienced, what choices they made, and where this left them at the end of the round. Consider asking participants to highlight any particular challenges or interesting changes they experienced this round (if time allows).

Household / Action- Shocks introduced to each HH (pass out shock cards)
HH 1 / No remittance- do not get 20 schillings this year
HH 2 / Sick child- pay 30 schillings
HH 3 / Sick child- pay 30 schillings
HH 4 / Funeral expenses for a family member- pay 70 schillings
HH 5 / HH robbed- lose 50 schillings

Discussion points:

  • What shock did your household receive? How did your decisions change as a result?
  • Did the shock chance your perception of risk?

Learning objectives:

  • Unexpected hardships can disrupt household plans and finances
  • Uncertainty can affect decision-making

E) Household Decision Making in the Context of Financial Service Opportunities

Year 3 AND Year 4: (10-15 Minutes)

Purpose of round: To introduce a range of financial services into the village as considerations for their household this year. Participants weigh the risks they may take on and the benefits they may gain if they can access them.

Round Activity: Facilitator introduces a new set of opportunities now available through anfinancial entity/donor that has just set up in their village or nearby. Facilitator should hand out one Financial Services and once Insurance Products card to each household for reference and explain the conditions of the products - costs and benefits. Participants then are invited to make another round of household decisions and choices including if they can/want to access any of the financial services, and if so which ones. Allow the participants to fill out the balance sheets through the end of Year 4, as there will be no new shocks or services introduced in Year 4.

At the end of the round, households share with the others in their village their choices for the round and where this left them at the end of the year. Consider asking participants to highlight any particular challenges or interesting changes they experienced this round (if time allows).

Household / Action
HH 1 -5 / The following financial service products are made available through an entity in the village. All households can consider the following in their decision making
-50 schilling Fertilizer Loan @ 10% interest. Pay interest up front, principal due following season.
-200 schilling Enterprise Loan @ 10% interest. Pay interest up front, principal due following year.
-5 schilling funeral insurance. paid up front (amount includes interest) covers all funeral costs.
-5 schilling medicine insurance. paid up front (amount includes interest) covers all mediciene costs of household.

Discussion points:

  • Were you able to take advantage of the different financial service opportunities? Which did you select?
  • How did this affect other decisions to invest in household food? Children’s education?

F) Debrief Lessons Learned from the Household Decision Making Experience

Large Group Discussion (10-30 minutes)

Bring all participants together for a final group discussion. If multiple groups of Village B have convened simultaneously, bring everyone into a single room for report-outs. Simply engage participants about what they experienced and what they learned – you will likely find that they have lots of comments to share.

Discussion points:

  • What did you learn from this simulation?
  • Did you keep your children in school? Why or why not?
  • What if there was no market for mangoes or for eggs – how would that change things?
  • How does hunger/food security come into play? If you didn’t have to consume the full 80 schillings on food, what might happen?
  • Why do financial services matter? What other financial services would have been useful?
  • Is there anything you would change about this simulation? Have you played other, similar exercises or activities?

Annex 1. Facilitator Tips

  • Make sure that you understand the simulation thoroughly yourself before playing it with a full group. We suggest that you fill out one of the balance sheets on your own to get a feel for what the participants will be doing.
  • It is helpful to have two facilitators – one to explain the rules and keep the players on track, another to hand out the worksheets, shock cards, and financial services cards.
  • Expect the participants to ask a lot of questions throughout the game. While they are discussing household decisions within their group, you should roam between households to provide clarification where needed.
  • The game is calibrated so that most households should hover near a net of zero schillings for each year, but none should go below zero schillings throughout the game if they use all of their assets and have minimum expenses. If a household finds a way to go below a net of zero, provide them with a subsidy card (in the Playing Cards file) to bring them back over the line.
  • The game is calibrated so that no single household should get too rich (amassing hundreds of schillings in savings or over 20 chickens). If a household gets too rich, give them an extra shock card from the Playing Cards file.
  • It is likely that the participants will want to take creative liberties, such as hatching chickens, consuming less food (becoming food insecure), or creating a business to split bags of fertilizer. It is up to the facilitator whether to allow such options outside of the rules. As a reminder, the purpose is not for the participants to “game the system” or to “win,” but to experience the limited options available to poor households.

Annex 2. Village B Household Descriptions

(These descriptions are printed on the balance sheets for each household.)

VIllage B. Household One. You are a medium wealth household in the village. You’re not hungry, but you don’t always send yourto kids to school. You have three school age children. You also have a niece who went to school and now works in the capital. She occasionally sends remittances (usually $30 schillings). In order to pick up the remittances, you need to travel to the nearest town where there is a Western Union. The cost of the trip is 10 schillings. Thus, you net 20 schillings in remittances.

You are first cousins with household #3 and are obliged to help them out if they ask—especially if you have a surplus and they have nothing.

You have determined that using fertilizer would lead to a better life for you and your family—if only you could figure out how to cover the cost. . .

VIllage B. Household Two. You are a medium to poor wealth household in the village. You have 3 school aged children, and you try to send them to school when you can. You produce a crop each year, but you have not been able to afford fertilizer. You do have two chickens which give you egg income of 10 schillings per year (5 schillings worth of eggs per chicken per year). If you sold the chickens you would get 10 schillings each, but only one time.

Village B. Household Three. You are a poor household in the village. You have some crop—but low production since you use no fertilizer. You send one or more children to school when you can afford it. You are first cousins with household #1, who is socially obligated to help you if you are in need and they have something to spare.

Village B. Household Four. You are a medium wealth household in the village. You desire to send your children to school when possible. You produce a crop—though don’t generally use fertilizer. You also have a mango tree, the fruit of which provides you income of 20 schillings every year. If you had to, you could also cut the tree down and sell it for firewood. That would give you 40 schillings—but only once, of course.

Village B. Household Five. You are a wealthy household, by village standards. You desire to send your three children to school when possible. You have a good crop every year, since you generally use fertilizer. You also have a mango tree, and by selling the mango fruit you have an additional 20 schillings income each year. If you cut down the tree and sold it for fire wood, you would get 40 schillings. Of course, you can only do this once.

You have learned a lot about mango, both from experimenting and also from an encounter you once had with a representative from Dole. You have a dream of buying a juicer, and processing your mangos into juice for sale in the local market. The juice presser costs 180 schilling. The income from the juice would be 50 schilling per year, compared to the 20 you now get from the whole mangoes. Your dream is to buy mangoes from others in your village (or neighboring villages) and you can imagine that you would even be able to hire a couple of the people in the village to help you produce juice.

If you buy mangos from others you pay 30 schilling per tree’s worth of mangos. Because these mangos produce 50 schilling in juice, buying mangos gives you a net income of 20 schillings per tree.