Development Cooperation Handbook/Cooperation and Communication/The relational content of communication/the social games

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The varieties of social games In order to understand all the implications of the difference between didactical communication and advertisement we have to keep in mind the two levels upon which human beings interact. In each social game, there is some solidarity and some competition. A mixture of the two is required to keep any group socially alive. But the rules of competition are different from the rules of solidarity. In order to understand it, we need to look at the game theory and understand the difference between the zero-sum game and the positive-sum games.

The zero sum game

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For instance football. For every goal I score, I subtract one goal from the other team. If I make a 3-0 score, it’s equivalent to our team making 0 and the other –3. Every point that I make is a point taken from the others. So, the zero sum game implies that whatever I gain is taken from the other’s asset and vice versa. Another example could be of the price of a house on sale. Let’s say that you are selling and I’m buying the house. Let’s assume that the original price of the house is $50,000. If I’m able to buy the house for $49,000, I gain $1000 and you lose $1000 and vice versa. Discussion about the price is a zero-sum game. A war between two countries too is a zero sum game. The more of your soldiers I kill, the more I gain and the more effective is my destruction. If the destruction made by both sides is equal, it’s a zero sum. If I have destroyed more than the other side, I gain and it is no longer a zero sum game. So long as I lose what you earn or vice versa, it’s a zero sum.  

The positive sum game

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It implies that we both gain or we both lose. If two countries do project/programme purpose, there’s a possibility that both benefit out of it. Even in the example of the house, the discussion of the price is a zero sum game but both buying and selling is a positive sum game. Why? Because you are finally more interested in the money I’m giving than in the house you’re selling and I’m more interested in the purchase I’m making than in the money I’m giving. So both have profited and so in the overall, it’s a positive sum game. In a team, for instance, it’s a positive sum game because if we win, we all gain. If we work together in such a way as to win, we all benefit from it. Within the team, it’s a positive game. In many levels, both these games work simultaneously. Like in a husband- wife relationship. There are some situations in which it is a zero sum but on the overall it’s a positive sum game- either both lose or both win. So in each relationship, there’s solidarity as well as competition. This is also present in a producer- action sponsor/beneficiary relationship- the zero sum game being the money to be paid and the work to be got out of it and the positive sum game is in the fact that both want a good product that finally has a good follow-up. Since we have a common purpose, we will find the right price for producing the product. Another relationship is that of the owner with the managers, where, in a training initiative, the incompetent managers can be fired and so lose while owners gain. On the other hand, increase in the productivity of the organization would benefit everybody and this would be a positive sum game.

Development cooperation is done at its best when the partners have a common interest at stake, when they all are going to benefit from the development process and when they are together analyzing the problems, setting the objectives and are working together to produce the expected changes. This requires a healthy communication climate where the interests of all partners are integrated so as to achieve a positive-sum relation.

See also

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Issue 8 ⇒ How to design and manage successful cooperation programmes?

Defining Cooperation
The participatory approach

On Wikipedia ⇒ Game Theory