Key to Soil

Key to soil: a serious game for teaching the agroecological transition

Socio-technical lock-ins that hinder the transition to more sustainable agricultural systems have been the subject of numerous scientific publications, covering both conceptual frameworks and case studies. A “lock-in” corresponds to a situation in which the development of alternative technologies (such as agroecological practices) is held back by the dominant sociotechnical regime, i.e. a stable set of actors’ network, their practices, knowledge, the technologies they share, their collective representations, the norms and rules they set. However, lock-in processes remain difficult for students of agriculture to grasp, because they are complex, systemic problems that concern not only agricultural production activities sensus stricto, but also activities upstream and downstream of value chains. In Y. Boulestreau’s thesis (2021) on innovation for agroecological soil management in market gardening, a prototype role-playing game was designed to raise awareness of this locking-in process among stakeholders in the region of Provence (France). The resulting game, Key to soil was designed to help students assimilate knowledge by putting them in the situation of experiencing this lock-in through play, and then identifying the levers for unlocking the system and enabling agro-ecological innovation.

Key to soil is a free serious game, available in French or English. It is a role-playing game developed by the Ecodevelopment Research Unit for use in initial agronomic and environmental training courses at high school, bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Key to soil reproduces the barriers faced by the various actors involved in Provencal vegetable production as they make the transition to agroecological practices. It is based on the case of soil pest management. By simulating complex interactions between the actors in the agri-food system (R&D, advisory, production and marketing actors), it helps to understand the processes that prevent the development of agroecological practices for managing the health of soils in vegetable farms. The game facilitates the assimilation of generic knowledge on agroecological transition. It also encourages the exploration of multi-actor coupled innovations (Meynard et al 2017) in response to the problems encountered during the game.

The game is part of a pedagogical system that combines a presentation of the context and the game, a game session, a debriefing and a theoretical input following Kolb’s experiential learning logic.


More and more teachers in higher agricultural education are using Key to soil in their teaching, primarily in France. We have also received requests from French agricultural technical schools and independent trainers. A first training session for future game facilitators was held in 2023.


The game is accompanied by two videos for teachers and students. These are available here

The game's card and boards in Print and Play version (free version under Creative Commons Licence) are available by filling in the download form here:

A board game version can be purchased from a game publisher (contact us for more information:

They are accompanied by the following guides and support document:

Game design: Yann Boulestreau, Marion Casagrande, Emily Henry, Mireille Navarrete

License for non-commercial use of the game: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 FR).

License for commercial use (services) of the game: contact the authors at

Date de modification : 15 avril 2024 | Date de création : 05 avril 2024 | Rédaction : MN;GO