Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

simple sims

Sometimes even very simple simulations can sometimes be quite effective at getting a point across. In my introductory development course, I use an hour-long simulation-cum-game show to illustrate the ways in which the shift from subsistence to cash crop agriculture can have effects on everything from land distribution to gender relations to the contours of social and political power. In my upper-level peacebuilding course, I use a very short version of the ultimatum game to highlight how negotiations are rarely a simple case of (material) utility maximization, but are also shaped by normative perceptions of “fairness” and “justice.”

Surfing the web for content for this website, I came across something very simple that also gets a key point across: the Silent Majority development simulation. On the face of it, it is a very short (25 minute) role-playing exercise in which participants representing an NGO, a funding agency, the local mayor, an urban woman, and a rural woman are asking to discuss possible drinking water projects. The “rural woman” is given secret instructions, however, to only answer direct questions, and to only speak when spoken to. The purpose is to highlight some of the challenges of stakeholder consultation with disadvantaged and subaltern communities. I can see this kind of simulation “trick” being used in a variety of educational and training settings.

The simulation/class exercise is apparently based on one developed at the MIT D-Lab appropriate technologies program entitled “Wheelchairs for the World.” You’ll find the instructions and role assignments for that on the D-Lab resources and case studies page.

Hat-tip: AIDG blog.

3 responses to “simple sims

  1. Rex Brynen 02/02/2009 at 9:03 pm

    Another simple sim that I’ve used in POLI 450 involves splitting the class into groups of 2-4, and have them negotiate a division of a hypothetical pot (typically involving ten lottery tickets, a transit pass, use of a fully-equipped campus study cubicle for a year, a kitten, and dinner with Angelina Jolie). When you review the agreements that have been made in class, it usually provides a nice opportunity to highlight material vs non-material values, time discounting, risk adversity, and creative thinking to apparently intractable or zero-sum problems (for example, time-sharing Angelina Jolie).

  2. Lukas Neville 02/02/2009 at 4:16 pm

    The Centipede game (the Share Or Quit game) is an interesting one. It’s basically a variant of the repeated-iterations prisoner’s dilemma. Players ake turns choose either to take the majority of a purse, or pass the purse to the next player. With each pass, the size of the purse grows. So, there is the chance for high joint gains with cooperation and a persistent incentive to defect.

    What’s cool about it (and challenging to the game theorists and rational choice theorists) is that the Nash equilibria all involve the first player taking the purse on the first round of play. But in the real world, depending on how the game is structured, round-one defection happens (at worst) less than 15% of the time, and given the right setup, less than 1% of the time.

    It’s a great introduction to cooperation dilemmas and the challenges of mixed-motive negotiations. Because it’s so simple, you can set it up in a number of ways, changing how much communication is allowed, how players perceive their opponent, the framing of the game, expectations for future interactions, etc.

    There’s a writeup of the experimental evidence from Share or Quit in Aldrich, Alt & Lupia (2007), “Positive Changes in Political Science: The Legacy of Richard D. Mckelvey’s Most Influential Writings”.

  3. Gary Milante 27/01/2009 at 10:45 pm

    The Silent Majority Game is a really excellent example of using game design/mechanics to teach a lesson. One of the lessons in the game is that all actors need to be engaged to get to the best outcome in an environment where some actors are often marginalized – how better to teach that than to change the rules for some actors – very clever – nice catch, Rex!

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