Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: February 2009

when is a simulation not a simulation?

oilI came across this today: Oil Shockwave: An Executive Crisis Simulation. It is the report of a 2005 “simulation” designed to explore the policy implications of terrorist attacks and other events that cause a rapid increase in world oil prices. I had several immediate thoughts:

  1. I should get corporate funding like that for my simulations. Sheesh, talk about slick… ceiling-height back-projected crisis graphics! Expensive furniture! Glossy simulation reports! This tops even Gary’s fancy plasticized team badges for Carana…
  2. Oil prices might spike above $100 a barrel! OK, so we’ve learned that since 2005.
  3. This isn’t really a simulation. 

Instead, it seems to have been a preplanned scenario, in which pauses in the various stages were then used to foster a policy discussion among the high-level participants. It is not at all clear, however, that there was any interactivity, or that anything the participants said or did actually affected how the scenario unfolded.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course: such a  format can be used to encourage participants to think about alternative futures and identify the associated implications and policy options. It has the advantage that one doesn’t need complicated game mechanics, and there are no rules or umpires for participants to dispute.

A full-fledged simulation, however, involves both an iterative dimension (in that decisions taken at T1 affect the context for future decisions at T2), and an interactive one (in which the impact of decisions is contingent on decisions made by others). Both, of course, much more accurately model the real world. However, if the underlying simulation mechanisms are weak, the result can be an unrealistic and unsatisfying disaster.

simulation links at SWJ

From time to time, the issue of using simulations to train for irregular warfare, COIN, and peace operations comes up at Small Wars Journal. I thought I would flag a few of the relevant threads for those who might be interested:

Serious Games in Defence Education

A study on “Serious Games in Defence Education,” prepared by Caspian Learning for the UK Defence Academy, can be found here.

From the executive summary:

This report aims to demonstrate if, how, and where the emerging field of  “serious games” or “immersive learning simulations (ILS)” is of interest to the Defence College of Management and Technology (DCMT) as a component of the Defence Academy within the Ministry of Defence (MOD). In doing so, it raises many points of interest that are likely to be useful to other constituent parts of the Defence Academy and individuals involved in education and training throughout the wider MOD landscape.  

Ultimately, the report should enable better informed and more robust decision making on where and how to utilise a ’learning through games’ strategy to deliver enhanced learning benefits. 

Building on the established and evidence-based domains of simulation, modeling and wargaming, this report opens with a review of the research literature examining the effectiveness of games in education and training while providing a taxonomy of terms and definitions, to enable those involved in training and education to understand the different types of games technology in existence, their merits and appropriate use cases.  The report then focuses on an analysis of the applicability of this type of technology to the DCMT landscape and provides some conclusions on the barriers and opportunities for exploitation across the MOD. 

This report describes the significant benefits to be gained by utilising games within education and training, not the least of which is improved learner motivation. Some of the principal demographics and traits of the learners surveyed by the report, such as age, technology use patterns, engagement with sport, competitiveness of learners and desire for practical hands on learning, offer a powerful argument for the use of games based learning technologies.   

This report also highlights some of the cultural, system and process barriers to adoption evident within the DCMT, and noted in the wider MOD landscape, which may limit speed of take-up of ILS technologies and approaches. This report identifies issues that include military stigmas associated with key words such as “games” and “failure” and a consistent learner focus on hierarchical promotion and thus avoidance of anything that could affect the pace of promotion. 

This report concludes by suggesting some ideal use cases and ways forward and provides some decision making support for those considering a “learning through games” approach within the UK MOD.  

Hat-tip: Skip Cole.

simulating civil war and peacebuilding in the classroom

TLC paperAs promised, I’ve uploaded my paper on “Simulating Civil War and Peacebuilding in the Classroom” to PaxSims. The paper describes the Brynania peacebuilding simulation at McGill, and will be presented at the 2009 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference next week in Baltimore.

Despite the proliferation of scholarly and policy materials on war-to-peace transitions, there is often a problematic gap between the theoretical content of course readings and the practical challenges of undertaking peacebuilding operations in the field. A simulation offers one possible way to address this.

This paper describes an intensive, week-long simulation set in the fictitious war-torn country of “Brynania.” Students play the role of local combatants and leaders, NGOs, donors, diplomats, military and peacekeeping commanders, UN agencies, the media and others, seeking to consolidate, utilize, or even destabilize a tenuous ceasefire in a long-running civil war. Issues of simulation content and mechanics, student assessment, practical challenges, and adaptation to other settings and purposes are discussed.

Comments are welcomed.

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