Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: June 2009

USIP July Interagency SENSE Simulation

seal_shadowsmallThe U.S. Institute of Peace cordially invites you to:

USIP July Interagency SENSE Simulation

Date: Tuesday July 7-Thursday July 9, 2009

Time: 8:30 AM- 5:00 PM


U.S. Institute of Peace

2nd Floor Conference Room

1200 17th St, NW

Washington, DC 20036

Get Directions


July 7-9, USIP, in partnership with George Mason University (GMU) and the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), will conduct the Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise (SENSE) simulation at USIP headquarters in Washington D.C. The primary target audience is the USG interagency community, but other interested parties are also welcome. Participation is free, but space will be limited. Breakfast and Lunch will be provided; participants must commit to the full three-day simulation. To apply, or for further information on ETC/I’s upcoming SENSE simulation, please contact Jeff Krentel by e-mail at or by phone at (202) 429-4701.

SENSE, developed by IDA, is used to strengthen capabilities of decision-makers to prevent conflict in fragile states and manage post-conflict transitions successfully. SENSE is a computer-facilitated simulation that focuses on negotiations and decision-making, including resource-allocation challenges and cross-sectoral coordination, for the full range of national and international actors. Sophisticated computer support provides participants with rapid feedback on the interactions of all the decisions in terms of political stability, social well-being, and a foundation for sustainable economic progress.

Over the course of three days, SENSE models the conditions in an imaginary country (“Akrona”) that is emerging from a destructive internal conflict. Players representing government officials, private firms, civil society, and international actors must identify, coordinate, and integrate economic, social, political, and military policies to foster recovery and reconstruction. SENSE participants must integrate all of these challenges; develop and decide on options; and deal with the consequences (both intended and unintended) of those decisions.

SENSE has been successfully employed (by USIP and/or IDA) in overseas training programs with participants from Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Georgia. USIP has also launched ambitious programs with Iraq and Poland:

USIP used SENSE to train over 130 officials from key Iraqi national security ministries; USIP then trained Iraqis to conduct SENSE themselves. As of mid 2009, USIP and its Iraqi partners have conducted SENSE simulations for some 840 Iraqi leaders, from both government and civil society. Moreover, IDA worked with USIP to modify “Akrona” to be more directly relevant to Iraq, as well as to highlight monetary policy and terrorism.

In 2006, USIP partnered with the Polish Defense Ministry and the University of Warsaw to provide them with a SENSE delivery capability. In addition to the Poles themselves, USIP trained leaders from Ukraine, Moldova, and other ex-Soviet states; the Poles have since conducted a number of their own programs, including audiences from Belarus, Georgia, and Afghanistan.

In the US, SENSE has been used by USIP and GMU with academic and US Government audiences (including DoD (uniformed and civilian), DoJ, DoS, and USAID), as well as representatives of NGOs, the UN and other international organizations, Washington embassies, and the private sector.

USIP is now collaborating with IDA and OSD to expand the capability of SENSE further, and to enhance the scenarios to include challenges directly relevant to Afghanistan. The new iterations of the SENSE simulation will be used to train US government officials involved in peace and stability operations activities.


To RSVP, please send your name, affiliation, daytime phone number, and name of the event to Jeff Krentel at

United States Institute of Peace

1200 17th Street NW — Washington, DC 20036

(202) 457-1700 (phone) — (202) 429-6063 (fax)

brainstorm series I: simple game on the economics of production and redistribution (continued)

In an earlier post we started this brainstorm series – thinking about a simulation that could be designed for a large class (400 students) to get them engaged and interested in basic development and conflict.  Since then we received some comments and suggestions from Rex, Lucas and Michael and some feedback from Professor X, so we have more to go on now.  Here is some of that conversation and some more information:

Rex Said:

…there’s a strategic decision to be made as to whether one wants to simulate a broad system (for example, WTO negotiations) or focus on a particular scenario/theme/issue (for example, the various stakeholders in a major investment or aid initiative). Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. 

Professor X wants to focus on a scenario, in fact, he has one that he has used as an example in earlier courses, it goes like this:

There are two people stranded on an island, Robinson Crusoe and Xena, the Warrior Princess.  Both can spend their time eating, collecting Coconuts at the rate of B per hour.  Alternatively, they can spend some of their time fighting over the collected coconuts, call the energy devoted to this G.   Any unspent hours are used for leisure which has its own value.

Using this simple model in the course,  Professor X goes on to discuss optimal production, redistribution and possibility production frontiers.  It is an easy, accessible example used to demonstrate to undergrads how important security of property and property rights are in our economic models of production.  Now, is there a way to create a simple game for 400 people based on that model?

Rex said:

how much class time does one want to devote to this, and over what period of time? Is it a simulation one would run in a class or two, or periodically over the year? Will it be done in class time (and largely face-to-face), or outside of it (and perhaps largely electronically).

My perception is that he would like to spend some class time on this.  Maybe this could be a fifteen minute exercise four or so times during the course.  If it was simple enough and short, it could be run more than that.  This is strategic, since one of the objectives is to get students more engaged in the course.  Hypothetically, this could also contribute to participation scores.

Running the game multiple times addresses some of the other points raised by Rex and Lukas:

Doing multiple identical simulations is useful for compare and contrast – and allows you to change one variable. If you have 40 teams, and provide one meaningful twist in the instructions, you can demonstrate in a powerful way how that influences the outcome of the situation.

Maybe by starting very simply, the game could be expanded and complicated over multiple iterations – helping the students to learn along the way what the effect of these changes are.

What if the game [Untitled, any suggestions?] went something like this:

First Round – Basics of Production – Have students form cooperatives that produce something [Any suggestions?]. This should involve utliity maximization between production and leisure.

Second Round – Basics of Redistribution – Introduce the strategic option of stealing.  Perhaps some cooperatives are given the choice to steal from neighboring cooperatives and they must declare, simultaneously, what action they are taking.  [Suggestions or considerations for keeping this playable or making it fun?]

Third Round – Basics of Enforcement – Introduce the role of guardians, cooperatives or agents that can limit redistribution if they are nearby.  [Again, need suggestions for ways to keep this simple and easy to execute in a class of 400]

Repeating this very simple game (possibly repeating some of the rounds multiple times) with learning actors might also demonstrate how dynamics change over time.  If there is any element of geography incorporated (you can only steal from a coop sitting less than three seats away) – the class may naturally develop different dynamics in a large lecture hall as actors respond to their environment (or change their seats!).

This has a long way to go and I am sure I am missing lots of considerations – but that is what brainstorming is for – so feel free to jump in with questions, comments and suggestions for Professor X as he develops this farther.

Is there any way to score this?  Is scoring important?  Could scoring lead to participation scores?  Should it?

Will students do this?  Will they stand up if they need to move or act in some way?  What will get them involved?

Does this teach the right lessons?  Will students game the game or will they learn from the process (can the game game the students?)?

Next-Generation Simulations and Serious Games for Peacebuilding

USIP has announced a very interesting workshop on “Next-Generation Simulations and Serious Games for Peacebuilding” to be held in Washington DC on July 16—more information at the link.

NGOs and civilian agencies routinely risk scarce resources – and often their lives – in conflict zones around the world. Recent advances in computer-enabled simulations, wargames and predictive modeling now promise to reduce that risk by making it possible to test and re-test decisions in a risk-free environment.

Major advances in decision-support technology have been funded by the world’s corporations and militaries, but the peacebuilding community tends to view these tools as prohibitively expensive or overly technical. Given the growing importance of collaboration between NGOs, civilian agencies, militaries, and civil society, tools that enhance coordination and reduce uncertainty must play an ever-greater role in international efforts to manage armed conflict.

Experience Best-in-Class Decision-Support Technologies

The full-day event will feature presentations by designers of a wide variety of cutting-edge, best in class “serious games” and simulation tools with potential peacebuilding applications:

1. Immersive facilitated wargames for the military (Army War College)
2. Sophisticated videogames for non-violent civil resistance (“A Force More Powerful”)
3. Live post-conflict simulations with computer models (SENSE-IDA)
4. Open-source simulation platforms for conflict management (USIP)
5. Web-based simulations for conflict resolution (ICONS)
6. Predictive analytics and modeling for business intelligence (IBM tent.)

Attendees will have hands-on access to all the presented tools. We will also examine the potential to develop a next generation of serious games and simulations that could be widely adopted by the peacebuilding community, with several goals in mind:
1. Improving coordination among disparate organizations by working through scenarios for intervention and reconstruction in a risk-free simulated environment.
2. Improving the international community’s ability to prevent conflict by sensing signals of potential violence.
3. Improving the allocation of scarce peacebuilding resources by using cutting-edge decision modeling tools.

Please attend, and be part of USIP’s effort to adapt the state-of-the-art tools of the military and business to the needs of the peacebuilding community.

brainstorm series I: designing a game or simulation for 400+ IR undergrad students

Time to Brainstorm
Time to Brainstorm

One of my former professors is wondering how to get his students more engaged in a course he teaches.  During a recent trip to Rwanda, we started discussing simulations I use in our course at the World Bank and Rex’s mega-simulation at Mc Gill and I suggested that may be some kind of game or simulation could get his students more involved.

Another benefit of a simulation might be that he could identify those students that are likely to be most engaged – in fact, a very difficult simulation early in the course might help to select out some of the more laxadaisical freeriders early on.

In our discussion we agreed that a game or simulation for 400 students is a pretty tall order.  Still, I thought it might make an interesting thought experiment/challenge to put up here and throw around some ideas from our smart readership.

So, here is the challenge:  any ideas for some kind of game or simulation that you could get 400 people playing in a course on economic development, globalization and international relations?  What are the challenges to consider?  Any suggestions for getting students engaged with a simulation or suggestions for scoring?  Anything you do in the class room that works particularly well (or should be avoided)?  Any game ideas that you’ve been contemplating  (“I’ve always thought it would be interesting to…”) but just haven’t had the time to execute? 

This will be a moderated discussion in a series of posts, I will take some of the suggestions from comments and discuss them again in a future post and we can continue to carry forward the conversation.  For now we’ll refer to the teacher as Professor X and see if he wants to join the discussion in the future. 

And remember, this is brainstorming, so keep the suggestions coming!

Simulation of Darfur Refugee Camps Trains Future Humanitarian Leaders

From Harvard Public Health Now, 15 May 2009:

To a casual visitor, the Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, Massachusetts, may have looked bucolic during the weekend of April 24 to 26. But for 60 aid-workers-in-training who camped in the forest those three days, it was no walk in the park.

The workers-in-training were graduate students from HSPH, Harvard Kennedy School, Tufts University, MIT, Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, and other Harvard teaching hospitals. They were participating in an exercise to simulate the refugee situation in Eastern Chad, where thousands of people have fled following violence in the neighboring Darfur region of western Sudan.

Each student was assigned a role in one of eight non-governmental organization (NGO) teams. The students were tasked with planning transportation routes, sanitation facilities, and medical services to meet the needs of the simulated population. These tasks were completed under an increasingly intensifying security situation with faux military checkpoints, gunman attacks, and security evacuations modeled after actual events along the Chad-Sudan border.

PRI’s The World also had a report on the same simulation—you’ll find an audio slideshow about it here.

Who are you?

We started Paxsims so that we could discuss the use of simulations in learning and we weren’t entirely sure there would be an audience for it, but we were pleasantly delighted that you found us here and that we are slowly building a small community of people interested in this topic.

We thought it might be helpful to invite you to introduce yourself in comments and let us know what you would like discussed on this blog. This isn’t just for us to know who is reading, but also for other readers that are interested in these kinds of things – we’d like to develop this community a bit and want you to be part of it.

So, who are you? What do you do? What do you find interesting about simulations in learning? What are you working on? What could you use more of? Should we be posting more regularly or less regularly?

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