Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: November 2009

reflections on Carana

Aimé Saba, who recently participated in the Carana simulation as part of a World Bank/AUSAID course on fragility, sent us on the following reflections on the course and the simulation.


The World Bank’s course on Fragility and Conflict designed for officials in donor organisations was extremely useful. The use of the fictional country called “CARANA” was perhaps more useful for officials with limited analytical abilities of political and security issues common to conflict-affected countries.  Nearly half of my colleagues whom I took the course with had either theoretical knowledge of peace and conflict issues, through either post-graduate studies, or short courses delivered by academic institutions. The trainers – Gary Milante and Erik Johnson – were excellent. And it helps to have well experienced trainers with sufficient knowledge (I have benefited from numerous training opportunities in this field and I am now in good position to distinguish excellent trainers from average ones. Knowledge of facilitation techniques is a very good asset, but content is more important). Coming from a conflict-affected region (the Great Lakes region of Africa) and having done post-graduate peace and conflict studies, I had a number of critiques, some of which I am sharing here:

  1. Courses delivered for, or by donor organisations rarely touch on the key, critical issues which lie behind failures of external organisations in responding to conflicts. Sensitive issues of lack of coordination which explain ‘waste’ tend to be discussed in a way that blames only others. Bilateral donors tend to blame other multilateral and non-like minded bilateral donors. And local elites. Rarely themselves. They all acknowledge the need for coordination, but avoid a serious analysis of the cost of lack of coordination and harmonisation.
  2. There is no doubt that there is a minimum standard of abilities in conflict analysis required by donor officials. And it is true that courses such as the World Bank’s can serve the purpose of equipping officials with those skills. But increasingly, I doubt whether a junior official without a strong foundation in political history within a 2 day course, the crisis of post-coloniality (i.e. countries whose processes of state-building was either never finished, or started on wrong foundations (refer to Rene Dumont’s 1960s book: false start for Africa).
  3. The other issue I observed throughout the course (and common in most courses on conflicts) was the fascination with differences – whether religious, ethnic, racial –. It is true that local ruling elites are responsible for manipulating and magnifying those differences, but outsiders’ analyses continue to highlight these as if they are part of the root causes of most conflicts. They are not. In most conflict-affected countries, there are always good opinion leaders who transcend those ‘differences’ and have more objective views, different from those held by ‘tribal’ ruling elites with a seat at donors’ roundtables. The challenge is of course, how to make sure that these positive leaders become decision makers and influence dialogue processes between external and local actors.
  4. The other issue, related to the first one, is the disconnect between reality and rhetoric. In courses, one seems to have a good picture of what is not working and what needs to be done to respond to the situation of fragility. In board room meetings though, one realises quickly how certain innovative ideas such as ‘do no harm principles’, or ‘conflict-sensitive development’ or the ‘use of conflict and fragility lens’ etc, suddenly become labelled as “concepts belonging to academia with less practical use to policy makers”.

So, would I recommend the course to others? Absolutely yes. I participated in train-the trainer program and participated in adapting the training module to the Asia-Pacific context in which AusAID works. In general, and regardless of the regional specificity, I think that trainers should well prepare and devote sufficient discussion time on the session on ‘state-building and nation-building’. All sorts of things are said, but it is important to manage well the discussion, as it is in my opinion, a good foundation in explaining everything related to assisting developing countries faced with conflict and fragility. Once again, I would recommend it, but I would encourage attention be given to content of some modules.

Aimé Saba


Gary adds:

Thanks for the review, Aime.  Glad you enjoyed the course and the simulation!

To clarify, the AusAID experience is a little different than the Bank experience.  At the Bank we have four days and a lot more coursework interwoven with the simulation.  AusAID started with a two day course and my understanding is that it is now three days.  Since there is not a lot of fat in the Carana simulation, the whole course will have a higher Carana to Coursework ratio in AusAID than we have at the Bank.

I agree that the AusAID staff are highly trained and skilled, indeed, they’ve delivered some of the better Carana recovery plans I’ve seen (and have been the impetus for making the game harder in recent versions).   The audiences are a bit different between the Bank (economists and development specialists) and AusAID (whole of government including everyone ranging from development specialists to treasury to defense to police).

It is possible that the ethnic differences are overemphasized in the design of Carana, but it is, I think, because those ethnic differences are often underemphasized in the actual realization of the simulation.  All too often participants revert to their technocrat personae and concentrate on trying to “solve the puzzle” of Carana’s recovery, often at the expense of realism – the main characters of Carana have been embroiled in a difficult ethnic conflict for nearly a decade and should have serious trust issues.  We can’t force people to roleplay, but we can alert them to issues which might be present at the negotiating table, overtly or not.

With regards to (2) and (4) above – I totally agree – indeed, Carana is designed to be a sandbox where participants can only really scratch the surface and get exposed to how complicated and difficult working in these environments can be.

Reacting to the Past: The Struggle For Palestine

Newly-developed in the Reacting to the Past series of historical simulations for the classroom is a new simulation on the conflict in Mandatory Palestine, based around the 1936 Peel Commission:

Barnard College was one of 26 higher education institutions to receive $100,000 for academic programs to promote campus environments where sensitive subjects can be discussed in a spirit of open scholarly inquiry, academic freedom and with respect for different viewpoints. The Ford Foundation made the awards in its “Difficult Dialogues” initiative in New York City on Dec. 12, 2005. 

The Difficult Dialogues initiative was created in response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities. The goal is to help institutions address this challenge through academic and campus programs that enrich learning, encourage new scholarship and engage students and faculty in constructive dialogue about contentious political, religious, racial and cultural issues.

A key component of the Difficult Dialogues initiative at Barnard was the development of a new “Reacting to the Past” game, The Struggle for Palestine, under the direction of Natasha Gill (Research Associate) and Mark C. Carnes (Creator, “Reacting to the Past”).

The Struggle for Palestine game was created to offer students an insight into the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, and especially in the 1930s. 

In the Spring 2009 pilot (shown below), students were able to enter the universe of life in Palestine before 1948, when so much of the conflict was determined, and to learn about the positions of the Arabs of Palestine and the Zionists at the time. The game was based around the work of the Palestine Royal Commission (also known as the Peel Commission) which arrived in Jerusalem in 1936 to try and determine the causes of conflict and make recommendations for the future.

Most students in the game took on positions and personalities that clashed with their backgrounds, their world views and narratives of the conflict. Nevertheless, the students dove into their tasks because the game gave them the opportunity to by pass the traditional debating style and to focus intently on understanding the world that the Jews and Arabs inhabited at the time, to hear how the parties themselves interpreted the conflict, and to immerse themselves in the details of life on the ground.

The designers hope the “Reacting” pedagogy will help break down myths and immerse students in the different politics that shaped Middle Eastern identities. Although conceived as part of the First-Year Foundation, we are leaving open the possibility that the game may be more appropriate for advanced students.

You’ll find a video of the pilot section on the announcement page linked here.

The Gaming of Policy and the Politics of Gaming

The December 2009 issue of Simulation & Gaming is now out, and among the articles is a useful review by Igor Meyer on the “Gaming of Policy and the Politics of Gaming”

This article examines the foundations of gaming and related concepts, such as policy exercises and serious gaming, in a public policy making context. Examining the relevant publications in Simulation & Gaming since 1969, the author looks back at the development of gaming simulation for purposes such as public policy analysis and planning, and reviews the underlying theories and empirical evidence. The author highlights the recognition that the success of gaming for policy making derives largely from the unique power of that gaming to capture and integrate both the technical-physical and the social-political complexities of policy problems.

The piece is useful both for the historical overview that it offers and for the extensive bibliography it includes.

forthcoming USIP SENSE simulation

The United States Institute of Peace has announced another in their regular series of SENSE post-conflict economic simulations:

November 2009 Interagency SENSE Simulation

November 17-19, 2009, 8:00am-5:00pm

November 17th-19th, 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 or visit to register online.

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….

The USIP courses and simulations webpage is here, although at the moment it has no information on the event (use the link in the announcement instead). If anyone is participating, we would love to hear your feedback after the event (as would the USIP folks too, I’m sure).

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