Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: February 2010

online sustainable development games

A recent posting on the socialissuegames list highlighted a number of online games now available focusing on issues of sustainable development. Most are aimed at youth and young adults, and almost fall into the category of what might be termed “advocacy” or “consciousness raising” games rather than educational simulations—that is, they present a view that highlights key normative, social, and economic issues, but don’t necessarily involve a very detailed or realistic view of how particular economic or policy processes operate. nevertheless, many are quite useful in highlighting what these sorts of serious games can do, and several are quite enjoyable too. I haven’t played through all of them yet, but here is a quick sampler:

Third World Farmer

3rd World Farmer is a new kind of game. An experiment in the genre of Serious Games, it aims at simulating the real-world mechanisms that cause and sustain poverty in 3rd World countries.

In the game, the player gets to manage an African farm, and is soon confronted with the often difficult choices that poverty and conflict necessitate. We find this kind of experience efficient at making the issues relevant to people, because players tend to invests their hopes in a game character whose fate depends on him. We aim at making the player “experience” the injustices, rather than being told about them, so as to stimulate a deeper and more personal reflection on the topics.

We think the game has the potential to be an eye-opener to people who have become accustomed to the ordinary means of communicating third world desperation. Our aim is to have everybody play the game, reflect, discuss and act on it. The game is well suited to start off discussions about 3rd World issues, so we also encourage teachers to use it in their classes.

Although the current version of the game is finished and fully playable, we will continue developing the game, updating and adding new content so as to get as rich and well-nuanced a simulation as possible. We would like our forums to be a place where discussions arise and solutions to real-world problems are suggested.

The story behind 3rd World Farmer

The first prototype of the game was developed as a students’ project at the IT-University in Copenhagen, Spring 2005. All initial participants were actively involved in shaping the original concept to a playable game. Actually, the very most of the game features have been discussed by the entire group until a fitting solution was agreed upon.

The positive evaluation and feedback from user testing inspired some of us to continue developing the game and to publish it online in its current version. Our work to shape the prototype into a fully playable game has so far involved meetings and correspondence with relief agencies and game professionals….

This is certainly a nicely executed game, with fluid intuitive game play, and news items that both affect game play and inform. Very well done. I must admit, however, I got much of my initial investment capital growing opium poppies for a year!

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According to its authors:

LogiCity is a fun interactive computer game with a difference.  Aimed at young people under 25, it’s a game set in a 3D virtual city with five main activities where players are set the task of reducing the carbon footprint of an average resident.  As players work their way through the game they will pick up information about Climate Change, and some of the main ways in which everyone is currently contributing to the emissions of the main greenhouse gas (CO2) that causes Climate Change.

It only runs, however, on Internet Explorer… which for us Mac people, is rather akin to an alien plague. I wasn’t able to try it.

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Generation Green

A series of children’s game around the issue of energy conservation:

Help defeat the energy wasting Baron Fossilosis. He has cast a spell on the world turning it into a dark and dirty place.

Only the Eco-Rangers can save the day. Together with the brave Professor Green and faithful J0b0t you must stop his army of wasters and save the planet.

The EcoRangers seem to work for greenhouse gas-producing British Gas, which suggests to me that Prof. Green might be greenwashing just a little bit. I wonder if he’s played Logicity?

British Gas also sponsor the EnConCity game, which focuses on energy conservation.

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Of course, you don’t need to depend on British Gas alone, since Chevron also stands ready to teach you about environmental sustainability! The game itself was developed by the Economist Group, however, and does a fair job of highlighting the economic, environmental, and energy production tradeoffs involved with different energy sources.

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Planet Green Game

Brought to us by Starbucks.. am I noticing a certain corporate pattern here?

Starbucks and Global Green USA collaborated on the Planet Green Game to educate the public about climate change through engaging and informative game play while encouraging individuals to become part of the solution in their own lives.  The game also assists individuals – through simple tools and links – in advocating action by elected officials, business and
community leaders.

Game play involves traversing the city using various ecologically sensible devices… I used a skateboard (which, of course, is ideally suited to green commuting here in Montreal in February), and traveled to the local hardware store where I played a match-the-tiles game involving compact fluorescent bulbs. Move over, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, this is exciting stuff!

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A simple SimCity type game, in which you try to grow your own little city in an environmentally-sustainable way (to inspiring background music):

Project Enercities offers a serious gaming – learning platform for young people (typical target group: 15-20 years) to experience energy-related implications. The goal is to create and expand virtual cities dealing with pollution, energy shortages, renewable energy etc.

The development of the serious game is based on state of the art technologies and insights. The game is fully web-based, 3D perspective (via Unity3D plug-in) and is suitable to play on low-budget computers. The game offers a semi-realistic simulation with game-like visual styles (cartoony) and low entry barriers (easy to understand; multiple levels in order to bring-in more complexity). All these approaches enable a wide distribution of the Enercities serious game across Europe.

Cofunded by the EU’s Intelligent Energy Europe initiative, the project description can be found here.

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I just love the name of this… detoxifying an Australian water catchment area just seems a no-brainer for an online game, doesn’t it?

Play Catchment Detox to see if you successfully manage a river catchment and create a sustainable and thriving economy.

It’s an online game where you’re in charge of the whole catchment. You get to decide what activities you undertake – whether to plant crops, log forests, build factories or set up national parks. The aim is to avoid environmental problems and provide food and wealth for the population.

Managing Australia’s waterways is a huge challenge with climate change, increased demand for water and environmental problems putting our rivers under stress. Catchment Detox gives an idea of just how difficult it is to manage a river catchment.

Are you up for the challenge?

I’m not sure I have the stamina to play through all 100 turns, but I did have an opportunity to cut down forests, engage in intense ranching, and otherwise inflict environmental damage in the once beautiful PaxSims River Valley.

PaxSims invites contributions!

As will be evident to regular readers, PaxSims welcomes submissions from guest contributors on the use of teaching and training simulations in the areas of conflict, peacebuilding, and development.

Do you have a simulation you use in the classroom? Working on a current simulation project or product? Have reflections on the uses (and abuses) of simulations from a practitioner viewpoint? An article or conference paper you would like publicized? A small tropical island that you would like to donate to us? We would love to hear from you!

Submissions can be sent to rex.brynen (at) Remember that this is a blog, so excessive formalism is discouraged, while ideas, reflections of simulation design, and provocative critiques are especially welcome. Contributions also need not be long—we simply would like to broaden the discussion.

Oh and yes, we were kidding about the island (although it would be nice).

A Serious Game: Learning to Love the Ban

Over a delightful coffee in September in DC, back in the days for me when “working” meant taking a 45 minute coffee break, I learned about a simulation used by the preparatory commission during the ongoing process of design of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.  We asked for this report from contacts at the preparatory commission a few months back and I am embarrassed to admit that it lingered in my email inbox since then.  Here though, without further adieu, is their response to our questions on what the simulation was about, how it was being used and what they learned from it.  I follow with a few observations.


Unlike other organizations which have an ongoing routine inspections regime including an in-house employed inspectorate that can be called-in for training anytime, the CTBT inspection regime does not include such mechanisms. As the CTBT On-Site Inspections regime was studied and exercised after the establishment of the Preparatory Commission for CTBT, it became clear that negotiations are going to be conducted on a daily basis and on different levels between Inspection Team (IT) and the Inspected State Party (ISP) personnel. This led to the understanding that negotiation is practically an additional tool for the inspectors to be used during an inspection.

Since the primary criterion for selecting experts as members of an inspection team is their scientific expertise it also became clear that they should be trained in the use of negotiations techniques. The CTBTO has conducted exercises and training activities through the years such as tabletop exercises conducted in the office or during a field simulation of the inspection process and especially its negotiation aspect.

A special TTE was conducted lately outside of the CTBTO in a very special setting.  In order to get a book about CTBT(O) negotiations on the table, the Processes of International Negotiation (PIN) Programme of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) organized a book-conference in June 2009 to discuss the different contributions to this book. In order to give the participants of the conference a good idea of the CTBTO problematique on the ground, the authors of this chapter presented their colleagues with their classic Table Top and ran it with them. This was a special moment in the meeting, where all participants were suddenly drawn into the subject through interaction, which also helped to create an even more cooperative atmosphere.

The Simulation

A scenario for the TTE was provided to the participants providing the background and process until the IT, has arrived at the Point Of Entry on the territory of the ISP, where 36 hours are dedicated to negotiations between the IT and ISP on the modalities for the conduct of the inspection.

The conference members were divided into two delegations, one representing the Inspection Team, the other one the Inspected State Party. Instructions were given, both to the teams as such, as well as to the individual members of the delegations. Both parties had a team leader plus a number of ‘experts’, while the authors of this chapter acted as game masters and observers. After some 45 minutes of preparations, or better of internal negotiations – in which already heated internal debates took place, notably in the Inspectors Team – external negotiations lasted for another 45 minutes, followed-up by 45 minutes debriefing and discussions. In the middle part – the actual negotiation process – the two teams of twelve people each declared their positions and demands and exchanged arguments and exhibits. This bilateral process of negotiation could be characterized as quite distributive, like haggling at the market place, using diplomatic terminology though.

It was a polarized and tense exchange of views, even emotional now and then. An Inspection Team being short of time, an Inspected State Party buying time. The heads of delegation were chosen by the game masters in view of their experience and knowledge. It was expected that they both would have enough helicopter view to produce a realistic and interesting process and so they did. Ambassador Jaap Ramaker from The Netherlands, having been the last chair of the Test-Ban Treaty Negotiations in Geneva in 1996 headed the Inspected State Party Team. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, United Kingdom opposed him as head of delegation of the CTBTO Inspection Team. Two different temperaments with equal subject knowledge and negotiation skill. A very intriguing – and probably extremely realistic – process unfolded. A learning experience for participants and observers and game masters.

Lessons Learned

Though the teams were asked to avoid procedural discussions and to focus on the subject matter as much as possible, more than half of the negotiation time was lost because of a prolonged procedural struggle. A ‘fight’ over the explanation and interpretation of those things that were or were not allowed during the upcoming inspection period dominated the first half of the negotiation and bedeviled the second half. This was not coincidental, everybody recognized it as a strategy used by the Inspected State Party and the flow of the bargaining process clearly showed that it was extremely difficult for the Inspection Team to break through the defenses of the Inspected State Party. Clearly the rules and regulations of the CTBTO and its Manual – which is still under consideration in reality – give the high ground to the state to be controlled. It is quite easy for the Inspected State Party to use procedural issues to postpone discussions on content.

This avoidant strategy provoked escalation which did not really foster an integrative bargaining process. While the Inspected State Party had a pulling strategy from the start, the Inspection Team had – because of its time problem – no choice but to implement a pushing approach. In this situation it was more difficult for the ‘offensive’ party to stay balanced, than for the ‘defensive’ one. Positional bargaining characterized the process, though some useful integrative aspects were inserted in the second half of the interaction by a group of experts of both parties which had reached an agreement on a few important issues during their break-out session. Being experts and not being bothered too much by the political process enfolding between the two teams, it was not too difficult to bridge some rifts. Obviously the back-channel negotiations did not suffer from the loss-of-face problems the delegations in the ‘plenary’ were confronted with. However, these positive results forged by the expert group could not (yet) turn the negotiation process into a problem-solving one. Slowly but truly the issue-specific power of the Inspection Team shifted to the Inspected State Party with no substantial results at the end of the bargaining process.

The lesson being that the rules and regulations of CTBTO do not – at least not in the context of this Table Top Exercise – allow for enough space for the Inspection Team to have a successful negotiation on On-Site Inspection with the Inspected State Party.

Note that the exercise was used during the design of the treaty, training those that may be involved in inspections with the negotiation tools that they can use in the future, while highlighting what the challenges may be if the treaty is not fully defined, presumably informing the treaty process itself.

Also, I noticed that the simulation designers placed two very experienced “players” in lead positions.  The more simulation runs and design I’m exposed to, the more imperative I feel this oft overlooked strategy is to a successful simulation design.  One of the useful aspects of simulation design is inter-cohort learning – placing those with experience and confidence in leading others is extremely useful in sharing knowledge.

Lastly, I really like how a short table top exercise was integrated into another event.  Those who have used simulations for learning immediately recognize the line:

This was a special moment in the meeting, where all participants were suddenly drawn into the subject through interaction, which also helped to create an even more cooperative atmosphere.

Really, this is was makes simulations in learning so powerful and rewarding.  They engage students immediately, bringing them into the subject matter.  Glad to hear that it worked so well in creating a successful event for the commission.

Those interested can learn more about the on-site inspection of the CTBTO through the following e-learning modules:

simulation papers at APSA’s 2010 TLC

As it does each year, the American Political Science Association’s recent Teaching and Learning Conference had several sessions devoted to the use of simulation and role-playing in the classroom. You’ll find many of the 2010 TLC papers (on these and other topics) can be downloaded via the Social Science Research Network.

CFP: The International Journal of Role-Playing

The (online, blog-based) International Journal of Role-Playing is calling for submissions for its 2nd issue, due to be published in 2010:

The International Journal of Role-Playing invites researchers, designers, developers, academics, artists and others involved in the growing field of research related to role-playing to submit articles. The IJRP is a peer-reviewed journal, and welcomes submissions from any sphere of interest, knowledge network, research field or de-development sector that directly or indirectly relates to role-playing interests.

Potential topics include but are certainly not limited to the following:

• Role-playing games, e.g. frameworks, storytelling and graphics; art, design and creative industry

• Role-playing culture, psychology, media, economics, and sociology

• Role-playing technology, surveys, vocabulary, training and education

• Other aspects of role-playing and related research and development

The International Journal of Role-Playing is a biannual international journal that covers all aspects of role-playing, irrespective of the medium, platform or intent. The IJRP specifically aims to act as the focal point, for pushing the limits of role-playing knowledge, and to improve sharing of knowledge across the knowledge networks involved with role-playing- and related work, notably the industry, the academia and the arts. The journal will encourage the exchange of ideas and experiences, and will be a free, online forum where knowledge can be harvested. In realizing that the knowledge networks involved with role-playing- and related work are based in a variety of interest spheres, which write and publish their work in different ways, the IJRP will accommodate the knowledge sharing principles of the various networks.

The call for papers can be found at the link above.

The Mandelbrot Development Project

A few years ago, the International Development Research Centre’s Economy and Environment Programme for Southeast Asia commissioned a role-play simulation to examine environmental and decision-making issue, revolving around a proposed mining project in an ecologically sensitive area of a fictional SEA-type country:

The Mandelbrot Development Project is a hypothetical development project ina developing country. The project design is based on typical circumstances in a hypothetical low-middle income country (Mañanaland), and draws on actual conditions from a cross-section of real-life projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian Ocean island states, the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. The case study site features a coastal region (Deli Province) with typical bio-geographic and socio-economic conditions of high poverty levels, environmental degradation from deforestation and marginal agriculture, and an artisanal fishery industry. The area also features a recently established terrestrial biosphere reserve (Deli National Park) of international importance, and ecotourism around a marine park area (Deli Archipelago) is slowly being developed close to the sea-side provincial capital of Fort Brot. The Mandelbrot Project is composed of a number of regional development activities that include : (i) a mining project to extract ilmenite; (ii) a port expansion component required for the mining development; and, (iii) associated infrastructure.

The case study exercise provides a role-playing context (“game”) for students of environmental economics. The purpose of the exercise is not so much to have students undertake an environmental economics study, as it is for students to gain an understanding of the decision-making and policy formulation dynamics that often surround such studies.

Students are divided into groups of 10-15 people, with each person representing a “player” in the game. The players are invited to a half-day meeting to consider the development options for the province, and to determine whether the Mandelbrot project should (i) proceed immediately; (ii) proceed in some modified form; (iii) be abandoned; or (iv) be deferred until further research is done. The Project itself will be funded through the following formula: 25% private sector; 25% government contribution; 50% international assistance. All players in the game are given the same background information, which consists of an invitation to participate, a list of participants, and an economic consultant’s report. The meeting is chaired by a representative of Central Government who, in tandem with a representative from an international development agency, is tasked with garnering input from various stakeholders in the province.

The full files for running the simulation (including general information, specific role briefings, and spreadsheets) are available for download from H.J. Ruitenbeek Resource Consulting here. The simulation requires some familiarity with economic and business analysis, but certainly could prove quite useful in university courses in environmental economics, as well as for professionals in this area.

News Games

For those who haven’t seen it yet, a research team at Georgia Tech has an excellent blog on News Games that examines “the ways videogames can be used in the field of journalism, providing examples, theoretical approaches, speculative ideas, and practical advice about the past, present, and future of games and journalism.” There is a lot of interest here, from games about the news and current affairs, to advocacy games, to entertainment software that intersects with contemporary issues. Have a look!

peace, conflict, and development simulations at ISA

For those of you who might be attending the International Studies Association conference in New Orleans this week, PaxSims has prepared this handy list of the main simulation-related panels, papers, and sessions.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

ISA Workshop: Designing Online Strategic Games and Microworld Simulations (by invitation only)

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WD32: Wednesday, 17 February 2010,  3:45 PM ‐ 5:30 PM

Roundtable: Innovative Thinking on Using Simulations in Learning and  Teaching in IR

Chair: Christopher Edward Farrands

Deborah S. Davenport, ‘IISD’ (International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada)

Mary E. Pettenger, Western Oregon University

Jennifer Heeg Maruska, Georgetown University/Texas A&M

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TA09: Thursday, 18 February 2010,  8:30 AM ‐ 10:15 AM

Web‐based Tools for Experiments and Simulations for Foreign  Policy Analysis

Chairs:Alex Mintz, IDC; Nehemia Geva, Texas A&M University

The Use of Computerized Process Tracing for Uncovering  Decision Rules of Leaders

Alex Mintz: IDC

Utilizing Virtual Reality Environments to Establish  Naturalistic Settings for Decision Making Research

Nin Keren: Iowa State

The Dec‐Tracer: Web‐based Digital Tracing of the Emotive  and Cognitive Calculus of Foreign Policy Decision Processes

Nehemia Geva: Texas A&M University

Uri Geva: Texas A&M

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TA65: Thursday, 18 February 2010  8:30 AM ‐ 10:15 AM

Connecting Theory to Policy: Teaching International Relations  Across Cultures and Nations

Chair: Nikolaos Biziouras, United States Naval Academy

Discussant: Rebecca Hovey, School for International Training

Designing Easy, Fun and Instructive Simulations

Neophytos Loizides: Queens University, Belfast

Teaching at the United Nations: Bridging Academia and the  Policy World

Denise Garcia: Northeastern and Harvard University

Decision‐making in the National Security Council: Teaching  Crisis to United States Naval Academy Midshipmen

Nikolaos Biziouras: United States Naval Academy

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TB55: Thursday, 18 February 2010  10:30 AM ‐ 12:15 PM

Classroom Simulations and Governance: International  Organizations and Domestic Institutions as Cases

Chair: Emmanuel Ezi Obuah, Alabama A&M University

Discusaant: Patricia M. Keilbach, University of Colorado at  Colorado Springs

Inside Bruxelles: Teaching Policy‐making in the EU

Giampiero Giacomello: Universita’ di Bologna

Adding Realism to a Multilateral Negotiation Simulation on  Climate Change

Deborah S. Davenport: ‘IISD’ (International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada)

The Relevance of the Historical Perspective to  Understanding Modern Political Institutions in India and  South Africa, A Comparative Approach

Eleanor E. Zeff: Drake University

Taking it Global? Preliminary Considerations over the  Experience of the 1st Global Model United Nations

Roberto Vinicius P.S. Gama: Pontifícia Universidade Católica  de Minas Gerais

We haven’t included papers that appear to be on agent-based simulation modeling, and we may have missed a few others besides—so if you’re in New Orleans, check your program.

Bosnian civil war simulation at Penn

From the Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania, news of a recent simulation of the  Bosnian civil war:

Simulation brings Bosnian War to Penn

by Jared Dubin | Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 8:28 pm

“Execute all civilians.”

This was the order sent over radio in a Weigle Information Commons study room at 4:23 p.m. this past Saturday.

College junior Joseph Tirella gave the order while assuming the role of an insurgent in a real-time Peacekeeping and Stabilization Mission Simulation created by Bruce Newsome, a lecturer in the International Relations Program. Newsome developed the simulation as a postgraduate student at Penn in 2001 and has since created many others.

More than 40 students with majors varying from international relations to biology took on roles as non-government organizations, military forces, government coalitions and two factions of locals in Bosnia. Participants were confined to Weigle for the duration of the mission phase, which occurred in real time from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The simulation was based on the Bosnian War that took place during the mid-1990s. During the unstable period in the region, accusations were made of ethnic cleansing, which led to a NATO intervention in 1995.

Like in the actual conflict, students on the peacekeeping side were tasked with securing local refugees and extending a safe zone farther north in the region.

More coverage at the link here.

UPDATE: You’ll also find a report on the simulation from the organizers (the International Relations Program at the University of Pennsylvania) here, and some pictures from the event here.

B-GL-323-004/FP-003 on wargaming COIN

Perusing the Canadian military’s elegantly-named guide to counter-insurgency on the train this morning (don’t we all do that?), I came across the following reference the value of wargaming in planning COIN operations:


1. Operational plans and their tactical activities must be war gamed in the same fashion as those for campaigns against conventional adversaries. However, the factors that must be considered in such COIN war gaming are more extensive and complicated.

2. Planning and subsequent war gaming must consider the political, military, economic, social (including religious and cultural), information and infrastructure related systems [PMESII] in the environment along with the influence that each system will have on the outcome of the operation and campaign. Power structures and influential individual leaders must be identified and considered in the war gaming. Additionally, other agencies and their reactions to operational plans and activities must be considered.

3. To this end, war gaming will be fairly complicated, with staff and, ideally, experts and advisors considering the planned activities from the viewpoint of these various environmental systems and gauging their respective reactions. Such reactions must be informed by the cultural perspective of the environment or group under consideration. For this purpose, cultural and political advisors may be included in the war gaming process.

4. ln this way, proposed courses of action at the operational and tactical levels may be considered in detail and in perspective of the local environment in order to help ensure that desired effects, both physical and psychological, are obtained and undesired effects are avoided.

Canada, Chief of the Land Staff, Counter-Insurgency Operations (English) B-GL-323-004/FP-003, (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 13 December 2008)—the online pdf, ironically, is courtesy of a US military website.

While there is obviously a great deal of post-9/11 interest in simulating insurgency for operational planning reasons, and a growing literature on how this might be done at a technical level, I haven’t seen much overarching literature on design principles, or best and worst practices. If anyone does have anything on the subject that they think is a must-read, perhaps they could drop me an email, or post the details or link(s) in the comments section below?

UPDATE: For one interesting (if rather simple) discussion of efforts to simulate COIN from the Vietnam War era—with a focus on intimidation effects, rather than the broader ideological, political, socioeconomic, and material dimensions of insurgency—have a look at Counter-Insurgency Game Design: Feasibility and Evaluation Study (Washington DC: study prepared by ABT Associates for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, January 1968).

MORE UPDATE: Tim Wilkie at A Horse of Peas (and NDU) emailed to remind me of a useful paper on Wargaming Fourth Generation Warfare written by Peter Perla, Albert Nofi and Michael Markowitz and published by the Center for Naval Analyses in 2006. You’ll find the paper here, and Tim’s discussion of it here. Of course, this only raises the even more important question of when Tim will start blogging properly again…

STILL MORE UPDATE: I would also be remiss in not mentioning a short piece by Michael Peck on “Future Imperfect: US Army Struggles to Model Irregular Warfare Scenarios,” Training and Simulation Journal, August/September 2009.

“Passages” refugee simulation

In 1995, UNHCR published a booklet entitled Passages, which outlines a refugee simulation designed for educational use with youth in schools and other settings. It takes participants through ten modules over four hours or so, exploring situations and experiences of escape, separation, emergency supply, shelter, leaving the country, crossing borders, refugee camps, asylum application, local interactions, repatriation, and other issues.

Although intended for young people, there is certainly considerable scope to modify the roleplay for other settings—indeed, I suspect that the Davos refugee simulation (described in the blog post below) was one such modification.

The entire booklet can be found on the UNHCR website (in pdf format) here.

UNHCR does Davos (again)

For the second year in a row, UNHCR ran some of the world’s business and political elite through a simulation of the refugee experience at the 2010 Davos World Economic Forum:

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 29 (UNHCR) – In between the power talks, presentations and networking, some of the VIPs attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos this week have been experiencing a small taste of life as a refugee on the run.

And a whole raft of top social media executives have signed up to take part in the “Refugee Run” on Saturday, penultimate day of the gathering of makers and shakers in the corporate, political, communications and humanitarian aid worlds.

They include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, International Committee of the Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger and Kumi Naidoo, international executive director of Greenpeace.

The Refugee Run provides a snapshot of the often terrifying ordeal suffered by people forced to flee their homes because of violence or persecution. In Davos, the unique simulation is being used to help some of the world’s most influential people understand the plight of refugees and internally displaced people, empathize with them and support the efforts of UNHCR to help them.

Participants face a range of scenarios, including fleeing a rebel attack, navigating a minefield, dealing with corrupt border guards, struggling with language, facing up to potential sex traffickers, surviving on the black market, learning a new language, and living in a refugee camp. And at the end they discuss what they have learned and how they can help.

Of course, it is questionable how much of a “real” refugee experience one can get just minutes away from luxurious hotels, ski slopes, and endless cocktail parties—unless, of course, one is playing the role of a diamond-smuggling warlord-on-the-run. However, as a consciousness-raising and advocacy exercise, it may well have been much more effective than glossy posters, pamphlets, and information books.

On last year’s Davos refugee simulation, you’ll find a participant report in the New York Times here, as well as a brief mention by Gary (and another article link) on Paxsims here. For a critique of the exercise (by well known aid critic William Easterly), check out his blog Aidwatch here.

Consultant Needed: Simulation Design

Some colleagues at a major international financial institution are designing a really interesting simulation for use in a course on anti-money laundering.  The audience will be law enforcement, government and finance inspectors.  The simulation itself will basically be an investigation of a probable money laundering, you’ve heard of “How to Host a Murder” – this will be on money laundering.

They are the experts – they know this field inside and out.  What they have less experience on is simulation design – delivering a structured experience that is both immersive and teaches.   I’ve been helping a bit at the margins, but unfortunately, I am just too overstretched – they could use a consultant that understands simulation design and could help them structure the information into a “game” that is both interesting and educational.  This is of course easier said than done and rather a shot in the dark, but for the right dungeon master or mystery writer out there, this could be a good fit.

If you feel you might be qualified and interested and available nearly immediately for a short term consultancy – please drop me an email with your CV and contact info.

Compton on the limits of simulation

The international military history, news, and wargaming site GrogNews has an interesting post by noted professional wargamer/analyst Jon Compton on the limits of simulation:

Recently I attended a roundtable discussion on wargaming at one of our national war colleges. During the discussion, a distinguished practitioner of our art mentioned his conviction that wargames were, in fact, good predictive tools. This comment was quite controversial, and it ought to be. Throughout not just wargaming circles, but in the OR world in general there is much ado made about the ability to predict the future. The notion is cast in various terms and syntaxes, most frequently masquerading as anticipatory analysis or behavior.

When we look at both qualitative and quantitative points of view and techniques to gain some insight into how to anticipate the behaviors of adversaries, the level of complexity rapidly outstrips our capacity to account for it. Simplifications usually rely on the description of trends, or the subjectiveness of the subject matter expert. The critical assumption that we’ve taken for granted is that in order to understand what our adversary is going to do, we must understand his culture, his motivations, his environmental influences, and so forth. What we find with this approach is that the problem rapidly becomes intractable.

There are two governing issues. The first I call faith in the one-to-one map, the second is the fallacy of classical determinism. Faith in the one-to-one map is simply the belief that the closer a model gets to reality, ostensibly through the inclusion of as many governing variables and interactions as possible, the more accurate the predictions will be. In truth, this is likely to be an inaccurate correlation. In practice, this approach is simply ridiculous. The problem, of course, is that the amount and accuracy of data required in order to make such an approach feasible doesn’t, and is unlikely to ever, exist. But even if we were able to gather accurately all the necessary data and correctly put together all of the interactions in the system and we could then run experiments with our one-to-one mapping of the world, we still would not be able accurately predict adversarial behaviors. Why? Because the underlying assumption with the approach is that the universe behaves according to the tenets of classical determinism. And the problem with classical determinism is a very simple one: it assumes away random evolutionary variation and the existence of creativity. It also ignores such metaphorical but very real notions as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle or the Lucas Critique….

You’ll find the full post here. Hat-top to BayonetBrant, via the Small Wars Council.

Wargaming the Flu (and reflections on the insights of repetition)

Each issue of Joint Force Quarterly, Margaret McCown (Center for Applied Strategic Learning, National Defense Univeristy) contributes a short article on simulation. Her contribution to the January 2010 edition addresses “Wargaming the Flu,” and contains a description of a series of strategic exercises that NDU has organized. It is particularly interesting not only in the lessons it draws on emergency public health issues, but also in the rationale for, and impact of, changes introduced into subsequent iterations of the simulation

As the winter wears on and swine flu (H1N1) spreads, the importance of transnational public health issues seems more apparent. Swine flu has not proved as deadly as first feared, but the large-scale health and public communications effort mounted to address it illustrates the complex exigencies of the response, where an array of partners, both domestic and international, with numerous and overlapping areas of responsibility and expertise shape policy options and their efficacy. Analyzing and formulating policy responses to complex, strategic level issues that are dynamic and are affected by similarly rapidly changing local, state, national, and international efforts and concerns present political scientists and policy planners with great challenges.

Other recent articles from the Center for Applied Strategic Learning in Joint Force Quarterly have addressed how to select topics for exercises and using qualitatively specified games for teaching versus analytical purposes. This article explores the substantive and methodological findings that National Defense University (NDU) gleaned from a series of pandemic influenza exercises conducted for senior government participants over a 2 ½-year period. In particular, it focuses on how participant observations and feedback shaped the design of subsequent exercises, creating an iterative process in which lessons learned from earlier games informed structure that, in turn, elicited further and more refined insights in subsequent ones.

This series of pandemic flu exercises is an excellent example of how qualitatively specified games can help us refine our understanding of the key independent factors that structure a problem. Some factors or constraints, particularly public communication, were found consistently important and present across all exercises. Even this factor was refined, however, as the emphasis switched from justifying resource allocations to explaining the benefits of nonpharmaceutical measures. All told, exercises moved away from what could be characterized as an emergency response understanding of the problem toward a more public health understanding. Multiple iterations of the exercise, a set of participants who were both diverse and representative of the decisionmaking community, and exercises that were sufficiently explicit about the constraints or factors that we posited as composing the strategic challenge were the three factors key to using qualitatively specified exercises to refine and validate how we conceptualized the problem.

Having run a broadly similar version of the Brynania simulation each year since 1998, I’m struck by the extent to which it has been reshaped in important ways by changes in the broader international system over the past decade—despite the fact that the simulation itself is set in the hypothetical continent of Cyberia. Among others:

  • The role of China has changed dramatically, in the simulation as in the real world. In 1998 I didn’t even bother representing it. Within a few years I had to add the Chinese ambassador to the UN Security Council, reflecting its greater assertiveness in the body. Today the Chinese team also fields CIVPOL and other peacekeeping contributions, reflecting its real-life rise to become the 15th largest contributor to UN missions.
  • Just as in the real world, 9/11, the “global war on terrorism,” and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq  affected conflict resolution dynamics in Cyberia too. Players became more cautious about spectacular mass-casualty terrorism, and anxious to paint each other as terrorist threats. US, UK, and other Western military assets available for employment in a distant, marginal area like Brynania declined sharply, resulting in even greater dependence on (sometimes less capable) contributions from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The language of “failed states” has increasingly eclipsed the former concepts of humanitarian intervention, peacebuilding, and human security.
  • Establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, with an international mandate to prosecute war crimes.
  • The establishment of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme—designed to prevent the trade in conflict diamonds—promised to substantial change the dynamics of the simulated conflict in diamond-rich northern Brynania. In practice, just as the KCS has proven to have loopholes, so too many of my players have proven adept at avoiding its restrictions.
  • The media environment around the conflict has evolved in ways that reflect the rise of global news coverage, social media, and new informational and communications technologies.
  • Policy-making dynamics and outputs in the (simulated) European Union have changed over time as a function of EU enlargement and efforts to force elements of a common European foreign and defence policy.

In simulation debriefs I’m able to review a decade of repeated efforts to resolve the Brynanian civil war, illustrating how negotiating and consolidating civil war termination is an activity embedded in a shifting international context. I’m also able to process-trace how individual decisions in each simulation have had substantial effects of outcomes—sort of an international peacebuilding version of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (but with less light romantic comedy and rather more IEDs).

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