Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 16/05/2010

Welcome to Squat! — a development minisim

I had the pleasure of coteaching my peacebuilding course at McGill University this past term with Ora Szekely, one of our senior PhD students. Ora developed a short (one hour) minisimulation to examine issues of needs assessment and stakeholder consultation, which worked very well in class. She’s written a description of it below, and provided links to the instructor and students notes as well as the initial classroom powerpoint briefing. Should anyone wish to borrow or adapt it, feel free!


Because the practice of conducting post-conflict needs assessments and stakeholder consultation is often far trickier than the theory, I developed this simulation to help students understand some of the barriers development workers can face to the collection of accurate and comprehensive information, and the difficulties communities can have in making their needs and priorities understood to international NGOs. I borrowed some of the ideas from an existing mini-simulation posted here, but modified it to address post conflict issues more directly (and also to allow me to make up ridiculous place names, which is always a good time. Apologies to anyone who’s actually from a city called Bupkiss.)

The simulation takes place in the Democratic Republic of Squat, a small country recovering from a devastating civil war between the urban Blechistani minority (supported by the neighboring Kingdom of Blechistan) and the more rural Squattish majority. NGO worker Chris James, chief of party for a large international development organization called NGOs Without Borders, is conducting a needs assessment to determine how a $150,000 grant will be spent. Those s/he is meeting with include Squattish and Blechistani men and women from both urban and rural areas; some are community or political leaders, others are farmers or medical workers. Each has information specific to their own experience which can help Ms./Mr. James make an effective decision, but each also has blind spots, and some have particular barriers to sharing their expertise.

Students are divided into groups of seven, and each receives a sheet of briefing notes on their character. The students playing the NGO workers then have a set amount of time to talk with the other members of their group and try to formulate a plan to spend the funding most effectively. At the end of the exercise, the whole class comes back together to share the decisions they made, and talk about the particular experiences of the different characters. While I’ve only gotten to run this simulation once, students seemed to find it useful – I’d love to hear how it works out in other classes.

Ora Szekely

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