Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development


Yes, that’s right: Michael Peck at the Training & Simulation Journal has just published a piece on the United States Institute of Peace’s Open Simulation Platform:

Reinventing the roundtable
New platform takes strategic role-playing to the next level

By Michael Peck
February 10, 2011

Grunts and pilots train with video games and flight simulators. But generals and bureaucrats train with a hunk of wood. Hence the plain ole BOGSAT. The venerable “bunch of guys sitting around a table” is the classic way of running strategic-level national security simulations. Low-tech and cheap, it’s serious role-playing that doesn’t require much more than warm bodies, a big table and a coffeepot.

Ronald “Skip” Cole wants to bring the BOGSAT into the digital age. Nothing fancy. No 3-D video graphics. Just add computers, e-mail and text chat on an open-source platform that anyone can use to build and run simulations.

The Open Simulation Platform (OSP) is a “simulation for the masses,” said Cole, a senior program officer at the federally funded United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C.

But it’s not only the masses who can benefit from this approach. Let’s say top decision-makers are conducting an exercise on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program. Instead of merely conversing around a table, each player might have a laptop. They could still talk to one another over the table, but they could also communicate through e-mail or texting, as they might in real life. Players don’t even need to be in the same room. A general in Kabul can join — virtually — his counterparts around a conference table in Washington.

OSP is open-source, free of charge and not very complicated. “All a player needs is a Web browser,” Cole said. OSP is more of a simulation builder and infrastructure than an actual simulation with avatars and algorithms. It enables users to design and run a seminar-style simulation. “They see a very modest immersive environment,” Cole said. “They log in, they have a tab with e-mail, a tab where they can chat with each other, a tab where they can work on shared documents.” …

You’ll find the rest of the article here. I rather like the take Michael has on this, because he highlights that technology can augment the old-fashioned BOGSAT approach and needn’t necessarily try to completely transform and replace it. Skip Cole refers to this as “technology-enhanced role-playing,” which captures the relationship nicely—although eBOGSAT might do too!

4 responses to “TSJ on USIP’s OSP

  1. Skip Cole 07/01/2012 at 11:46 am

    I just want to share with you all that the estimated cost of developing the USIP OSP has been put at 2.8 Million USD.
    This is free software that anyone can use, and is software that we will keep on improving upon.
    The world of open source software keeps expanding, and we will be here to incorporate as much of it as we can into helping improve human decision making.

  2. Skip Cole 07/06/2011 at 5:08 am

    It should also be added that since the USIP OSP is an open source product, it would not go away even if the USIP were to. “The Code is Out There,” on the Internet, and freely available for use and/or modification.
    As a current employee of the USIP, and given the nature of this hot topic, I’m limited in what I can say. But it is reassuring to me that what we have so painstakingly created cannot disappear over night.

  3. Rex Brynen 11/03/2011 at 12:31 am

    There’s an effort in the House to axe federal funding–it isn’t clear that it is a done deal yet, however. There’s certainly been some push-back:

  4. Brian 11/03/2011 at 12:16 am

    Unfortunately, it appears that federal funding for USIP has been targeted for termination:

    Andrew Exum remarked the other day in his blog that David Kilcullen had remarked to him that the annual funding for USIP is about equal to keeping one platoon of infantry in Afghanistan for one year.

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