Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

NDU Strategic Gaming Roundtable AAR

This Wednesday saw the latest meeting of the quarterly NDU Roundtable on Strategic Gaming, held on this occasion in the gleaming new headquarters of the United States Institute of Peace. Over two dozen participants were in attendance, consisting of (professional) gamers from a diverse array of military and civilian backgrounds.

The primary focus of the session concerned the contribution of gaming to education and training on issues related to conflict resolution, peacebuilding, peace and stabilization operations, and fragile and conflicted-affected states. Three presenters from USIP highlighted the broad range of simulations that the Institute uses in its work. First, Dominic Volonnino talked about the various table-top exercises and simulations used by USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. These are conducted both in Washington and in the field, and he used the example of a module on the challenges of using translators during engagement with local leaders to highlight the ways in which multimedia could be used to develop awareness and skills. Next, Noor Kirdar talked about USIP’s SENSE (Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise ) simulation. SENSE, which was originally developed  by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) to support post-Dayton economic policymaking in Bosnia, is a computer-facilitated simulation that focuses on negotiations and decision-making in a post-conflict environment.

SENSE has four interrelated objectives, which can be modified depending on the target audience and curriculum:

  • Develop the principles of negotiating, cooperative problem-solving, and decision-making, which are critical for successful democratic processes;
  • Illustrate the interrelationships among military security, economic progress, and the creation of equitable societies;
  • Demonstrate the efficacy and efficiency of free market economies; and
  • Provide a practical and informative experience with the issues of governance in “transitional” societies.

Skip Cole then talked about his work at USIP on the development of the Open Simulation Platform, highlighting both the value of technology-enhanced role-play, and the value of open source software to support this.

After the three USIP presenters, I provided a brief overview of classroom simulation of war-to-peace transitions, focusing on the Brynania simulation that I use in my peacebuilding class at McGill.

A question-and-answer period followed, after which we then moved on to the second part of the afternoon: a brainstorming session for a guidebook that Margaret McCown (NDU), Tim Wilkie (NDU), Skip Cole (USIP), and myself will be putting together on simulation.

Project Summary

The primary aim of the project is the development and publication of a guidebook containing practical advice on the design, implementation, and instructional use of peacebuilding simulations. The target audience would be instructors in higher education, the NGO community, and international organizations who wish to use simulations as experiential learning tool, but lack a background in gaming or familiarity with simulation methods.

Guidebook Contents

The proposed guidebook would contain two major sections. The first part would contain a series of short thematic chapters, each written by an experienced professional in the field. These would address the key considerations in designing and implementing peacebuilding simulations. The second part of the volume would contain a dozen or more brief accounts of various peacebuilding games and simulations in current use. The objective in this section would be to provide the neophyte simulator with some sense of the many ways in which simulations have been used, highlighting a variety of different approaches. Finally, a third section would contain an annotated bibliography and a list of other useful resources.

Possible Chapter Organization and Book Contents

PART I: Simulation design, implementation, and integration

  • Chapter 1: Is a simulation right for you?
    • What a simulation can—and can’t—do.
    • Time, effort, and opportunity costs in simulation use.
  • Chapter 2: Simulation approaches and format
    • The strengths and weaknesses of various simulation and gaming formats. Purpose-built simulations versus the uses of (potentially modified) commercial, off-the-shelf games.
    • Strategic versus operational simulation, as well as mixed approaches.
    • Turn-based versus ongoing/realtime simulations.
  • Chapter 3: Simulation and technology
    • The uses of technology.
    • Simulation facilitation software.
    • The use of existing free and online services.
  • Chapter 4: Authoring scenarios
    • How to author scenarios and background materials.
    • Balancing realism, learning, and playability.
    • Motivating and engaging players.
    • Integrating participant characteristics into simulation design.
  •  Chapter 5: Moderating a simulation
    • Common challenges in moderating games and simulations.
    • Dealing with social, political, and other sensitivities in conflict simulation.
  • Chapter 6: Maximizing learning value
    • Integrating simulations into courses.
    • Debriefing games.
    • Evaluating student performance.

Part II: Simulation examples (short case studies)

Part III: Further reading and additional resources

Because this is still in the early stages, we were looking for feedback from participants (or, for that matter, from PAXsims readers!) on what issues needed to be included, and whether we ought to revise the structure of the volume:

 What key topics are missing from the table of contents?

  • How could the chapters/topics in Part I be better organized?
  • What simulations should be profiled in Part 2?
  • What would be the three key pieces of advice that you would give to the neophyte user of instructional simulations?

While we had less time for discussion than we had initially planned in the roundtable itself, we received a great deal of useful advice in the session, after the session, and by email afterwards—some of which I’ll post to PAXsims next.

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