Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Report from Caranas #39, 40 and 41

Just returning from another delivery of Carana in Nairobi – our 13th delivery of the core course and 14th class of Caranas (or our 39th, 40th and 41st parallel universe Caranas). We had a very good group of students, the whole range of expertise and seniority in the Bank, from junior staff on their first assignment to some managers and senior team leaders, resulting in a tremendous amount of exchange between students. This is an important feature of the success of the course – our course participants often don’t realize until the end of the week how we’ve tricked them into helping us to teach their peers through the simulation and other group work. If we were to ask them in advance to teach their peers, we’d get a few hours (if we were lucky) of powerpoint dumps of varying quality, but for the course we just stick the participants in the fictional (yet fairly realistic) world of Carana. In the simulation, the participants need to apply their knowledge and they can actively debate policy and practice with just a bit of guidance from us – ending up training each other very intensively for four days.

The recovery plans for this group of Caranas were basically “okay” – no major missteps, no massive failures, one of the teams resorted to using the military to break the coal strike, a few lingering security issues persisted that could go horribly wrong, one group completely ignored the threat from the Presidential Guard despite repeating warnings. For this delivery, our fearless troupe of SimMasters (Marcelo, Anne, Alys, Sarah and I and Khadija in training) agreed that we got a particularly technocratic response to the issues – basically the teams ignored a lot of the ethnic tensions, their roles’ own personal motives (patronage networks they represent, personal incentives) and the history of the country (that got Carana into the civil war) in favor of recommending the kind of blanket solutions we, the international community, often push – demobilize to hit some target, often with disregard for the composition and purpose of the resulting army; treat elections as a milestone to hit rather than a national discussion and opportunity for reconciliation; provide health and education for “development as usual” and build roads and get the infrastructure repaired so that the economy can get going again, regardless of who benefits (again, often ignorant of the drivers that led to the conflict). This happens a lot in Carana – while we give people roles with backgrounds that connect them to particular ethnic groups or even personal incentives for malicious behavior, we rarely can replicate in the simulation the kind of cross purposes or even antagonism that we see in real life. In that respect, I think we fall short a bit in our simulation in tapping some of the real power of “role-playing”.
As we rarely get a “really good” plan, these outcomes generally serve as teaching moments. Even with the best of intentions and cooperation, this kind of work is difficult.

Map of the 8th Continent

Map of the 8th Continent used as background “color” in Carana deliveries

That is, despite the tendency of people to “play nice” in the Carana simulation and work well together to come up with a plan, even the most technocratic and cooperative solutions are often inadequate to resolve the issues. I think this is partly by design (everything is a priority and there are insufficient resources to do everything), but also partly because a really good plan requires a deep understanding of the underlying drivers of conflict in the simulation. In effect, a cooperative and congenial atmosphere often results in the players ignoring the deeply divisive issues the plan is meant to resolve. Rarely do players step back and consider the ramifications of their interventions. Will their plan result in continued disenfranchisement of the West and South? Have they resolved the tensions around control of the diamonds and timber that were the principal source of financing for the rebels? Have they neutralized the threat of coup from the ousted president who still has links to loyalists in the military? Even after 40+ Caranas, we’ve yet to see a recovery plan that really considers these types of questions and provides “real” answers.
More than 400 people have visited Carana (not including the UN, African Union or AusAID deliveries), and we have extremely positive responses. I continue to believe it is a valuable teaching tool and intend to use it for many more courses to come, but I’m concerned that we’re still missing the mark on simulating the kind of contentious environment that exists in a post-conflict or fragile, highly corrupt and unequal society, where priorities and planning are driven by patronage and personal interests. I’m not disposed to creating “victory conditions” or other artificial incentives for people to play their part, but I am still looking for something to encourage participants to roleplay and replicate the more realistic friction that exists in these environments. Any ideas?

6 responses to “Report from Caranas #39, 40 and 41

  1. mikecosgrave 12/07/2012 at 4:45 am

    I like Rex’ second idea, about injects but I would tweak it towards player resources – participants who are not “winning”, in the sense of making visible progress towards a solution, risk getting a call from ‘Head Office’ telling them their agency has to focus on more promising issues to score wins to protect next year’s budget. You could allocate extra ‘resources’ to participants who were doing well, but since we live in the land of budget cuts everywhere, cutting the losers is more realistic.
    You don’t need to go all spreadsheet on resources for this, just tell the participants who failed to make enough news that something they want to do isn’t possible because their agency has reallocated some of their staff, gear, aid, whatever to some other crisis.

  2. Gary Milante 07/07/2012 at 1:47 pm

    Interestingly, we gave public support “vetoes” to individual players on this last run of the game – basically communicating to them that their constituencies were becoming agitated and empowering them to act on behalf of the people they represented. While the vetoes were threatened, they weren’t used at all by any of the players that received them – technocrats just play nice :)

    I do like the colors, dress and the seating arrangements ideas, Rex and Victoria – clever. I am always amazed at the impact seating has, I had a friend absolutely refuse to play the Great Dalmuti because he didn’t think it was fair that someone had to sit on a footstool (it wasn’t even him, he just didn’t like the inequity).

    Completely agree, Victoria – decisions should have “real life” consequences – we have a little breakdown of the ceasefire event in our sim that really reminds people that things are serious. It is interesting to note that this group was more concerned about losing $5m in funding or UN actions than in the number of people that were killed in the event.

    Good point, Logan – Rex has lots and lots of bouncy bits in his sim with that scale and more likelihood of some bits really bouncing off each other. I’ll think about ways to increase the interaction between those roles that are supposed to be confrontational.

    I think one of the solutions we’ve decided on for the next round is to make the goals and objectives much more fixed and, in some cases, confrontational – we’ve given the choice to certain players in the past to be corrupt, but we should probably just tell them they are corrupt, so that they can use our directions as an excuse to play it out.

    Thanks, all, for the thoughtful reflections – our team from Carana was musing on the post and the comments and it will definitely influence our next round of revisions.

  3. Rex Brynen 01/07/2012 at 9:01 pm

    The briefings for Carana are actually quite rich (and much more polished than those for Brynania). The challenge is getting people to think not just about development as a puzzle-solving exercise with a common goal, but also how their individual/family/ethnic interests may not align with others in the same government.

    The small size of each group might contribute to that, but it can’t really be changed given the learning dynamics in the course–in order to have sufficiently rich discussions, the course is subdivided into three simultaneous Caranas during the simulation periods. Perhaps some time could be set aside for members of the three ethnic groups from the three parallel universes to meet and discuss views, perspectives, and strategies? (Time is another constraint–there’s a lot for Gary and his World Bank colleagues to squeeze into the course!)

  4. Logan 01/07/2012 at 7:36 pm

    I would agree with Prof. Brynen’s part about emphasizing the history of the simworld. Our briefing were incredibly detailed and rich. The more depth of detail and culture that you’re able to provide to your participants the more they will fall into the roles. If you can get them to take off the international development hat and put on the bloodcrazed warlord helmet you’ll get more interesting result.

    I also noticed that there are very few sim participants in each individual sim. Unfortunately gives people less actors to play off of each other. If you combined the sims you ran concurrently into one big sim with a greater number of actors you might get more competition and less textbook answers. The sim should be like a room, and the actors are bouncy balls. The more actors there are the more interactions, conflicts and teachable moments you’ll have. Obviously it would take quite a bit of work to retool the sim to have double or triple the actors, but it might be worth it.

  5. Victoria Flynn 01/07/2012 at 6:37 pm

    A few thoughts in bullet form:
    -One thing that can never be emphasized enough is the role-playing aspect of the exercise. I had the pleasure of taking Professor Brynen’s Peacebuilding course this past spring, and each SIM participant was given a briefing document with background information on their role. I found this to be essential with getting “into character.” Aside from stating objectives and goals, it also included how you are supposed to FEEL towards other groups.
    -While the focus here is definitely on the political aspects, maybe some role playing game exercises or a few theatre warmups wouldn’t hurt.
    -When I participated in the Brynania SIM, I found that it really helped to dress in character. I was one third of an insurgent triumvirate that dealt in blood diamonds. For seven days from 9am-9pm, my two other colonels and I did not break character, we dressed in military fatigues, we held cigars between our teeth, and did not leave our “mountain stronghold” (my apartment) for the duration of the SIM.
    -Treat the players like this is real life politics. Hold them accountable for every action. If they ignore one problem, don’t let them forget.
    -Extra credit or acknowledgement for producing a Carana Tourism Board video and other cultural accoutrements.
    -Lastly, institutional memory is important, each year of SIMers adds to the complexity of the simulation, the range of possibilities and outcomes. Preface the introduction of the SIM with maybe a “best of” focusing particularly on the cause and effect relationship between previous players and what happens when they neglected their constituencies, when they got really into character, when they went that extra mile, etc.

    I hope this helps.

  6. Rex Brynen 01/07/2012 at 5:37 pm

    I’m sorry I missed Carana this year!

    It is always an interesting challenge to get participants to internalize their political roles in a way that doesn’t seem artificial. When you have highly technical issues on the table, such as those related to development and fragility, this is compounded by the natural desire of people to cooperate and make things works (as well as the seductive ease of getting lost in the technical details).

    My own sense is that there are probably three main ways of addressing this.

    One these is through the rules system. However, the Carana simulation doesn’t really have many “rules” per se, and as you note some sort of “victory points” system would detract. You could, however, perhaps provide some sort of bonus on the second day to participants who have done particularly well by their constituencies.

    A second possibility, which you already do to some extent, is to use injects that signal to players the consequences of their actions without it actually having any rules-based effect. A lot of these could be pre-prepared, and could involve news of protests, violence, criticism from political allies or rivals, and so forth. The danger here would be that it might look too much like you are trying to push everyone in a particular direction.

    The third method (and, in many ways, the most difficult) is to use a kind of social manipulations to get people to “feel” their roles. Perhaps everyone could be asked to wear a particular colour. Perhaps seating arrangements at dinner could be on a Carana-ethnic basis. Anthems, histories, and so forth can help too. We get a lot of this in the Brynania simulation—right down to the use of ethnic dialect (heavy use of the letter z by Zaharians, odd parables by the northern clans) and cuisines (bagels vs baguettes)—but a lot of it is now self-generated by students and I really don’t have to do much to encourage it.

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