Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

simulations miscellany, the day-before-Connections-2012 edition

Yes, in a few hours I’m leaving on a jet plane—for the Connections 2012 interdisciplinary wargaming conference. Connections starts on Monday afternoon at NDU with a number of optional activities, plus a reception. Both of your PAXsims editors will be at the conference, and—if all goes according to plan—David Becker and I will be providing a preview of the GameLab Haiti earthquake scenario on Monday during Joe Miranda’s “Wargame Design 101” session. The main conference sessions start on Tuesday (see the agenda here).

For those of you who can’t make it to the conference, NDU will be broadcasting selected portions of the conference.

We will be streaming some parts of the conference over the internet, using the same streaming service we use for our roundtable series. This will be the first time in the history of Connections (going back to 1993) that portions of the conference will be available via the internet. Below is the current streaming schedule, but please check this page on the CASL website for updates early next week, before you try to tune in.

Day 1, Monday, 23 July

1200-1600     Wargame Design 101
Joseph Miranda, wargame designer, editor

Day 2, Tuesday, 24 July

0800 – 0810     Welcome
Prof. L. Erik Kjonnerod, Center for Applied Strategic Learning, NDU

0810 – 0950     Keynote Addresses,
Moderator: Mr. Matt Caffrey, Col USAF (ret), AF Material Command
Dean Robert Rubel, Dean of Naval Warfare Studies, Naval War College
Prof Phil Sabin, King’s College London, Wargame Designer, Author
Dr. William Lademan, Director, WGing Div, USMC Warfighting Lab

1030 – 1200   “Needs Pull,” Defense Decision Support Wargaming Today

Co-chairs:  Prof Stephen Downs-Martin & Col Westy Westenhoff
Speakers:    Approaches to Title X Gaming: Concepts or Capabilities,
Doug Ducharme, Naval War College
Wargaming In Support of Science and Technology Decision
Making, Paul Vebber, Naval Underseas Warfare Center
Aids to Effective Contingency Planning,
Westy Westenhoff, Col USAF (ret) Checkmate

1430 – 1600      “Opportunities Push,” Developments/Potential of Popular Wargaming
Co-chairs: Chris Carlson & Gordon Bliss
Speakers:    Miniatures/Figure, Alan Zimm
Print/Board, John Prados, WG designer, historian
Computer, Paul Vebber

Day 3, Wednesday, 25 July

0800 – 0930     Methods and Application of Tomorrow’s Wargames
Innovation from the Defense Wargame Community
Co-chairs: Margaret McCown & Yuna Wong
Speakers:    Rebecca Goolsby, Ph.D. Office of Naval Research
Yuna Wong, Marine Corps Combat Development Command
Zygmunt F. Dembek, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., COL, AUS (Ret)

0950 – 1120      The Future of Wargaming
Future Security Challenges Wargaming Will Need to Depict
Chair: Jon Compton
Speakers:  Simulating the Polarization of American Politics in Foreign
Policy Gaming, Robert Leonhard, Ph.D., LTC(R)
Emerging Changes in Warfare, T.X. Hammes
Overcoming the PolMil Prediction Addiction, Jon Compton

Day 4, Thursday, 26 July

0815-0900       CASL Lectures on Strategic Gaming
0900-0910       Introductions, Working Groups Out Briefs
0910-1000       Group #1: Connections Game Lab, Methods for Tomorrow’s WGs
1020-1050        Group #2: Creating an Online Resource for Wargamers
1050-1120        Group #3: Building a Wargaming Profession
1120-1200        Connections “Hot Wash”

 * * *

Meanwhile, a quick pre-departure round-up of other simulation news:

* * *

Dr. Ewa Unoke at Kansas City Kansas Community College will be organizing a Transitional Justice Model Simulation on 22 September 2012. According to an article in the Kansas City Kansan:

At KCKCC, high school delegate teams will be assigned countries to represent how governments and societies deal with their unpleasant pasts and specifically how the Ugandan society is dealing with its historical injustices.

“Led by Joseph Kony, a rebel group by the name of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) began a guerilla campaign to overthrow the Ugandan government during the 1980s,” said Dr. Unoke. “In 1984, Kony began the mass abduction of children and youth and when the LRA troops grew thinner; he enslaved and enlisted more and more children as child soldiers and sex objects.

“An International Criminal Court opened an investigation into the human rights abuses committed by Kony and the LRA in 2003 and an arrest warrant was issued in 2005 for Kony and five of his commanders for their criminal acts including murder, sexual enslavement and the forced enlistment of children. However, Kony is still at large.”

During the KCKCC simulation, students will play the role of diplomats in resolving the issues of human rights abuses, historical injustices and the cultures of impunity.

Each high school will have one to two representatives on each of the four committees of the model and will debate on whether or not alleged criminal offenders such as Kony and the LRA should be pardoned or punished – and if so, how? In addition, students will role-play in transitional justice models and adopt resolutions toward resolving global, regional or intrastate conflicts. The four model committees are:

Truth and Reconciliation Committee – Primary purposes include; reconciliation, truth-telling and the national recovery of Uganda.

International Criminal Tribunal Committee – Focus will be on the legal trial and punishment of Joseph Kony and the LRA in order to deter future perpetrators.

Peace Building Committee – The goal of this committee is the post-conflict reconstruction of the Ugandan society.

UN Millennium Development Committee – The exploration of the means of building a post-conflict Ugandan future which satisfies the UN millennial goals agenda set for 2015.

Dr. Unoke says the simulation will enable students to learn about human rights concerns and hopes of people in different regions of the world; how peoples’ lives worldwide can be improved by the UN-KCKCC Transitional Justice model; and skills and behavior which contribute to international cooperation, peace and security; leadership training and conflict resolution skills.

For further information, visit the Transitional Justice Model Simulation website.

* * *

A hat-tip to Skip Cole for pointing out to us an interesting recent (June 2012) paper by Noam Ebner (Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution) and Daniel Druckman (George Mason University) on “Simulation Design: Negotiation Learning Gains.” In it they note that research often shows negligible gains from simulation-based learning. However, having students design simulation may produce better learning outcomes:

Negotiation educators have long considered simulations a central classroom teaching method, with high expectations regarding the method’s suitability and efficacy for teaching. This paper presents a meta-review of the literature exploring the degree to which simulation delivers on these perceived benefits of simulation, showing that, in reality, simulation enjoys only limited advantages over other teaching methods. Additional critique recently posed to simulations suggests that contextual or cultural reasons might sometimes make their use unsuitable. The combined weight of these two thrusts of critique requires re-evaluating the use of simulation in negotiation education.

In this paper, we note three trends developing as part of this re-evaluation process: Improving use and conduct of simulations, deemphasizing use of simulations as a teaching tool while seeking out new methods, and finding paradigm-changing uses for simulation. With regards to this last, we describe two experiments we’ve conducted, assigning students to design and author simulations, rather than participate in them as role-players. Amongst other benefits of the design method, we found that designers showed higher levels of concept learning and motivation than did role-players.

* * *

In a recent issue (16 July 2012) of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Andrew Zammit-Mangion et al discuss “Point process modelling of the Afghan War Diary.”

Modern conflicts are characterized by an ever-increasing use of information and sensing technology, resulting in vast amounts of high resolution data. Modelling and prediction of conflict, however, remain challenging tasks due to the heterogeneous and dynamic nature of the data typically available. Here we propose the use of dynamic spatiotemporal modelling tools for the identification of complex underlying processes in conflict, such as diffusion, relocation, heterogeneous escalation, and volatility. Using ideas from statistics, signal processing, and ecology, we provide a predictive framework able to assimilate data and give confidence estimates on the predictions. We demonstrate our methods on the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary. Our results show that the approach allows deeper insights into conflict dynamics and allows a strikingly statistically accurate forward prediction of armed opposition group activity in 2010, based solely on data from previous years.

You’ll also find discussion of the article in a piece at Wired magazine.

* * *

At Reddit (h/t Adam Elkus), you’ll find a long discussion by student participants of how they “won” various classroom simulations (“During my final year in school, I turned the Student Council into a dictatorship. What “evil” plots have you successfully hatched?“). Some of the postings show very clever strategies being adopted by students. Some show problems with metagaming and exploiting weaknesses in the game “rules” to obtain extreme, unrealistic, or other undesirable results (well, undesirable for the instructor—I’m sure the student concerned had fun).  Still others, quite frankly, appear to show some really weak moderation skills on the part of instructors. All-in-all it is useful reading for teachers, highlighting some of the potential pitfalls of using classroom games and simulations with groups of bright, mischievous students. (In one of my own classes years ago, student planned a coup for when my favourite TV show was on in the hopes I would be offline for at least an hour. Unfortunately for them, it was a rerun.)

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