Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulations, simulations, and more simulations

Yesterday in Foreign Policy magazine, Amy Zegart briefly recounts a recent two-day United Nations simulation conducted at Stanford for 160 undergraduates in an international security course. She also makes a broader (and convincing) argument for the value of simulation in university education, especially within political science.

Foreign-policy making is a contact sport. Universities need to do more and think harder about new ways of teaching students the full array of analytic and interpersonal skills they need to succeed at it. A good place to start is one simulation at a time.

Meanwhile, at the Information Dissemination blog Robert Farley provides a detailed account of the most recent crisis simulation held by the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky:

This year’s simulation involved thirty-three students, five faculty members, three graduates, and a massive criminal conspiracy to steal defense-related intellectual property from U.S. firms.

The design philosophy of the Patterson School simulation concentrates on developing difficult decision-making scenarios for students. Students make decisions under conditions of time pressure, asymmetric information, inter- and intra- group dynamics, and exhaustion. Each scenario begins with a realistic premise, and the teams have realistic motivations and goals. Simulation Control feels free to abstract from reality, however, in order to facilitate this decision-making environment. In this case, abstraction was doubly necessary because of the highly technical nature of the subject matter, as well as the secrecy that normally accompanies policy work on the question. Obviously, we could not ask students to develop worms or conduct DDoS attacks against other teams, although some did employ innovative techniques for stealing passwords, such as observing and recording carelessly placed post-it notes.

As for me, my own annual Brynania civil war simulation at McGill University is now a little over a month away.


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