We determined a few years back that our family crest should read “What you oughtta do…” – (in Latin: quid te oporteat facere – what you must do, but I actually prefer the English or American if you like, which is more a suggestiopn). My brother and I (and my folks) simply can’t eat at a restaurant, stay at a hotel or visit a website without coming up with some improvement or suggestion for making it better – I am sure it is quite annoying to people who are just going about their job. As a result, it isn’t easy for me to facilitate a simulation for someone else and thought I’d post some reflections from the experience for consideration.
I’m acting as one of the “syndicate coaches” for the Raleigh Simulation in the NATO Comprehensive Approach Awareness Course, an effort to teach NATO officers on designing a strategic response to complex challenges like fragility and instability. The fictional country of Raleigh (New Zealand dropped in the middle of the Atlantic) is beset by secessionist rebels, overwhelmed by organized crime and trafficking, overrun by migrants heading from Africa to Europe and, yesterday, the world’s newest target of anti-globalization terrorism in the form of a passenger jet blown up at the airport and a popular Minister killed in a suspicious plane downing. The NATO Secretary General has determined that the environment is too complex for a simple military response and has asked a small group of advisors (course participants divided into four parallel syndicates) to put together an assessment of the crisis, possible steps that could be taken by both national and international actors to improve the conditions in Raleigh and avoid it descending into a failed state.
The exercise itself is not dissimilar from the Carana exercise we use for our strategic planning course at the Bank as identifying “Lines of Operation” is the military equivalent of identifying post-conflict needs and the kind of strategic planning necessary for a multi-donor/ integrated/ joint (comprehensive approach) response to a problem. At the end of the week, syndicates prepare presentations of their work and there is a peer and expert advisor (generals, ambassadors) review of the work.
There are lots of things that the simulation designers have done well and I don’t want my thoughts here to be read as criticisms, rather as observations. Also, to their credit, I’ve been given a lot of latitude for interpreting instructions and freedom in coaching my syndicate. Running someone else’s simulation, though, I’m very conscious of what I’d do differently and the freedom we (I include Rex and other contributors on this site) enjoy as simulation designer/leads. Here are a few reflections from this side of the design table:
Identity: Our group spent some time cycling through their findings and recommendations because they weren’t sure “who they are” – are they themselves brought together to advise or are they senior NATO advisors or are they non-aligned global advisors thinking about recommendations for the NATO Secretary General? It turned out the latter was the answer, but I wonder whether roles and some background information for each of the participants would’ve avoided this confusion? Often designers avoid role play, especially with professionals who are not expected to “play along” but roles are very useful for motivating discussions and avoid the downtime. I’ve never heard a complaint about a simulation having “too much role playing” but maybe others have?
Structure and Workload: It just doesn’t stop – my group has produced a dozen flip chart sheets and nearly 30 slides over 2 days and they are still going. Part of this comes from the template from the simulation design, open ended questions with no limits on the answers. This results in little censoring. I personally prefer a more structured exercise with clear outputs in small stages, but this approach produces a lot more output and allows more free-thinking. Two versions of an issues assessment reflect some of that output – the circle ended up being a very useful way for the group to show the relationship between root drivers of conflict, issues and impacts on the population (and not all the way I would’ve done it).
Static vs Dynamic: The background history and documentation for Raleigh is deep and richly textured and there are a variety of interesting and complex global, regional and national stakeholders, so there is plenty of immersion in the simulation. There were questions early on whether there would be inserts during the simulation, and the leaders hinted that there might be, but there were none, and nobody complained. It is, after all a lot of work and changing conditions and new and changing information could be very distracting from the strategic exercise. Again, I would do it differently, but maybe this is the right way to cover all this ground.
These are just some reflections from a fictional island state. As I said earlier, they aren’t criticisms, just reflections on design choices for your consideration.