Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Stepping up the Game in Raleigh – conclusion report

We had a few beers on the evening before the last day of the course, as simulation leaders and facilitators will do. We were considering how far the syndicates have come and where we wanted them to go. We agreed that the teams were playing it safe and that most of the participants needed more challenge. At the same time, we didn’t want to lose people who were still learning basic concepts of the comprehensive approach. How to push the participants’ game to the next level, late in the game and without losing some of the players, with only two hours left of exercise?

As you’ll recall, though things had been going from horrible to very horrible for a long time in Raleigh, the precipitating event for the scenario was a dirty bomb that exploded on a passenger plane, killing all aboard and many in the terminal. That passenger plane was a national carrier for a major (world?, hegemonic?, super-?) power in the Atlantic, one that had long committed policy to eliminating all WMD threats.

To step up the game, we (coaches, facilitators, senior mentors) decided that a power like that might respond unilaterally, indeed, we figured such a power in our fictional world might have a predilection for going alone. So we introduced a whole new element, including time pressure and some new outputs for the last scenario session:

SOF have been inserted over night, fleets have been mobilized, marines are on the way and will arrive in less than 48 hours. It is a punitive action and will not be pretty, it is not expected to have any permanent, positive effect on development in Raleigh. You, advisors to the NATO SG, must take what you’ve deduced about the the underlying causes of the decline of the country and prepare a short (max four slide, five minute) briefing to the NATO SG on why/how a comprehensive approach should be undertaken – something the SG could use for an informal discussion with the President of the superpower. If convincing it might just avert a further destabilizing invasion or redirect it into something more positive. You have two hours, go and prepare this briefing.

20130714-120616.jpgIt was a bold experiment, I commend Sandy and the other coaches for risk-taking. It could’ve easily been too much to ask and there were times, in my group at least, where the resolve was flagging. They still needed to build a coherent vision for their plan and with this change up we were forcing them to do that and polish it into something short and presentable to senior policymakers, make it catchy and compelling.

It was an unmitigated success. We got all four teams to present extremely high energy, short presentations with lots of clash from our senior advisors acting as SG and military command. I’ll repeat that, we got four high energy, short presentations in which the entire room was interested/engaged on the fourth day of a long and complicated training course – we did not get rambling 20 slide presentations with several asides about the process. No one was checking their blackberry during this final session – it was that good.

And this carried right into the debrief, rather than “another thing we have to do”, Sandy very ably pivoted the discussion right from the substance to the process, because people still wanted to talk and share (and still had their dopamine and adrenaline going). I was delighted to see a simulation deliver like this, using the fictional storytelling to drive participants to really step up their game. Kudos to my NATO hosts for another successful delivery of the CA course.


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