Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 17/06/2014

MORS 82 summary – Day 1


There’s more to attend at the 82nd annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society than I can fit into my schedule, but here is a quick summary of the presentations I was able to attend today:

Tim Wilkie (NDU) and I made a presentation on The Decision to Attack: Experiments in Small Group Decision-Making to Study the Leadership of Violent Extremist GroupsThis is an exploratory project being developed by Devin Ellis (ICONS Project, UMD), John Sawyer (UMD), John Wilkenfield (UMD), Victor Asal (SUNY Albany), James Walsh (UNC Charlotte) and ourselves that would use a role play simulations to examine the factors shaping decision-making by violent extremist groups. Part of the intent here is to see whether we can replicate, in a simulation/experimental environment, the actual decision-making processes and calculus of known attacks by non-state armed groups. We also hope to develop a role-play test-bed (using ICONSnet) that would allow us to explore how different variables (such as psychological profile, resources, inter-and intra-group competition, set policies, world-view, etc.) might shape the use of violence. At this point we were largely looking for ideas and feedback as we refine the proposal, and certainly found the discussion useful

Ellie Bartels (Caerus Associates) presented on Methods of Social Inquiry for Game Design. She started with a review of how gaming is used in the social sciences, as a pedagogical tool an—less frequently—as an experimental technique. Its use, however, is limited by a perceived lack of rigour. Game theoretical treatments are often too abstract to examine complex issues. Social science may be used as an input into professional gaming of some topics (insurgency, irregular warfare, but unevenly. Also, she noted, there is only limited published work on how social science can inform wargame design.

She argued that games are not really models, because they aren’t fully portable across cases. Rather they are an instantiation of a model, implemented in a very particular context. Decisions in a game may be an input, and output, or both.

She also suggested that games were much more akin to case studies than statistical analysis, because of the unquantifiable nature of decision-making. Because of this, case study research design can help illuminate important aspect of wargame design.

They also parallel formal models, in that they are artificial and can produce emergent behaviours based on formal rules. Most wargames are too complex and multi-sided than most formal modeling. She noted that the more focused the game the stronger the analytical findings will be. There also needs to be some point of comparison. Variables need to be clearly conceptualized, and decisions need to be considered a key variable. Both “most likely” cases and “least likely” cases provide good cases for games. She also highlighted some of the limits of games, including the limits of gaming single cases and problems of selection bias. Games can be useful for theory development, she suggested, but cannot in themselves validate theories.

Jeffrey Appleget (NPS) and Rebecca Dougherty (Lockheed Martin)  delivered a presentation on Assessing the Value of Weather Knowledge within End Use Context, which used a manual wargame to examine not how weather affects military operations, but rather to look at how actors use weather knowledge, and what weather information is important for mission success. In order to avoid any priming bias, participants were not told the wargame was about weather—most, as it turned out, thought it was about the impact of a new weapons system. The game was driven, in many ways, by the degradation of the current array of US military weather satellites, and a fiscal environment in which it will not be possible to continue all weather data collection. In other words, if the US is to lose weather information capacity in coming years, what information and capabilities can most safely be sacrificed?

Finally, I attended a presentation by Katrina Dusek, (NDU) on COIN of the Realm, a counterinsurgency board game designed to illustrate key COIN principles. Two players vie to control territory (physical and conceptual) and to dominate various sectors (such as  security, rule of law/governance, provision of services, and messaging). Players mobilize resources to generate additional capabilities, but in most cases win the game by securing popular support. We all got to give a copy of the game a spin, and I’m pleased to say that in the version I played we insurgents seemed to be on a slow path to victory when play had to come to an end!

Not-quite-live from MORS 82

MORS82This week I’m attending the 82nd annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society. There is much of interest to the professional wargamer or serious conflict simulationist here. In addition to an entire Working Group devoted to wargaming (WG30, ably chaired by Scott Simpkins of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University), there are related working groups on everything from modelling and simulation through to analysis of alternatives; training and education; and social science methods and applications. Indeed, it’s a veritable cornucopia of simulation and analytic milgeekiness.

For many years the MORS symposium was largely NOFORNed—that is, closed to non-US nationals, even those with allied security clearances. That has changed—my rough estimate is that more than two-thirds of the sessions are now open and unclassified this year. Of the classified material, some (although not much) is REL FVEY, meaning the sessions can be attended by allied (UK/Canada/Australia/New Zealand) participants with suitable SECRET clearance (which, as we all know, is hardly any clearance at all)

Among other things I’ll be making a presentation here with Tim Wilkie (NDU) and Devin Ellis (ICONS Project) about a proposed project that a number of us have been working on that will explore decision-making in violent extremist groups through simulation game methodologies.

As the week progresses I’ll try to post periodic summaries of panels and discussions to PAXsims—or, at least, those I’m able to attend (and hotel WiFi permitting)

If you’re a PAXsims reader and attending MORS, drop me an email and perhaps we can grab a coffee!

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