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Gaming knowledge-brokering and policy innovation

good-light-bulb-idea-12-light-bulb-ideas-1600-x-992The central theme of last month’s Connections 2015 interdisciplinary wargaming conference was wargaming for innovation (you’ll find a summary here, here, here, and here). Part of the discussion focussed on how games could be used to explore innovative approaches to national security challenges. There was also considerable discussion of how gaming could help develop innovation skills. In some of my own comments I also made the point that, in addition to trying to encourage the original thinkers who generate new and innovative ideas, we also needed to think about equipping all individuals with the communicative, analytic, and bureaucratic skills necessary to move innovation through an often ponderous and unresponsive policy process. After all, it isn’t just about clever ideas, it is also about making clever ideas happen. This was also one of the main conclusions of conference Working Group 1 on educational wargaming, as you’ll see below.


Little did I know at the time that a week or so before—and about 11,000 km away—Karol Olejniczak (University of Warsaw), Tomasz Kupiec, and Igor Widawskiwere presenting a paper at the annual conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association in Kyoto, Japan on “Knowledge brokers in action: A game-based approach for strengthening evidence- based policies.”

Public policies need research results in order to effectively address the complex socio-economic challenges (so-called: evidence-based policies). However there is a clear gap between producing scientific expertise and using it in public decision-making. This “know-do” gap is common in all policy areas. Knowledge brokering is a new and promising practice for tackling the challenge of evidence use. It means that selected civil servants play the role of intermediaries who steer the flow of knowledge between its producers (experts and researchers) and users (decision makers and public managers). Knowledge brokering requires a specific combination of skills that can be learnt effectively only by experience. However this is very challenging in the public sector. Experiential learning requires learning from own actions – often own mistakes, while public institutions tend to avoid risk and are naturally concerned with the costs of potential errors. Therefore, a special approach is required to teach civil servants.

This article addresses the question of how to develop knowledge brokering skills for civil servants working in analytical units. It reports on the application of a simulation game to teach civil servants through experiential learning in a risk-free environment. Article (1) introduces the concept of knowledge brokering, (2) shows how it was translated into a game design and applied in the teaching process of civil servants and (3) reflects on further improvement. It concludes that serious game simulation is a promising tool for teaching knowledge brokering to public policy practitioners.

While policy innovation involves more than simply developing evidence and communicating it in the right ways to the right people, such knowledge-brokering is undoubtedly a very important part of the process. In the game that Olejniczak, Kupiec, and Widawskiwere describe:

Participants are divided into 6 groups. Each group manages an analytical unit in a region. Their mission is to support decision-makers with expertise in imple- menting four types of socio-economic interventions. These are: combating single- mothers’ unemployment, developing a health care network, revitalizing a down- town area, and developing a public transportation system for a metropolitan area.

Over the course of the game players have to react to 19 different knowledge needs, often appearing simultaneously in different public interventions. Players have to: (1) contract out studies with an appropriate research design, (2) choose key users of the study and (3) choose methods for feeding knowledge to users.

The choices of players are determined by the resources available to them: the number of staff in their units and the time required to complete each task. Players can be proactive and invest their resources in networking (to discover knowledge needs in advance) or archive searching (to find already existing studies). Players delegate staff members to these tasks. While networking or archive searching it is impossible for that particular staff member to engage in any other activity during the current round (e.g. report preparation).

After each turn, each group receives detailed feedback that includes three ele- ments: (1) a percentage on how well the team matched research designs to knowledge needs and feeding methods to users; the higher the match, the higher are the chances that knowledge will be used by decision-makers, (2) information on the final effect: if a policy actor made a decision based on delivered knowledge or other premises (e.g. political rationale), (3) hints on good research designs, types of users and feeding methods for future turns.

Groups of players compete with each other. Depending on how well they match research designs, users and feeding methods they receive up to 100 points per knowledge need. Teams accumulate points throughout the game and the winning team is the one with the highest score. However, there is also another way to assess players’ performance. Each result for an individual knowledge need (ranging from 0 to 100) is a probability rate that determines what is the chance that the report will be actually used by the decision maker. The algorithm checks, based on this probability, if a particular report will be used by a decision maker and then notes it in a different section of the team score. In effect, every team has two types of score: the first based on accumulation of points throughout the game and the second that informs players how many reports were actually used. The second type of scoring involves a strong element of randomness and luck (a team might succeed even if a report was worth only 20 points – which gives it a 0.2 chance of being used), while the first one reflects how well players can prepare reports. That is why facilitators put more emphasis on the first type of scoring, but at the same time they also remind participants that there is always an element of luck and randomness in decision makers use of reports for policy processes.

I haven’t played it, but it looks brilliant. I strong advise everyone to read the full paper, which was apparently given the Best Paper Award at 46th ISAGA Conference.


ISAGA2015The Japan Association of Simulation and Gaming will host the 46th annual conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association on 17-21 July 2015 in Kyoto, Japan. The theme of the conference will be “hybridizing simulation and gaming in the network society.”

While the conference website seems incomplete at the moment, you’ll find some additional details here.

9th International Summer School in Gaming Simulation

The Intenational Simulation and Gaming Association will be holding its 9th International Summer School in Gaming Simulation from 28 July to 4 August 2012 at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Summer School gives 20-35 participants per year the opportunity to learn about the use of different gaming simulation methods and to learn how to design and/or facilitate and/or debrief gaming simulation. Lectures, discussions, game play and design teamwork are always part of the program (4-6 teams, 4-7 participants per team). Morning sessions: lectures and discussions lead by teachers about their perspectives on gaming simulation design, demonstration/play of simulation games that were designed by the teachers and sharing of their experience about the design and facilitation process. Afternoon and evening sessions: Work in project teams. Coached by teachers, they will design, test and discuss their own prototype simulation games. The results (prototype games including concept of debriefing structure) of the summer school will be presented in the whole group of participants. The copyright of the designed prototype games will belong to the students and teachers of the summer school and ISAGA. Participants receive a certificate of participation. Summer School language is English. Members of ISAGA and affiliated Associations have reduced fees. There are special lower fees for students and for participants from developing nations. The Summer School is a non-profit program.

The theme of the 2012 Summer School will be “Designing Simulation Games for Sustainability.”

ISAGA 2012

The annual conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association will be held on 2-6 July 2012 in Cluj, Romania:

Dear participants and friends,

We are glad to announce that the road to the 43rd International Simulation and Gaming AssociationAnnual Conference “The Journey of Change: Mapping the Process” that will take place between the 2nd and the 6th of July 2012 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania is now finally open.

In July 1993 ISAGA members convened in Bucharest, Romania for the 24th Annual Conference. Almost 20 years later the ISAGA conference comes back to Romania, this time in Cluj-Napoca for the 43rd edition, three years after another great ISAGA event that we were honored to host: the 6thISAGA International Summer School in Gaming Simulation, in August 2009. Cluj-Napoca is a dynamic and multicultural city, considered to be the heart of Transylvania since it has been its political, cultural and economic center for more than 2000 years.Its diversity, youthfulness and intellectual effervescence make it the perfect setting for such an event.

The conference is open to everyone who likes, plays, designs, writes about or does research and practice in the field of gaming and simulation, and even to those who do none of that, but simply enjoy learning more about it. We welcome contributions that report on research, design, and practice in simulation and gaming. The focus of this year’s conference is on Change and we mean to look at it through the usual lenses of gaming and simulation: learning-by-doing and reflection-in-action. We hope this will be a great opportunity to present research findings and to share working experience with colleagues from countries all around the world, to strengthen current friendships and build new ones.

We are looking forward to seeing you in Cluj.

Cătălina Oţoiu
Conference President

The deadline for submitting abstracts for possible  paper presentations, poster presentations and symposia is March 31. More information on the conference, paper proposals, and registration can be found on the conference website here.

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