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Simulation games for global pandemic resilience workshop AAR

I’m at Atlanta airport at the moment, on my way back from the Simulation Games for Global Pandemic Resilience Workshop at the Santa Fe Institute. The workshop was organized by Lauren Ancel Meyers (University of Texas at Austin), Margaret Polski (US Naval War College) and Francesca de Rosa (CAPTRS), and involved thirty participants drawn from public health, epidemiology, medicine, modelling, and serious games.

After an introduction by the organizers, the first panel of the workshop focused on public health preparedness exercises. Two key insights that I took away from the presentations were (1) that smaller, quicker, and more agile simulation games and TTXs (that can be run more often and more easily) may be more useful than very big and complex exercises, although the latter certainly have considerable value for raising broader awareness, and (2) there is often less follow-up and impact from TTXs than is desirable.

The second panel looked at simulation games for crisis management. Here we covered everything from a typology and continuum of game approaches; best practices in enhancing learning, practice and thinking; and insights from psychological research on simulation players/participants. The slides from my own short presentation are below, but they don’t incorporate the many comments I added in response to the other excellent presentations and prior discussion.

The third panel explored modeling the spread of uncertain pathogen threats and cascading effect. This was a rich and wide-ranging discussion that addressed the links between modelling and alert systems, different kinds of pathogen threats, and the kinds of information we do and do not have. One participant noted that it is not necessarily “black swans” we need fear—we often know of challenges, or what is broken, but nonetheless have failed to fix or address these vulnerabilities before the next crisis hits. Another participant, commenting on the essential role of public messaging (and modifying public behaviour), noted that you can win this with models alone but you also need a coherent and effective narrative: “don’t bring stats to a story fight.”

For the remainder of the workshop we were divided into three breakout groups which were all asked to address three topics:

  • gaming situational awareness
  • gaming decision-making
  • AI and innovation through integration

I happened to be rapporteur for one of the groups, so I’ve included my brief-back slides for that group below. However, there were a great many thoughtful comments from our group that couldn’t be adequately captured in ten minute brief-back, plus of course the many insights from the other two groups. However, it should be enough to give you a sense of some of the discussions that were held.

Overall, it was a terrific experience. I particularly enjoyed the diverse mix of participants and the benefits that come from discussion and cross-fertilization across knowledge domains, expertise, and experience. I also found the workshop very useful for enhancing my own network of contacts in this field. The Santa Fe Institute was an outstanding host.

I’m sure that the organizers will put out a formal workshop report at some point, and when they do we’ll be sure to share it here at PAXsims.

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