The simulation runs primarily over email (Facebook or other social media can also be used), with video-conference sessions for simulation kick-off and wrap-up, plus a number of ‘steering committee meetings’ where participants meet together in character (via video-conference and/or in person) to share progress, advance project objectives and overcome problems.
Each participant receives a briefing pack with the same background material on the project, the village and the other actors. Each actor has a public objective they are aiming to have delivered at the end of six months.They also receive additional private information, known only to them, which includes private objectives, and possibly some additional character information about themselves or others.
The classic simulation runs over a period of six weeks, mirroring six months in simulation time, and there are a number of customisation options. Typically it requires 5 – 10 hours per week per participant. Of course the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. By running the simulation over a number of weeks, participants have time to research, to consider options and to collaborate with others to advance their objectives. Importantly, from a problem-based-learning perspective, it also leaves time to allow participants to ‘stew’ within their particular problem, and try and work out their own solutions.
In case they get stuck, each participant has three ‘lifelines’: ask a local, ask an expert or appeal to a higher power (the moderator, their fictional boss, the Minister….). Even where participants do not use a lifeline, but progress is not being made, I will intervene and coax, threaten or encourage them to make the next move.
A good way to get the ball rolling and set the scene is to get the participants to prepare a country briefing, or a project inception plan. In an academic setting this is a useful basis for grading students. Different participants can chair each steering committee meeting, and final reports are normally expected. The simulation concludes with a wrap up session (group and/or individual) to tease out the lessons learned, and for participants to share with the group the lessons they learned in their particular roles.
Participants interact directly with each other individually or in groups, in face-to-face meetings, via email, Facebook or video-conferencing – or casually over a cup of coffee. It is possible for each participant to achieve all their public and private objectives. Often there are positive-sum scenarios when more than one actor achieves their objectives, but there are also many zero-sum scenarios when one actor achieves their objective at the expense of another. In the real world some personalities naturally work well together, people are lucky or unlucky, people gossip and people get treated unfairly. In the simulation participants can be open, constructive and generous, or can lie and cheat and bribe. Just like in the real world, you gain or loose respect by how you act.
There is no set plan or narrative as to how the simulation develops, that evolves from the sum of the participants’ actions. If for some reason things are going off track, I may step in and reset the simulation universe.
Like this work in the real world, this should be fun and fulfilling but also challenging. In the real world doing something like this has a myriad challenges and pitfalls and things you can’t control. How will you react when the odds seem stacked against you, and nothing is going right?