Can we reconcile realistic war-games with insightful facilitation?

Written by Chelsea Zfaz and Dr. Carmit Rapaport
The Methodology of War-games

Contemporary approaches to war-games and tabletop exercises offer a process-focused Good Better Best Dice Representing Ratingsreview of an organization or company’s crisis response capacity. A proven method to enhance a team’s ability to manage a crisis, war-gaming challenges personnel to communicate and collaborate during various simulated scenarios in order to reveal the people and processes that elicit the actual resolution of the crisis.

The pervasive challenge of designing and facilitating effective war-games is simulating realistic scenarios that the participants actually learn to manage while identifying and reporting insights about how and why people think and act the way they do.

The Dilemma

In order to understand the thought-processes and behaviors of participants, simulations are often paused to open space for reflective discussion. Yet this freezing of the crisis management simulation is by no means a realistic step in the management process, it actually directly detracts from the realism of the simulation.

So how can we, as war-game developers, extract insights during war-games that don’t damage the genuine process of crisis management simulations? How can we ensure that the value of the lessons learned while stopping the simulation justifies the cost of the interference?

Is there an Ideal Solution?

In our experience, opening space for exploring the motives of participants lends incredible understanding to outcomes of simulations. A question as simple as “why did you decide to do x/y/z?” can provoke explanations that not only shed light on the causative factors behind people’s reasoning and decision-making but also on the perceptions that players have of themselves and their roles in the larger context of the management scheme. Such reflection on tacit personal and group cognitive processes allows for a better understanding of the entire organizational workflow, and helps in the identification of fundamental gaps in crisis management.

Yet the fact remains that pausing a simulation, even in the name of the most formative discussion, does not reflect what its actually like to deal with crises in reality.

BeST has developed a way to circumvent this dilemma. We’ve created a questionnaire template that players in simulations can use to design inquiries to elicit specific information from other players. Players can ask anything imaginable of other players, and can include as many answer options as desired (open answers present challenges for analysis and therefore are not currently included in the questionnaires).

While these questionnaires do not offer the same level of open discussion as an actual mediated conversation could provide, they’re significantly less intrusive than the alternative. Though facilitating the active questioning of players by players has proven to extract information effectively and non-intrusively, there exists no better method of understanding how and why people think and act the way they do than through open communication. Furthermore, this information can serve as a valuable dataset for further fine-tuning of the crisis management process as well as for other organizational inquiries relating to the daily operational functioning.

So we pose the question to you- how can we, as war-gamers, optimize the extraction of insights while maintaining the realism of our simulations?

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