This semester, I’ve been running a Brexit simulation with Chris and Matthew (here and here and here). Yesterday, we ran our final session, a two-hour face-to-face negotiation at our campus.
We’re still pulling together feedback notes and debriefing students, but generally we’re really happy with how it all went. Since you didn’t get to experience it, I’ll just draw out some positives and some negatives.
On the plus side…
Brexit is stupidly complicated as an issue, as numerous European politicians are finding out in the real world. That also makes it much harder to teach to students. The simulation has been great at helping them – and me – to integrate the very many issues into a more coherent whole. Particularly towards the end, the need to seek out points of agreement did work in supporting this.
The format also seems to have worked for helping with the understanding of EU politics, especially the two-level nature of the exercise. Matthew’s going to write something on that shortly here, since it was a big learning point for his students.
For my lot, it was an excellent application of the negotiation skills that they’ve been developing over the semester. Yesterday was a noticeably bigger group, with lots of people they didn’t know, so it was more demanding for them.
Finally, as a social experience, this was excellent. There were informal discussions on the Sunday evening, down the pub, as well as the various online interactions that took place beforehand. It was telling that after our group photo (see above) everyone hung around to chat and mingle, which is always a good sign.
Of course, any sim can be improved, and this one has lots of scope on that front.
Most importantly is the issue I’ve raised in previous posts on this, namely being prepared. We did this very much on the fly and at times it showed. Yesterday we had the two hour slot, but between people finding the room, over-running breaks and the need for some debrief, there was only about 75 minutes of actual negotiating, which is too little, especially for this topic. In future, I’d be sorting out extra time well beforehand: ideally a whole day, but at least 4 hours.
Likewise, our ad-hoc nature meant we left students to it, by and large. I’m fine with that, but adding some more structure to pre-negotiation preparation and interaction would have deepened what they talked about and the quality of the output. Partly, that’s a function of the time available, but it’s also about setting clearer tasks as we progressed.
This game also needs more people in it. We had the UK, European Parliament, European Council and seven member states: we could have done with the Commission and another handful of member states, to add more issues and dynamics. In particular, the member states found a common position quite easily and were quite pushed about by the UK, neither of which is very prototypical. Moreover, given the issues involved, it would have been great to include some law and economics students, to round out these areas.
I think I’d also be much more insistent about using a formal text for the game. We had an outline text during the past week, but this got lost in yesterday’s session – as I noted, in the real world, no-one would say yes to anything without a form of words in front of them, especially when the agreements reached were quite so vague.
Simulations means simulations
However, the big take-away for me from this, as a simulation game designer, is that it is possible to produce something useful relatively easily. As I noted at the beginning, I’ve never done anything like this before, but we got through it with some valuable learning outcomes, which is what it’s all about.
So if you take only one thing from all this, then it should be that it’s worth taking a shot at realising your ideas. Only by doing that will you get closer to making them happen.