Virtual Public Policy Simulation on Tackling Covid-19

Today we have a guest post from Daniela Irrera, associate professor of International Relations and Global Civil Society at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Catania. She can be reached at dirrera [at] unict [dot] it.

During Italy’s pandemic-induced lockdown, I found myself having to teach an entirely virtual course on European foreign policy, part of the MA programme on Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations (GLOPEM)  at the University of Catania. I usually include simulations in my courses, and given the policy implications of the Covid-19 outbreak, I decided to create Tackling Covid-19 in a Global Perspective—a simulated emergency G20 meeting in Geneva, called to plan a global strategy for managing the pandemic’s health, political, social, and economic effects. Students represented panels of experts for the following policy areas: public health emergency; economic consequences; infrastructure and human mobility; impact on refugees, migrants and non-nationals; and impact on the conflict in Syria.

Each expert panel was given the following tasks:

  1. Assess the main problems in the policy area.
  2. Identify short-term priorities.
  3. Identify tools and measurement methods.
  4. Make a list of practical recommendations.

Within each panel, members were free to divide labor as they wished. However, given that there were four members per panel and four tasks, each member was asked to meaningfully contribute to at least one task.

To run the simulation, I used two different platforms. First, each panel began its work on a Facebook page that I created. Pages were closed to members only and functioned as repositories for useful documents and links. Second, I convened a conference for the entire class on Microsoft Teams. For the conference, each panel presented a brief report on its findings. Then students engaged in a debate, which I moderated in the role of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. The outcome was an interesting and intense discussion from which concrete and reasonable policy prescriptions emerged in a limited time.

This type of simulation can be applied to many public policy fields, employ a variety of technological platforms, and be adapted to different course goals. I will continue to use this model in my courses after the pandemic, since it seems to enhance students’ planning and negotiation skills and promote a more sophisticated analysis of issues.

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