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Simulations sharpen international negotiation skills


Simulations sharpen international negotiation skills

August 1, 2016Jessica Rivinius

START students had a unique opportunity to hone their international negotiation skills during a pilot test of two new simulations developed by ICONS and focusing on trade negotiation and interagency responses in Darfur. For more than 30 years at the University of Maryland, ICONS,  now a unit within START, has created simulations and scenario-driven exercises to advance participants' understanding of complex problems and strengthen their ability to make decisions, navigate crises, think strategically and negotiate collaboratively.

The green trade negotiation simulation put the students in the roles of World Trade Organization (WTO) country delegations and required them, as a working group, to hash out the ins and outs of a brand new trade agreement regarding environmental goods.

Participants were tasked with reaching consensus on various fronts: the categories of items to be considered “environmental goods,” the time period for reduction of tariffs, whether or not any countries should receive special treatment, and the compliance mechanism for any agreement.

The simulation facilitators provided all participants with information to help them craft a strategy, better understand their country’s interests, identify potential allies and enemies, and outline possible obstacles to achieving goals to meet their country’s interests.

Additional resources within the simulation’s online portal provided further guidance on country goals, history with the WTO and history with the other countries in the working group. The online portal also served as the space for discussions, proposal creation and formal votes.

“Once the simulation began, some countries refrained from talking and others immediately began to negotiate, some reached out to everyone, and others reached out to a select few that they immediately decided to try and coordinate with,” said Katherine Petyak, a START intern.

Petyak had been playing the part of Norway and formed an alliance with the Australian delegation. They sought to build a coalition of support around a proposal he had authored, while maintaining allegiance to their countries wants and needs. The coalition gained steam, making small compromises so that the European Union and Canadian delegations would join. However, the Canadian delegation jumped ship in favor of supporting the United States proposal. Spurred by the Australian delegation, Petyak’s Norway soon followed suit. A vote was conducted, but no conclusion was reached. It would be back to the drawing board for the working group.

“Simulations like this allow students to learn by doing – they take on the role of one of the trade negotiators,” said David Prina, an ICONS simulation researcher. “It is one thing to learn about the divide between developing and developed countries in a book, but it is quite another to actively advocate for special treatment because it will help your nation. Simulations are a great way for students to understand the complexities surrounding important political events by taking on the role of certain actors.”

The “Interagency Response to Darfur” simulation puts participants in the roles of senior U.S. Government officials representing a cabinet department or agency as they worked to push forward an organizational agenda and develop potential courses of action in Darfur. The simulation is designed to better understand the interagency process regarding U.S. policy in Darfur.

The Green Trade and the WTO simulation is expected to be available this September and the Darfur Simulation is expected in 2017 for use in undergraduate and graduate classrooms. A list of currently available simulations can be found on ICONS website at http://icons.umd.edu/education/simulations/catalog.