In this post, Edinburgh Law School postgraduate student Phoebe Warren reflects on her experience of taking part in the peace process simulation ‘Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan’, organised as part of the 2019 Festival of Creative Learning.
It is frequently bemoaned that theory-heavy subject areas such as politics and law rarely provide opportunities from within the university setting to put education into practice. In an age where student loans continue to accrue for an entire generation while prospects of the job market dwindle, there is room for real concern regarding the employability of those interested in these disciplines. As a postgraduate student on the LL.M. Human Rights programme at Edinburgh Law School, the issue of lacking practical experience in my chosen field is one that worries me greatly. How can I one day participate in high-stakes politico-legal negotiations without being able to first make mistakes and grow from them in a low-risk environment? A useful solution has been the discovery of conflict resolution simulations.
In my final year at McGill University, I participated in a week-long, war-to-peace simulation that changed my life. The experience was intensely stressful but immensely gratifying, as I was able to combine everything learned in four years of political science courses, and ultimately led me to undertake a degree here at the University of Edinburgh. Upon finding out that members of the Political Settlements Research Programme would be hosting a one-day peace process simulation event during the February 2019 Festival of Creative Learning, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to participate and encouraged my classmates to do the same.
PSRP researchers Laura Wise and Kathryn Nash, along with Rebecca Smyth and Robert Macdonald, organised and facilitated the Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan simulation, designed by Inclusive Security, an organisation that promotes comprehensive stakeholder participation in peace processes, and particularly the participation of women. One week prior to the simulation, I received a series of general briefing materials regarding the fake country for which I would serve as the Minister of Interior and lead negotiator during peace negotiations and talks, as well as confidential information about my character’s motivations and ambitions. I particularly appreciated the details about the background, education, and family – these are considerations that most certainly colour politicians’ actions (and inactions). Having learned from my mistakes in past simulations, I spent a couple hours on the night before the event mapping out tactics, key interests, and potential allies in order to make the best use of my time during the game. I felt relatively prepared and ready to take part in one of my favourite (and niche!) hobbies early the next morning.
On the day of the simulation, I was greeted by a room of mostly familiar, though sleepy, faces – many of my classmates had indeed decided to participate. This was both to and against my advantage in that I knew their personality types (a major factor in the progression of simulation exercises) but could not ruffle too many feathers as I would see them in class the next week! After a quick briefing from the organisers, I met the other member of the ‘Government of Danaan’ delegation. The Minister of Defence of Danaan was to be a dedicated but ambitious character who I could not allow to usurp my power, according to the confidential briefing materials. Further, we were limited in our ability to negotiate by the omnipresence of the President of Danaan who was not a character in the game but could veto our decisions and promises to other actors. In reality, the Minister was a fellow American and all-around pleasant and bright postgraduate who I immediately decided to treat as an ally rather than an adversary.
We spent the morning planning our overarching strategy, delegating tasks, and meeting with as many stakeholders as possible while simultaneously attempting to undermine negotiation manoeuvres of the faux-armed rebel group against whom our faux-government was engaged in decades-long civil war. However, the afternoon proved far more difficult as we felt that the government’s negotiation positions were not fairly handled by the mediation team. Purposefully designed to be alienating and difficult for participants, my partner and I grew increasingly frustrated by the peace process and ‘walked out’ of peace talks at the last minute when our demands fell to deaf ears. This was not conducive towards a state of peace in Danaan, but was entertaining to say the least.
Participating in the Danaan peace process simulation reminded me once again that learning can and should be not only informative but transformative and enjoyable. I left the simulation reinvigorated with passion for the subject I study, reassured that there exist opportunities for self-education prior to embarking on my future career as a human rights policy practitioner, and ready for the next event.