Connections 2012 AARs

So far, the following AARs have appeared regarding the recent Connections 2012 conference at NDU. If you come across more (or write one yourself), add it in the comments section and I’ll move it up into the main post.

Many of the conference presentations may eventually end up on the Connections conference site, but in the meantime here are a few that have popped up elsewhere online:

You’ll also find some photos taken by Matt Kirschenbaum here, and a mention by Robert Hossal here (who wasn’t at the conference, but his game was!).

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About Rex Brynen

Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University.
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10 Responses to Connections 2012 AARs

  1. Ty says:

    Thanks for the link to the Kabul Cable! I had a great time at the PaxSims Connections 2012 conference. Hope the Haiti game discussions proved helpful. I hope to see the results at some point.. would love to try my hand at the game and see if I can do a better job the second time around. Best, Ty

  2. Peter Perla says:

    I am cross-posting this from Phil Sabin’s Simulating War group. The discussion there triggered the thoughts, but it really belongs to the Connections debate. So here it is.

    The discussion of “creating” a wargaming profession, which seems to be a perennial topic of conversation at Connections, seems to miss the point. There already exists such a profession. It consists of those practitioners who consider themselves to be professionals—much as Charles has described it. It may be more accurate to describe the Connections initiative as one focused on creating an organization of such professionals. The creation and existence of the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) is often cited as something of a model, both for good and ill.

    MORS evolved as the group of operations researchers, those scientists who became practitioners during and immediately after WWII, started meeting together to discuss their work, both the problems they were addressing and the techniques they were developing. The society became centered on its symposia, where the practitioners would meet to exchange such information in hopes of improving the state of the art by expanding the common toolkit so that new techniques could grow from old. And also to expand the range of problems to which those techniques could be applied by looking at clever applications to new types of problems.

    But despite its years of existence and official sponsorship by the U.S. DOD, membership in MORS is by no means a prerequisite for practicing what can be considered “professional” military OR. Furthermore, the range of techniques and applications presented and discussed at MORS symposia, including most recently wargaming itself, is so broad as to defy easy characterization. Everything from highly technical and quantitative studies of advanced technology to the newly burgeoning fields of quantitative social science have their place. The closest thing to a common thread is the quantitative and scientific nature of the work (as defined by some of the founding fathers, Morse and Kimball), but even those (especially the quantitative part) are open to debate.

    I won’t go into the long and complex history of how OR and its Systems Analysis evil twin became de rigeur in the defense community. Suffice it to say that it was a combination of personal and organizational dynamics. But as Charles so accurately opined, it was a combination of the wartime success of OR with the respect consumers had for the individual practitioners of OR/SA and the quality and utility of the work they produced that raised the field to its level of acceptance and respect (sometimes to levels not deserved by many of its actual practitioners).

    Nevertheless, in today’s world (and probably in the past as well), no customer for analysis asks whether the organization or individual is a member in good standing of MORS. They look at past performance and the impression made by the initial contacts—that is, the sales pitch. Professional is as professional does. On the other hand, as Phil’s original post pointed out, how does one get a potential customer to become interested in a game for meeting his objectives in the first place? If he has no belief, or even inkling, that wargaming might be of use for addressing his need—if not actual disdain for its use—then he is unlikely to open himself up to the sales pitch in the first place. That is a much bigger issue—and problem—for the wargaming community.

    But once again, is this a problem that a professional organization can address merely by its existence?

    No.

    What some sort of professional organization might be able to do is not about certification but about marketing—as distinct from sales. If we believe that the wartime success of OR helped fuel the peacetime applications and the birth of SA, then wargaming needs both some successes and some widespread understanding of those successes and how and why they occurred. Individual organizations can and do tout their own successes, but must necessarily do so in the context of their own uniqueness. “Our wargames have had tremendous impact,” not “Wargaming has had tremendous impact.”

    So let me fantasize a moment about the Military Wargames Society. First, it is open to membership by any who choose to join. Second, its principal function is to popularize the use of wargaming in its various guises to address any problem for which it can provide insight. That includes both entertainment as well as “serious” gaming. Its modes of doing this include a refereed journal, a popular journal, and an annual symposium/convention in which one or more awards are presented for creative and effective and impactful (if I may use that term) games or game systems, or simply writings about games. Most importantly, it publicizes both its own existence and the successes of gaming to the broader audiences of DOD/MOD officials, hobbyists, and the general populace as appropriate. Perhaps it should even go into the publishing business in ways similar to what MORS does now.

    Just an idea.

    Take care

    Peter

  3. Peter raises a point in his comments that I wish to take up. In his comments he stated:

    “how does one get a potential customer to become interested in a game for meeting his objectives in the first place? If he has no belief, or even inkling, that wargaming might be of use for addressing his need—if not actual disdain for its use—then he is unlikely to open himself up to the sales pitch in the first place.”

    By using “consultative selling”, that’s how!

    The first question above is answered — and the subsequent problems removed — by the consultant focusing on the potential customer’s needs, not on the consultant’s need to sell a wargame. Once the consultant has walked the potential customer through “the three questions” (or four, when you add “and how long will you remain the decision maker here?”) then the potential customer better understands his own problem, his own motivations in wanting it solved, and the context of the solution. The consultant is now in a good position to propose a range of possible solutions with their pros and cons, one of which MIGHT be a wargame if and only if wargaming is a good way to proceed. The potential customer’s personal antipathies towards different approaches can be discussed with him when going over the options.

    So, one problem with pushing wargaming as a solution is perhaps that we … well … push wargaming … which is not very professional to start with!

    • Peter Perla says:

      As ever, Stephen has touched on a critical point. For a specific problem, we at CNA (at least my colleague Ed McGrady and I) try to bring all the tools to bear that can help. Very often a potential sponsor (we at CNA like to call them sponsors rather than clients or customers) who thinks he wants a wargame actually needs some analysis or even a combination of both. One problem we find with convincing people that a game is what (or one thing) they need is the resistance based on a bad experience they have had with a bad “game”–or even stories they have heard from friends who suffred through a bad “game”–when it wasn’t really what we would call a game at all. Far too many of those bad experiences make it more and more difficult to convince people that gmaes can be of help.

      • I have in the last few years seen an inordinate number of events that are anything but games called “war games” or “games”. That is bad enough. But when the event is also badly run then war gaming indeed picks up an undeserved bad reputation. That is different from the over-enthusiastic but expert war gamer trying to sell war gaming as a solution when other solutions might be better. One approach, when a war game is the best approach, might be to map the sponsor needs and the “why’s” to the characteristics of the proposed solution point by point … build up the solution into a game rather than start by saying “the solution is a war game now let me describe why”.

  4. brtrain says:

    Got around to typing up my AAR notes, though it’s almost as much travelogue as coverage of the conference:
    http://brtrain.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/connections-2012-aar/

  5. Rex Brynen says:

    Brian: Thanks for the link–I’ve added it above.

    Peter: At some point soon I’ll compile spoke of the comments on this issue from the simulatingwar discussion group on this, plus yours, plus Stephens, into an omnibus post for the website here.

    Stephen: Good point! Michael Peck kicked off a discussion today (on the mil games list) on “how would you wargame the second and third order effects of intervention in Syria,” to which my response has been “I’m not sure a wargame is the best way to do this.”

  6. Hey everybody- two things:
    1) Finished my summary/reaction to Connections 2012 and posted it to Play the Past (http://www.playthepast.org/?p=3075) It’s a general rundown, like the others before it, but I did manage to put some reflective points inside. Not a ‘Kirschenbaum’ think-piece, but hopefully I did the format some justice. 🙂

    2) Can some one fix the post so that Anastasia’s name isn’t ‘Sanastasia’? 🙂

    Had a great time at the conference- look forward to next year.

  7. Rex Brynen says:

    Jeremy: Thanks.. posted and fixed!

  8. Rex Brynen says:

    Stephen, your comments (and discussion elsewhere that included Peter) spurred my to write this today: http://paxsims.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/syria-intervention-and-the-limits-of-wargaming/. Comments welcomed, of course!

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