Ahead of the Information Curve: Crowdsourced Wargames


Governments, especially defense and intelligence agencies, routinely plan for both likely and improbable events. Though intelligence gathering and analysis form the core foundation of these efforts, all organizations are looking to include a wider range of inputs and methods to more accurately forecast responses to likely scenarios. Wargaming involves assembling groups of analysts into designated teams tasked with roleplaying a particular actor, and responding to the moves of the others in a dynamic simulation of situations.

Exercises of this kind can greatly aid national organizations engaged in advanced contingency planning. The effective wargaming of credible scenarios helps organizations get ahead of the information curve, giving them a real-world advantage in crisis management situations.

There are four focus areas where wargames represent an indispensable tool:

    1. Strategic Planning: Improving strategic foresight and shortening response times by highlighting previously unidentified indicators of activity.
    2. Operations: Improving decision-making in planning and operations by identifying bureaucratic weaknesses, blind spots and capability shortfalls ahead of time.
    3. Critical Review and Analysis: Improving decision-making and problem-solving by testing assumptions, hypotheses and existing plans.
    4. Intelligence: Improving understanding of enemies/rivals/competitors by projecting likely strategies and actions of adversaries.

From my experience, working on crowdsourced wargames with Wikistrat, several elements are key to any successful such exercise:

  • Multiple role-playing teams comprised of subject-matter experts that simulate the decision-making process of the actor they are tasked with representing. The number and size of teams may vary depending on client’s preferences and project requirements.
  • A Control Team that oversees the progress of and decision-making within the wargame, ensuring the highest quality of analysis and coordination.
  • A framework scenario that is prepared in advance, and the information stream that is tailored individually to every team in the exercise. The scenario is based upon a testable assumption or identified problem requiring examination and resolution.
  • Wild cards/shocks that may be introduced in any cycle of the wargame to one or more participating teams.
  • An analysis and evaluation of the results that is conducted by the Control Team, and it assumes critical review and synthesis of all initiatives created in the exercise.

Wikistrat ran several wargames in 2015, among which was the “Scarborough Shoal Incident” exercise — a wargame built around a scenario in which China begins major dredging operations to build up the landmass in the Scarborough Shoals with the intention of building an airstrip. Four teams participated the game, representing the governments of the U.S., China, Japan and the Philippines.

About the author

Jelena Petrovic

Dr. Jelena Petrovic
Wikistrat Project Manager
ATA Team Leader

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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