Skip to Content

NASPAA Article on Training Administrators Through Simulations

From Skittles to Governance: How Simulations can Train the Next Generation of Administrators

in Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration or NASPAA.

Authors

Erik Johnston, Center for Policy Informatics, Arizona State University
Dara Wald, Center for Policy Informatics and Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State University

For the past six years we have worked with the NSF-supported Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University to create educational experiences using the WaterSim Platform. This model, based on water demand and supply in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, was developed to help stakeholders deliberate on and explore the consequences of urban water planning decisions in central Arizona. The user-interface allows participants to adjust various parameters—population growth, climate change, agricultural water use, urban development, and residential water use—and receive instant feedback on their decisions.

CPI_IMG_9270_296We believe that only through experiencing the realities of complexity, uncertainty and human behavior, can modern public administration challenges be understood.

In teaching game theory to students in the School of Public Affairs, we describe the concepts of “mutual best responses” and “dominant strategies,” but it is only when the students participate in a 1-2 hour game theory tournament, does the nuance of strategic interaction hit home.

During the 20-30 rounds of games—where Skittles are the currency—students play in pairs, in groups, single rounds and repeated interactions, and in cooperative and not-so-cooperative arrangements. In response to game play, the most common phrase we hear is, “That is not how they were supposed to behave.” Within minutes it becomes clear that, as in real-life public administration challenges, knowledge is useful, but the essential component is experience, particularly multiple experiences with varying outcomes. However, there are limits to the use of Skittles.

To address more sophisticated challenges, we have developed an interactive, collaborative simulation to provide an environment for students to experience the challenges of modern public administration, including complex systems that illustrate the interplay of policy, infrastructure, climate uncertainty, and multiple interdependent stakeholders.

Read the entire article at NASPAA.