adf logo

Australian Defence Force

Background for the Basic and Advanced Analytic Wargaming Courses from the Naval Postgraduate School in Canberra, 17 February to 6 March 2020


Special attention should be paid to who can play the role of the facilitator (aka umpire, adjudicator, or controller). A facilitator should be chosen early in the study (by Step 3 if possible). He or she should participate in Study Team sessions that determine key factors and initiate quests for information (Steps 4, 5, and 6), and be mindful of how these will need to be addressed in subsequent steps. In particular, the facilitator must be well versed in details of the scenario (step 7) as credibility with the players will suffer if such details are readily available. And beyond just knowing the details of the scenario, the facilitator needs to know how details are threaded together; it may be necessary to amend the scenario on the fly, say with an spontaneous inject to get players back on track, and this inject must be consistent with other aspects of the scenario.

In general the Study Director should not assume a role as a facilitator. For one thing, during the conduct phase of the game (steps 10, 11, 12, and 13) the demands on the Study Director are great, and the facilitator must be free to interact continuously with the players. For another, the Study Director may be perceived by some players as having some bias, e.g., supporting the acquisition of some new equipment, or advocating some prototype doctrine. Note: whether such a bias exists is immaterial, it is the perceptionof the players that is critical in this regard. Thus the facilitator must always be perceived as unbiased by the players; indeed if there are players who want to take the Study Director to task over a perception of bias, the facilitator may have to side with those players, at least to the point of giving them a fair hearing.

Activity that may engage the Study Director during the Conduct phase include escorting VIPs, handling the media, interpreting or providing guidance from the Executive Team, and even critiquing the facilitator to ensure even-handedness is maintained. The Study Director may even wish to participate in discourse with the players while the game is under way. This is not necessarily desirable, but the Study Director may feel compelled to speak up on some point, perhaps to emphasize some material provided to him by the Executive Team. These competing demands on the Study Director mean that some other individual should provide the facilitation.

Videos from the Fred Friendly series of seminars illustrate how a facilitator should behave. These are hypothetical situations largely in non-military contexts, but the skills for a facilitator in war games are largely the same. A full set of videos is available showing excellent facilitation (enable pop-up windows to see the video player).

The primary abilities of a good facilitator are:

• To stimulate frank and open discourse.

• To ensure that all relevant points of view have been introduced.

• To see that interactions are adjudicated in a manner that all can accept.

• To avoid any perception among the players of facilitator bias.

• To detect and handle biases when they appear among the players.

• To engender confidence from the Executive Team that the war game has explored all reasonable outcomes in suitable depth, but without undue diversions due to biases and without unnecessary and wasteful digressions.

In some adjudications, there may be players who feel they were treated harshly. If players are seriously aggrieved, the facilitator may have to allow such players some latitude, e.g., to continue to "play under protest" with an opportunity to make their case at the end of the game.

In any game on compelling or controversial issues, emergence of biases will be inevitable; they will be blended together with legitmate and specialized knowledge and experience. The facilitator will have to find ways to distinguish between legitimate positions and those driven largely by biases. It is inevitable as players will use their personal backgrounds within the roles they play; these backgrounds are accompanied by attitudes and beliefs that developed over a player's career and which one cannot avoid. Player biases, when dealt with properly, often lead to valuable discourse. However, the biases exhibited by participants should never be used to embarrass or to attack them... well, within reason -- see comments below on using "good humour".

Abilities a facilitator may be able to finesse:

• The facilitator may not need extensive expertise in any specific topics the participants may pursue. For example, if there are extensive technical issues lurking within a seminar war game, the facilitator may have a panel of experts to call upon to assist in adjudication, or in discussing the consequences of some participant's actions or proposed actions.

• In some cases a facilitator who has too much expertise in some particular area of military competency, e.g., qualifications as a submarine commander, as a pilot, as a combat soldier, could be detrimental. He or she may be viewed by participants as coming into the game with his or her own biases (associated with the badges and insignia that are on the uniform), and they may feel a sense of hostility based on a perception of bias (even when no such bias is evident).

• The facilitator does need to be familiar with common concepts and jargon terms. Asking repeatedly for participants to explain terms that are already well known to the others will probably diminish the respect for the facilitator. However, many participants will appreciate a facilitator who challenges other participants to explain terms that are not familiar to all, or that are fuzzy or woolly (e.g., "effects based operations").

Additional competencies of a facilitator are:

• Keeping the participants on time and on the agreed-upon agenda. But a facilitator should maintain a reserve of time so participants can complete their thoughts while energy levels are still high and the debate is lively, by shaving a few minutes off a coffee or lunch break for example.

• Ensuring that debate remains professional and that participants are generally retaining their respect for others and their good humour (or regaining it quickly if they temporarily lose it).

• Keeping a clear record (although the Study Team may have others to do this, typically a scribe).

• Listening carefully and respectfully to the participants -- including an ability to ensure more reticent participants have their say, an ability to draw participants out when the point they are trying to make is still too obscure for the others, an ability to paraphrase a discussion for the sake of clarity or to promote further deliberation, and an ability to maintain a balance in participation.

• Detecting non-verbal cues from individual players who may have something to contribute, but who may be reluctant to speak (e.g., sensitive to cues in body language).

• Having the knowledge and skills that can encourage the group's creativity and not use behavior that may diminish or constrain it.

• Determining that a consensus has not or cannot be reached, and then working with the group to understand the reasons for remaining dissension.

• Maintaining a good sense of humour, and ensuring all participants find the experience rewarding.

A common misperception of the role of a facilitator is that the main objective is to help a group reach consensus. This is emphatically not so, or not entirely so. Once the important issues are on the table, and all relevant knowledge has been shared, a group may indeed reach consensus, and a good facilitator may expedite this. However, there are legitimate reasons that a group cannot reach consensus. For example, there may be knowledge gaps (typical in political and military problems) and one school of thought among the players may develop a set of assumptions to fill that gap. Another group of players may have their own assumptions that run counter to those of the first group, or they may be reluctant to make assumptions, preferring to live with ambiguity. Here the facilitator must work to determine who is in the various schools of thought and what may be the main sources of their disagreement. To suggest that there is some consensus when none has been reached would be intellectually dishonest. And it would be naïve to assume that every group will reach consensus on every problem.

Role models for apprentice facilitators

The following videos take the participants through some challenging scenarios:

• The Constitution: That Delicate Balance >>> Video 8. National Security and Freedom of the Press

• Ethics in America >>> Video 6. Under Orders, Under Fire (Part I)

• Ethics in America >>> Video 7. Under Orders, Under Fire (Part II)

• Ethics in America II >>> Video 2. War Stories: National Security and the News

To see a video, click "VOD" opposite the video you have chosen. You may have to enable "pop-up windows" in your browser to see the player once you click "VOD".

These videos have been made available to the public by Annenberg Learner, a division of the Annenberg Foundation.

During viewing pay particular attention to how the moderator or facilitator treats the participants and ensures critical issues are suitably addressed.

Some tools for a facilitator:

• Rewind the clock. Excellent facilitation skills are demonstrated in a video about the alleged right of the press to publish classified documents by claiming this to be in the public's interest. After a prolonged discussion of the implications of the documents being stolen property, the facilitator, Professor Benno Schmidt, takes the participants on an alternate branch when he "rewinds the clock". See "National Security and Freedom of the Press", video number 8 in the series The Constitution: That Delicate Balance. Between minute 21 and minute 27 the participants are engaged in an intense debate on the consequences of the classified documents being stolen property -- "Can a journalist be arrested like a common jewel thief because the documents constitute stolen property?" This debate is wandering from other important issues such as the public's right to know and the responsibility of a journalist to be loyal citizen. After the facilitator rewinds the clock the participants resume their debate, but now the issue of whether the documents need to be treated as stolen property has been set aside.

• The parking lot. From time to time, players get caught up recycling through the same material over and over without resolution -- perhaps going down a rabbit hole that will waste time without progressing the Sponsor's objective. One way to nudge them to move on is to put a brief description of the issue in question on a flip chart or white board (called "the parking lot"). Usually only a few key words will be needed as a synopsis of the issue. It is important that those engaged have these words written out for all to see: these words show they have being listened to and are a visible reminder of their outstanding (and important) issue... to which the group needs to return. Although the facilitator must allow some time at the end to return to parking-lot issues, serendipity may intervene as the game proceeds and the players will see that the apparently contentious issues have been resolved by subsequent activity. Of course, some parking-lot issues may remain. If the players still feel strongly, these may have to be included in the study report as unresolved points.

• Tell me in your words. Sometimes a player will have strong objections to some point raised by another player (or by the facilitator, or by other members of the control team). In order to get to exactly what triggered this, a useful step can to be to ask those who are reacting to put what they heard into their own words. This may reveal that there was some simple misunderstanding. Or, if an over-reaction is caused not merely by miscommunication, it may be due to differences over assumptions, or to inadequate sharing of factual material, or to biases on the part of the listener. Having the listener say what was heard, not what was said, should help discover the root of the disagreement.

• "Call Mom". There are times when a player describes some issue in complicated even opaque language. Just asking for an explanation in plain words may work. But, if not, a measure that can cut through the flowerly language, possibly laced with jargon, is to ask the player to imagine placing a "call to Mom" where the issue will have to be explained to her, in words she will understand. Give the player a few minutes to get composed, then listen in on the call.

• Draw us a picture. Some players may be more adept at explaining issues with pictures. Indeed some explanations require an accompanying picture, e.g., a plan of attack. If a participant is having difficulty explaining some concern in words, give them a marker and white board and have them go to it.