In the media

Wargaming to help boost government’s responsiveness

Sara Ulrich

By Sara Ulrich

Business Matters

30 July 2023

There is a lack of confidence about what the future holds for governing organisations, and their departments’ ability to handle change, according to PA Consulting’s latest Responsive Government survey, conducted in partnership with Global Government Forum.

Officials are also less confident in their organisation’s contingency plans in the era of constant, sustained, and compounded disruptive events – with only 45 percent having confidence that these are robust and align with strategy development.

This era of perma- or poly-crisis, in response, calls for always-on resilience and readiness, rather than an ad-hoc response to each incident. To navigate these complex decision-making environments and ecosystems successfully, forward-thinking governments are turning to an innovative tool for decision-making support: wargaming.

The power of wargaming

Wargaming is a realistic and safe experiential approach to decision making, it gives participants the chance to see, and to live, the potential consequences of their decisions. The interactive environment enables them to get inside the heads of other government departments – businesses, citizens, regulators, or media. And this fresh perspective means they can get inside-out and outside-in points of view and see the whole picture.

Wargaming is also proven to drive behavioural transformational. Governments will see that wargaming encourages teamwork, rehearses their responses, and builds much needed consensus or alignment with multiple stakeholders. This is highly effective in rehearsing crisis management or other project responses but is also useful in bringing people together to drive sustained change. It is particularly helpful at reducing management biases and behavioural blind spots.

As well as helping to prepare for near-term and more ‘known’ incidents, wargaming also has a critical role in helping governments plan for the future and the unexpected. It doesn’t provide a crystal-ball nor does it predict the future. But it does consider possible future impacts on governments’ priorities to support more robust decision-making and planning, which foresight or scenario planning cannot achieve on its own.

While they’re already bringing benefits, there is an opportunity to further embed resilience by truly rooting wargaming in governmental decision-making processes at all levels. Doing so will not only increase responsiveness but sustain it in our always-on disrupted world.

Implementing wargaming to boost Governments’ responsiveness

Based on our experience helping leaders run effective wargaming exercises across all major sectors, there are three areas of focus for governments:

First, embed wargaming into decision-making and planning processes. Identifying which decision and planning processes are to be prioritised, and defining an end-to-end approach where wargaming is the ‘safe to try and fail’ catalyst, is key. By following this embedding approach, governments can concentrate on front-of-mind and prioritised areas that are likely to require the most adaptability.

Second, draw on the right wargaming skills and teams. The quality and work you put into preparing for a wargame will define the outputs you will get from it. Responsiveness is a function of many organisations across and beyond government, not of any one team or department. So, designing scenarios, facilitating wargames, and analysing their outcomes calls for unique and niche skillsets from cross-government, domain experts, industry SMEs, and wargaming design specialists. This collective spread of skills helps maximise the quality outputs and outcomes of a wargame.

Third, consider unique wargaming design levers. Think about how to bring in for example:

  • Gamification, including competitive elements, time constraints, limited resources, and uncertain outcomes – all of which will make it more engaging and challenging.
  • Role-play or ‘real’ play, for example., red teams that role-play key stakeholders of your ecosystem (regulator, other department, businesses) or even real players (e.g. citizens). This will give you enhanced realism of what their responses or actions could be.
  • Immersive components such as virtual reality or interactive tools to analyse and visualise data in real-time, enhance realism and fast data absorption.

Those design levers help boost responsiveness by immersing pan-government stakeholders in key decisions before they have to make them and demonstrating the importance of adaptability in a way that standard meetings, symposia, and governance boards cannot.

Embedding the wargaming method into key decision and planning processes can increase a government’s ability to see both the ‘forest and the trees’. And, in doing so, to be more responsive to public needs, as well as enhancing trust and legitimacy.

This article was first published in Business Matters

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Responsive Government Survey

In partnership with Global Government Forum, we surveyed 1,796 civil servants across nine countries to explore how government responsiveness has changed.

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