Experiencing Negotiations: Understanding the Migration Crisis and Foreign Policy Making Through Simulation

Simulations promote critical thinking and the application of knowledge in complex or ambiguous situations, as well as more effective contextual learning.  Students can better connect theory and practice, and also gain a deeper understanding of an issue at stake. Moreover, simulations often induce emotional responses, which enhances student engagement and attention, and promotes long term retention. To make the best experience for their students in understanding the dynamics of foreign policy making and negotiations, Erin K. Jenne, professor of International Relations and recipient of the 2018 CEU Distinguished Teaching Award, and her teaching assistant, Nassim AbiGhanem (PhD candidate in the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations), developed a simulation for the MA course Foreign Policy Analysis. 

Supported by Gorana Misic, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Jenne and AbiGhanem designed a simulation where students  negotiated how to maintain the EU solidarity in managing the migration crisis in the context of the EU Council of Ministers meeting. Through the simulation, students took on the roles of different EU and neighboring countries aiming to construct a proposal that will resolve the current problems with the Dublin Agreement while managing the present crisis. “This simulation invited students to inhabit the roles of foreign ministers of EU countries faced with solving a common problem, which was how to manage a sudden upsurge in refugees from the MENA region”, summarized Jenne 

Prior to the negotiations, as a preparation for their role, every country team prepared an internal policy brief (written for the prime minister/president of the country), and a public policy report that was shared with all participants in the negotiation. By having a written assignment connected to the game preparation, students not only practised writing effective policy briefs, but also had a chance to internalize and gain a better experience of their roles, which contributed to their commitment during the game. Jenne and AbiGhanem met the students during the preparation process to give feedback on their negotiation strategies.  “The simulation process itself was a knowledge generating exercise. Students would come up to us during consultation sessions discussing not only what their role and research requires, but also research other actors' possible positions. This provided a more holistic understanding of the issue at stake. Moreover, students were able to apply role theory in arguing and defending positions they may not necessarily believe in, yet they got completely submerged into their roles that made the negotiation simulation as authentic as possible”, AbiGhanem added. 

Professor Erin Jenne, Nassim AbiGhanem, and Gorana Misic developed a simulation for the MA course Foreign Policy Analysis at CEU. Photo: Margaryta Rymarenko

The negotiations took place at two seminars, starting with the opening statements, where delegates outlined the proposals for reforming the Dublin system. Through a series of negotiations, both in and out of the classroom, the students had a chance to experience group- and individual-level dynamics in negotiation process, identify the policy implications of competing theories of foreign policy, and understand the importance of research and strategy in achieving a negotiated solution. “Through the simulation, students were encouraged to think through their red and green lines and develop a negotiating strategy toward other players and to get practical experience on the ways in which bargaining power, legitimacy, leader personality, cognitive factors, and domestic political considerations combine to produce negotiated outcomes”, Jenne said. One of the participants, Jorge Chavez, MA student in the Department of International Relations, said  "the simulation allowed me to understand how internal constraints and national interests translate into policy alternatives and to experience the internal dynamics of multilateral negotiations." 

 “From the debrief discussion it was clear that students not only had fun, but highly appreciated the opportunity to practice negotiation skills, as well as to apply and demonstrate understanding of the theories they learned throughout the course and the whole program,” said Misic, who supported the design of the simulation and observed the negotiations process. “Many students highlighted the whole exercise as a valuable team work and group cohesion experience, which shows the value and power of teaching through simulations in creating a positive learning environment and the community of inquiry.” 

The CTL collaborates with faculty as they explore contemporary, research-based approaches to enhance their teaching and mentoring; and supports doctoral students as they grow as apprentices and future teachers, scholars, and educational leaders. Through collaborations such as the above, CTL helps to advance knowledge about teaching and learning at CEU and beyond. Faculty members are invited to think of the CTL as a space for experimentation where they can develop ways to enhance their teaching.