Interview with Winners of NASPAA Batten Policy Simulation Competition 2019
Institute of Public Policy team participated in the prestigious NASPAA-Batten Policy Simulation Competition 2019 held at The American University, Cairo. The team came through with flying colours being declared Global Winners (3rd Place) across 11 competition sites around the world and Regional Round Winners at Cairo. The theme of this year’s competition was Global/Forced Migration and participants included nearly 600 students from 147 universities in 27 countries. Participants competed at 11 global host sites from Dhaka and Cairo to Mexico City and San Francisco. Judges at each site selected 13 winners from the 116 competing teams based on simulation scores, negotiation skills, and policy presentations. From these finalists, a panel of four prominent global experts recently has identified the Global Winners of this year’s competition.
Our editor Prince Gupta interviewed two of the team members Ridhi Varma and Sandip Sahoo through email. Here’s what they had to say.
Tell us about the competition you attended. What was the competition structure, requirements and how did you apply?
We expressed interest after the faculty sent out a feeler. This was followed by an intra-University test to select the team that would represent NLSIU. The test was Data Interpretation and Visualisation related and strictly timed. Individuals can also register and nominate themselves, the basic requirement is that one must be a student of Public Policy.
The competition structure was fairly simple. The problem is pre-decided and the public policy challenges are thrown at the team that has to choose the best course of action. Later the actions have to be explained and presented to the judges and all the teams present.
NASPAA Batten Student Simulation Competition is run jointly by the National Association of Schools of Policy and Administration (NASPAA), USA, Frank Batten School of Policy at the University of Virginia and partner policy schools across the world. Already well known as one of the few policy competitions, global in nature and seeking to answer problems truly international in scope, I was quite keen to participate and win.
The competition grouped students from policy schools into teams competing at 11 competition sites across the world, in a custom computer-based simulation format followed by a policy brief writing exercise and a video recorded policy presentation. The theme of the competition changes every year, bringing a crisis of global scale into attention, such as forced migration, global pandemic, global warming, food security, etc. 3-5 simulations rounds on consoles, constitute the competition day along with practice rounds available only on the morning of the competition. Teams were grouped into a maximum of 5 and a minimum of 3 student participants, sometimes from across different schools and nationalities. To ensure that all team members are from the same college, a team must be mandatorily nominated by a faculty member.
NBSIM requires participants to be enrolled in MPP/MPA or a similar degree at the time of competition day. No theme specific experience is mandatory. I and four others from the batch applied together as a team and cleared the internal selection process at NLSIU. This process involved analysis of migration-related data and preparation of a presentation of the findings in a time-bound format.
How was your experience at the event? What was the policy problem you were asked to solve?
The experience was delightful. We met practitioners, researchers, and students across geographies at the American University in Cairo. The residential space and facilities were top-notch and the participants were professionals. The policy problem was of dealing with forced migration, quite challenging and exciting.
It was a tremendous experience, a roller coaster of a day at the competition site on 23rd February that ended with us adjudged as the Regional Round winners and a few weeks later, the Global Winners (3rd) in the worldwide format. There were participants from across Syria, the US, China, Lebanon, Egypt, and others. It was an early morning start and was initiated with a debriefing about the competition’s simulation format. After two practice rounds and armed with information from prior shared competition material presenting a version of the Syrian conflict with masked names, we allocated Prime Minister, Minister of Health, Minister of Labour, Ministry of Homeland Security, External Affairs Minister between ourselves. These roles are mandatorily swapped between team members post each round.
We were faced with rapid updates regarding migrant inflows into Turkey (game country assigned to us) during each of the two subsequent simulation rounds. (Tip: The countries’ fictional descriptions in the prior shared competition material drops many clues as to the identities of the real-life countries. Extrapolate at your risk!) Other teams represented neighbouring countries such as Hungary, Poland, Germany, and Austria. Our refugee budget was allocated to different heads under Homeland Security, Health and Labour by the Prime Minister and basis these calls, our scores on Human Rights Index, Economic Output and other metrics were measured. The objective of the simulation game is to maximize relevant metrics by taking policy calls on resource allocation. As per competition rules, judges sought team coordination, agility in decision making and rationale for your actions.
Being the Prime Minister in the final round was an exhilarating as well as a responsibility to coordinate and close policy calls within time. The team really rose to the challenge and our dedication to the problem at hand shone through with the detailed rationale that we provided to the judges during the rounds. While these interactions were of an informal nature and more to get a sense of the team cooperation, the subsequent rounds of policy brief writing analysis and policy presentation required us to quickly regroup and think through our strategy. We allocated the brief and presentation preparation among ourselves and each sub-team worked on their respective pieces. Sitting at the same table helped in coordination, as we could trade notes between the two sub-teams. I anchored the presentation preparation with inputs from other team members and it was with an exhausted but a satisfied feeling, we hit the send button at the hour.
The policy presentation round gave 10 minutes for delivery and 10 minutes for a Q&A round. Facing competitors, migration experts, local citizens and AUC faculty, the team really stuck to their guns and transitioned the approach from the simulation rounds onto the presentation, both in content and delivery. Not only did the Q&A round go extremely well for us, cheers from the audience at the end of our presentation rounded off a day that had been more than three months in the making.
How did studying public policy at the Institute of Public Policy, National Law School help you in the competition?
The Master’s program in Public Policy has a multi-disciplinary approach and the introductory course on Public Policy captured this essence through the many trade-offs that policymakers deal with. Matters of Equality, Efficiency and Freedom aren’t just grand principles but brought to practice in classroom through case studies and supporting data.
Studying Public Policy expanded my (previously myopic) view and fostered a deeper understanding of the complexity of problems in public realm. Being aware of the intended and unintended effects of policy changes in one domain and how it creates a ripple effect in several other arenas- I owe the ability to think through that during the rigorous competition to the course. Further, practical skills of preparing a policy memo, presenting ideas etc. and the practice of managing multiple assignments under strict deadlines definitely helped.
The Master’s program in Public Policy has a multi-disciplinary approach and in the introductory course on Public Policy captured this essence through the many trade-offs that policymakers deal with. Matters of Equality, Efficiency and Freedom aren’t just grand principles but brought to practice in classroom through case studies and supporting data. Backing your stand with rationale, and doing so with precision and composure through written speeches, extempore and PowerPoint presentations in front of your batchmates, visiting scholars and faculty is an integral part of the curriculum. All of these elements came together for me during much of the competition, especially in the simulation rounds whereas policymakers, trade-off between competing values was the ask.
Secondly, that year’s competition theme of Forced Migration was a key motivator as I was already working on a related ILO project, commissioned to the Institute of Public Policy here. India specific learnings, while not directly applicable to the Syrian humanitarian crisis modelled in the competition, helped build empathy for the trials and tribulations that humans face, when engaged in forced labour and migration. Engaging with prior NLSIU participants at the competition also helped me a lot in understanding the game format; a special shout out to Yogi and Ishita of MPP 2017-19!
How was your experience in terms of networking, meeting people from different backgrounds and engaging with them?
The experience was enriching and thrilling, to say the least. Interfacing and living with the kind of diverse group of professionals that public policy courses tend to attract was a giant learning in itself. For instance, while we were dealing with the problem of forced migration of Syrians, we learned that a team from Syria was also participating. Interacting with them lent us a deeper understanding of their struggles, and allowed us to enact policy actions rooted far better in ground realities.
Similarly, interacting with the judges, the faculty, and learning about the aspirations of students were all enlightening.
We were hosted at the AUC campus in Cairo, a social sciences university much storied for academic excellence in the MENA region. They even have a Centre for Migration Studies; few scholars and faculty from the research centre were also judges at the competition. The Egyptian people are warm, quick to laugh and have an exceptional sense of hospitality. Menna, our campus host introduced us to certain judges and some AUC students at the mixer prior to the day of the competition. Being the only site in MENA across the 11 global competition sites and the closest to the Syrian crisis (that year’s theme), it had drawn policy students from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt as well as teams from the US, China, Hungary. We would move from table to table and after getting past the initial awkwardness, it was easy enough to see that humanity bound us with shared values and ‘wicked’ problems in a babel of voices. Subsequently, the rest of my time in Egypt has only been pleasant memories; talking, listening and breaking bread with tourists and locals alike. Egypt itself is a potpourri of ancient cultures with a thriving, prosperous Coptic Christian minority population of about 15%.
What would your suggestion be for future teams regarding preparation for NASPAA-BATTEN?
The competition is such that one cannot be really prepared unless they are abreast with the global developments around the topic of the year, that the NASPAA BATTEN team notifies beforehand. Reading up on that as homework will put you on a fast track to winning. Interacting and networking is a learning in itself before the competition and after it. Staying calm under time-sensitive and pressurising situations is also a silent skill that participants must build. All the best to the future teams.
Read extensively on the subject chosen as the theme for the present competition cycle. The problems simulated in the competition are usually of a global scale, or affecting multiple countries; so any knowledge of international laws and treaties on the subject will come in handy, especially during the informal Q&A by some judges between simulation rounds as well as during the presentation. The rubber hits the road once the theme is announced, usually sometime in December. The next two months is the right time for different team members to pick up various regions/countries/cities and study-related national policies, UN body reports, white papers and thinktank op-eds.
On the competition day, teamwork is crucial, not only is it helpful for smooth allocation of roles during an otherwise hectic and long day but also is one of the grading parameters. So make sure to build a strong rapport with team members or at least, choose those who you are comfortable with. Incorporating information from the simulation software into your presentations also adds more credibility to your claims. The role of External Affairs minister usually interfaces with External Affairs ministers of other teams to secure concessions for the team in multiple negotiation rounds; so pick those with a flair for the same. And finally, while being articulate and precise is important, do focus on being approachable and friendly in an international setting. Cheers and Good Luck!