AFTERSHOCK “Lunch and Learn” exercise at CUSO

I was recently invited in to facilitate a lunch-and-learn event at CUSO in Ottawa, Canada, to demonstrate how serious games can be applied to humanitarian learning.

Given that the session was scheduled for only an hour, I elected to present AFTERSHOCK, an excellent learning game developed by Prof. Rex Brynen (McGill/ and Tom Fisher (Imaginetic).

AFTERSHOCK participants are responsible for responding to a devastating (fictional) earthquake in capital of the (fictional) lower-income state of Carana. It is designed for 1 to 4 participants who take on the role of the local government, military disaster relief teams, the assembled United Nations agencies, and international non-governmental (INGO) actors.

AFTERSHOCK in the CUSO boardroom.

Modeled after the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, AFTERSHOCK does a great job of teaching players about the logistical challenges of delivering aid in a context of extensive infrastructural damage. Can you justify repairing the airport in the days after the disaster, even if it means diverting time and supplies away from people in need? Are your limited teams better put to use carrying out emergency operations, or should you be sending a delegate to the coordination meeting? And, of course, if the reputation of your organization suffers, what will you do to repair your good name (and keep the donor dollars flowing)?

Unfortunately, we only snapped a few shots as the action got underway–and I happened to be looking at my notes!

The CUSO team quickly fell into their roles, debating about how and where supplies should be routed and making difficult decisions about what could realistically be achieved in the days after the crisis.

AFTERSHOCK is designed to run for 2 hours, not including a briefing–so in our time span we were only able to run through two introductory rounds. I was a bit unsure how much the group would be able to take away in such a short time, but they extracted many of the learning points that the PAXsims team built into the exercise and were excited for more. The session was a great demonstration of how much a group can learn quickly using interactive methods.

If you would like a copy of the learning game, AFTERSHOCK can be purchased from The Game Crafter. Proceeds go to the World Food Program. They currently have one expansion package which introduces gender to the mechanics of the exercise, and are in the process of planning two more expansions. This will include mechanics to “link” together four separate instances of the learning game (representing four different municipalities in the country) under the umbrella of a national government. Sounds exciting to all of us here at LLST!

Many thanks to CUSO for inviting me in, and to Rex for giving me permission to share his work with the CUSO team.

If you are interested in arranging a similar demo session at your organization, get in touch at

5 Questions with Matt

Johanna Reynolds took the time to sit down with Matt Stevens, LLST’s Director and design lead. They chat about Matt’s history, why he formed LLST, and why simulations are important.

Lessons Learned Simulations & Training (LLST) was founded in 2018 after you spent more than 10 years working with refugee and migrants, primarily in the Middle East. Tell us a bit about the work that you did there.

Yes, I spent quite a few years in the Middle East. I was quite lucky, because almost all of the work I did there allowed me to spend time getting to know refugees and local residents well. That’s not the usual experience humanitarian workers have! I served as a Project Director, then Country Director for a small INGO in Amman, Jordan, primarily managing an online higher education project for refugees and Jordanians. It was a great office to work in—I interacted directly with our students every day, learning about the difficulties and rewards they experienced in their lives. There were lots of interesting reasons why people came to our program—very rarely for the reasons we expected. It was always a challenge to flex the “humanitarian system” in ways to adapt our projects to deliver what people actually wanted.

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Guest Post: Reflections on Simulation-Based Training

During the recent delivery of “The Day My Life Froze” at York University, LLST was privileged to be supported by Nicole Vassiliou, a volunteer with the Centre for Refugee Studies Student Caucus. Nicole is a Masters student at the Department of International Development at York University. She carried out her Masters research with refugees in Greece while completing an internship at a local NGO. Her thesis, titled Living on the Margins & Picking up the Pieces: NGO Response to the Greek Economic Crisis, Austerity Measures & Social Assistance, focuses on the effects of austerity measures, social assistance, civil society, tourism, culture, behavioral economics, capabilities theories, and future possibilities.

In addition to her great help, Nicole was able to participate in much of the training and simulation. She was kind enough to prepare a short reflection on her experience.

Read on:

“The Day My Life Froze” training and simulation was a fantastic way to understand the intentions, behaviours and motivations or different stakeholders within the context of urbanized refugees and humanitarian aid. As a second year Masters student I participated in the two day program and feel that I have gained much knowledge and understanding regarding the social issues that refugees and different stakeholders face.

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“The Day My Life Froze”: Thoughts and Reflections

On February 23 and 24, Lessons Learned delivered our first full-scale professional development course.

The course, titled “‘The Day My Life Froze’: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System”, was delivered in a promotional capacity to students of York University in Toronto, in collaboration with the Centre for Refugee Studies Student Caucus.

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