Negotiation practitioners today struggle to manage complex political, economic, and cultural disputes that often involve an array of intertwined issues, parties, process choices, and consequences – both intended and unintended. To prepare next-generation negotiators for these multifaceted challenges, negotiation instructors must keep pace with the rapidly evolving complexity of today's world. In this article, we introduce systemic multiconstituency exercises (SMCEs), a new educational tool for capturing this emerging reality and helping to close the experiential learning gap between the simulated and the non-simulated environment.
We discuss our pedagogical rationale for developing The Transition, a seventy-two-party SMCE inspired by the complex conflicts in Afghanistan and Central Asia and then describe our experiences conducting multiple iterations of this simulation at Harvard University. We argue that SMCEs, in which stakeholders are embedded in clusters of overlapping networks, differ from conventional multiparty exercises because of their immersive character, emergent properties, and dynamic architecture. This design allows for the creation of crucial negotiation complexity challenges within a simulated exercise context, most importantly what we call “cognitive maelstroms,” nested negotiation networks, and cascading decision effects. Because of these features, SMCEs are uniquely suited for training participants in the art of network thinking in complex negotiations. Properly designed and executed, systemic multiconstituency exercises are next-generation teaching, training, and research platforms that carefully integrate negotiation, leadership, and decision-making challenges.