The Foreign Service Journal, November 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2022 21 SPEAKING OUT Why the State Department Needs an Office of Diplomatic Gaming BY ROBERT DOMA I NGUE Robert Domaingue is a retired Foreign Service officer who served with the State Department from 1998 to 2021. He served in Bangladesh, Ireland, Ethiopia, Iceland, and Nepal. In Washington, D.C., he worked in environ- mental diplomacy with multiple offices. His last assignment was as lead con- flict game designer with the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Currently, he helps local organizations utilize serious games to explore creative solutions to complex problems. S erious games, also known as decision or policy games, are used by many different organizations to deal with complex problems. They can be used to promote strategic thinking, conduct analysis, perform training, and advance diplomatic goals. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the intelligence community (IC) routinely use games to examine assump- tions, test concepts, and explore alterna- tive courses of action. The Department of State, however, is lagging far behind in the use of policy gaming, and this hinders the department’s ability to proactively engage on issues rather than reacting to them as they occur. There is no centralized office at State devoted to supporting the use of gaming to enhance decision-making. Various offices have used tabletop exercises (TTX) to explore important issues, but they have relied on DoD and IC design- ers to create and run the exercises. State needs a dedicated office with the capac- ity to design, facilitate, and utilize its own policy games, but it does not have one. This was not always the case. The Foreign Service Institute’s Office of Special Programs, headed by Fred Hill from 1986 to 2006, advanced some of these capabili- ties. It developed high-level policy games on such topics as the possible collapse of the Soviet Union, transitions in various governments, potential war between coun- tries, nuclear programs in specific coun- tries, and conflicts in different regions. But the FSI office closed in 2007, and the State Department never replaced it. Hence, this proposal. Structure and Staffing The new Office of Diplomatic Gaming needs to be located where it is seen as serving the entire department. However broad-minded bureau leadership may be, parochial interests inevitably arise, and the larger departmentwide mandate is often subsumed to more immediate local interests (as happened to the FSI Office of Special Programs). To avoid this fate, the new office should be located under the Secretary (S) and organized to support small teams of serious game designers within each bureau. The centralized office would provide training (train-the-trainer) and design advice to the bureau teams who, in turn, support the offices within the bureaus. Expertise will be developed at both the office level (and in embassies) and at higher levels. Capacity for designing and utilizing decision games will even- tually be spread throughout the entire department. Like the best offices at State, the Office of Diplomatic Gaming will take advan- tage of the diverse talents represented by different categories of employees. Civil Service staff will provide the core conti- nuity in the office, while Foreign Service and political appointees provide their unique experiences. Important expertise will come from serious game designers detailed from the war colleges and the intelligence community. Another important source of expertise for the office could come from the Penta- gon’s Joint Staff J8 Studies, Analysis, and Game Division (SAGD), which has run a number of games for the State Depart- ment. To build knowledge and experi- ence, it would be appropriate to also have Like generals preparing for war, senior diplomats can take advantage of policy games to examine alternative decisions and the consequences of those decisions.