A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

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START teams up with UMD’s ICONS Project


START teams up with UMD’s ICONS Project

Program offers 30 years’ experience in innovative training and participant driven simulations

January 6, 2016Jessica Rivinius

This month, the University of Maryland’s ICONS Project will join START, bringing with it more than 30 years’ experience in innovative training and research through participant driven simulations. The ICONS Project, which gets its moniker from its portfolio of International COmmunication and Negotiation Simulations, creates simulations and scenario-driven exercises to advance participants' understanding of complex problems and strengthen their ability to make decisions, navigate crises, think strategically and negotiate collaboratively.

ICONS’s new home at START is the culmination of nearly a decade of increasingly close collaboration between the two organizations on a range of education, training and research efforts.

”START and ICONS share a passion for generating empirically based and policy relevant findings, for tackling tough problems, and for transitioning knowledge to the professional community where it can be put into practice,” said William Braniff, START’s executive director.  “I know that START’s research, education and professional training will be strengthened by integrating simulations into our portfolio, and I hope that we can provide ICONS with an entrepreneurial and collegial home for the next thirty years.”

As ICONS adds a new organic capability within START, it will continue to provide and enhance its existing portfolio, serving the online simulation and experiential education needs of a wide spectrum of clients -- from academic instructors to seasoned business executives to policymakers.  ICONS’s federal government, corporate, non-profit, and educational sector clients include: various Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Brookings Institution, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, among others.

ICONS simulations have been a key part of many of START’s courses offered through the University of Maryland, enabling students to experience and think through the problems they will face in the real world, but in a classroom environment.

“The simulations we build empower students to become decision-makers by asking them to ‘step into the shoes’ of key stakeholders in a problem and negotiate with each other to develop a collaborative solution,” said Jonathan Wilkenfeld, ICONS Director. “Students connect to an issue and grapple with its complexities, all while building the leadership and negotiation skills essential to their future careers.”

For educators from any institution, ICONS offers a catalog of ready-to-use simulations, providing instructors with everything needed to easily incorporate an online role-play simulation into their courses. There is also a Simulation Selection Guide and Comparison Matrix to help instructors choose the best fit for their subject and students.  The ICONS team will also work with instructors to understand their needs and develop a customized simulation.

On the professional training front, the ICONS team conducts simulations either face-to-face or online aimed at leadership development. The simulations are based on real-world issues dealing with negotiations (i.e., globalization and Nigerian oil, whaling rights, solid waste management) and crises (i.e., ethnic conflict in Kashmir, severe natural disasters, North Korea’s nuclear program). Results are unscripted and outcomes are determined by participants' efforts and decisions. The simulation experience launches participants into skill application and immediately crystalizes lessons learned. While simulations allow policymakers to investigate the possible implications of different decisions and explore the dynamics of hypothetical scenarios, ICONS also uses them to advance research in the social and cognitive sciences.

As START expands its portfolio of training opportunities, it plans to further build on ICONS capabilities and leverage lessons learned from ICONS’s success, from crafting policy planning exercises on national security, to training programs for crisis management and basic research in political science, education, and psychology.