​Rare Earth Minerals roleplay

Rare earth minerals have a key role in our contemporary electronic digital apparatus. The current global REM market is representative of the complexity of resource extraction, manufacturing, international trade and consumer demand.

For a student to learn quickly and effectively about such issues, the lecturers of the MSc Industrial Ecology System Earth course enrolled their students in a roleplay exercise.

In May of 2014, a group of first year master’s students participated in a two day role playing simulation to gain experience about the intricacies of a global resource scenario. The lecturers partnered with external simulation firm PaxLudens who are interested in the outcome of using a sustainability conscious group. They provided a digital platform to play on and a REM resource simulation format which paired students and assigned them a role to prepare. Student teams would pursue the agendas of large mining concerns and electronics multinational corporations, keen to secure their REM demand and supply while improving their public sustainability image. Country teams were interested in developing their own resources sustainably and supporting their own industries. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) protected the interests of weaker developing nations and the environment.

A control room manned by the lecturers and the simulation firm managed the multiple interactions of the groups on the digital platform and introduced other external global actors (the press) and events (conflicts) into the simulation. The parties were to resolve these issues by achieving as many signed agreements as possible. After two intense days, the groups signed twenty seven treaties and a week later the students received feedback.

Students Peter Berrill from Ireland and Gregory Blake from the USA, playing an NGO and an electronics corporation respectively, were curious but had no strong expectations before participating. They were both surprised by the extra depth of experience provided by this immersion technique. Blake appreciated the simulation firm’s enthusiastic approach, saying “the simulation brought out the real challenges for parties to maintain their positions in the global marketplace and integrate sustainability issues”. It brought home to him the global level of complexity of just one resource in a supply chain but he would have liked to know more about how the simulation was modelled. Berrill said “It was an educational experience for me with regard to the difficulties of diplomatic efforts to solve broad and complex problems which cross borders, involving many different types of actors”. 

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