Fighting AIDS in India Through Strategic Gaming Exercises

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to make a case recommendation in class and receive instantaneous feedback on its implications? Consultants from Booz Allen Hamilton delivered such an opportunity to a group of scientists, policy makers, and industry practitioners at a discussion on fighting AIDS in India during the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival this past summer.
Charley Beever, a partner with the firm’s New York office and a leader in Booz Allen’s Global Healthcare Group, presented the details of the project to HBS students January 18.

The idea behind this strategic gaming exercise lies in using sophisticated simulation techniques and the latest knowledge of the mechanics of disease spread to evaluate how various healthcare and administrative policies may either curtail or worsen the spread of the epidemic.

The simulation exercise started with a set of initial assumptions, such as the present consensus on the expected rate of growth of the disease in India: 3 million in 2001, 20 million in 2010, and 42.5 million in 2025. Over 200 participants were asked to make various policy recommendations that could potentially reduce the presumed rate of growth. The recommendations were then fed through the simulation procedures that modeled the predicted effects of such policies on the spreading of the disease.

Quite surprisingly, the participants managed to reduce the rate of the disease spread by the third round of the exercise! Beever believes that seeing the consequences of the decisions and recommendations in real-time produces a much more dramatic effect on the decision maker, compared to getting conventional policy recommendations from a consultant or an adviser. He views such exercises as an effective way to develop strategy and inspire the decision-makers.

Ultimately, the Booz Allen initiative gained a considerable amount of traction in the region. It helped establish over 50 partnerships and over 100 local-policy initiatives, all based on the ideas generated during the simulation. We now have to see how these initiatives impact the spread of the disease in reality.