NationLab is a project of the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, an academic division of the U.S. National Defense University.
The NationLab seminars in national strategy began with a 1997 request from the School of High National Studies (EAEN) of Bolivia to the U.S. National Defense University for modeling assistance with their interlocking problems of poverty, narcotrafficking, and corruption. The Modeling & Simulation Group of U.S. Southern Command’s J7 Directorate, working closely with the EAEN, developed a dynamic socio-economic simulation model of Bolivia. This simulation model was then incorporated into a new form of strategic exercise, which took the name "NationLab" (Laboratorio de Nación in Spanish). The first NationLab took place in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1998, and has been held annually ever since in a growing list of countries.
Dr. Mike Gonzalez, director of NationLab Project, and Dr. Loren Cobb, author of the NationLab simulation, have been involved since inception in every phase of seminar design and execution.
The primary focus of NationLab has always been on national policy innovations for breaking the poverty/corruption cycles that entrap so many countries. In this sense it is truly a laboratory in which participants must struggle with all phases of national policy innovation and execution. The NationLab framework is absolutely neutral with respect to political orientation and social controversy.
Peru and Paraguay requested their own versions of NationLab in 2002, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador joined in 2003, Ecuador and Uruguay joined in 2006, and Honduras in 2007. Each nation has brought creative and useful innovations to the NationLab seminar, which is strongly tailored to the needs and special situations of each participating country.
Many NationLab alumni from earlier years now occupy positions of power and influence, including ministers, vice ministers, ambassadors, judges, political advisors, generals, admirals, police commanders, agency heads, and corporate CEOs.
The Inter-American Defense College (IADC), an educational division of the Organization of American States (OAS), requested a hemispheric version of NationLab beginning in 2002. This seminar, known as RegionLab, focuses on the process of negotiations between three countries in a multi-year regional crisis. The play of this game includes bilateral and multilateral international negotiations under the auspices of the OAS, in a context of regional crisis and domestic opposition. In the current IADC curriculum, RegionLab is preceded by a week-long series of lectures and short exercises in negotiation and conflict resolution, provided by the United States Institute for Peace.
In addition, special versions of NationLab have been developed for Ecuador and Colombia, for use in Crisis Management seminars and practical exercises at the Cabinet and National Security Council levels.