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close this bookDesigning Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe lecture
View the documentVisual aids
View the documentQuestion and answer
View the documentDiscussion
View the documentDemonstration
View the documentSimulation
View the documentThe case method
View the documentCritical incidents
View the documentRole-playing
View the documentInstrumentation
View the documentBrainstorming
View the documentNominal group technique (NGT)
View the documentForce field analysis
View the documentAction planning
View the documentOther learning transfer strategies
View the documentPerformance analysis & needs assessment
View the documentTraining impact evaluation
View the documentTraining the staff to train
View the documentCoaching
View the documentTeam development
View the documentRole negotiation
View the documentIntergroup conflict intervention
View the documentOrganizational goal setting
View the documentA closing note


Learning Emphasis

Organization Focus

Repetition is the mother of knowledge.

- W. African Proverb

Role-playing involves asking participants to assume the parts of other real or imaginary persons and to carry out conversations and behave as if they were these individuals. The participants’ enactment must be sincere and as true-to-life as possible. They are encouraged to interact as if they were alone, without others listening and observing the action. The only play-acting is that each participant makes a genuine effort to behave as if the action were for real.

The atmosphere or tone for role-playing is set by the trainer. It is the trainer’s responsibility to provide firm direction when moving a group into role-playing. He or she sets the ground rules and boundaries of good taste. It is up to the trainer to cut off the role-playing at any time that it begins to lose its realism and, hence, its learning value.

Participants learn by doing through role-playing. It permits them to:

1. Experiment with how they would handle a given situation. Spontaneous acting can produce feelings and attitudes which might not come out in discussions alone. Role-players and observers, therefore, sometimes develop significant insights and, even, the ability to predict behaviour in themselves and others.

2. Carry a thought or a decision a step further into concrete action. From information in a case, a participant might conclude, for example that Mr. A should apologize to Mr. B. In role-playing, Mr. A would go to Mr. B and apologize. In other words, role-playing shows the difference between doing something and just thinking about it.

3. Accomplish attitude changes. By placing persons who differ in temperament in the same role, it can be seen that a person’s behaviour is a function not only of his or her personality but also of the situation.

4. Exercise control over feelings and emotions. For example, by playing the role of an irate customer, a participant might learn to become less irritated by complaints.

Most people feel some discomfort in a first experience with role-playing but, in time and with experience, most begin to enjoy the process. Some people, however, seem to be unable to play roles. The best they can do is talk about what a person in that role might do or say. When these people are found in a training group, the trainer should not force them to participate.

There are many ways to introduce and conduct a role-play. In general, it is done as follows:

Step 1

The trainer describes the setting for the role-play and the persons who will be represented in the various roles.

Step 2

Participants are secured to play the various parts. The trainer coaches them to be sure they understand the point of view represented by each part. Participants may be asked to volunteer for roles, or the trainer may “volunteer” them for roles in a good-natured way.

Step 3

Participants who play roles are asked to comment on what they learned from the experience.

Step 4

Other participants are asked to give feedback to the role-players.

Sometimes role-playing is used in conjunction with the case-study method. After reading and discussing a case, participants may be invited by the trainer to step into the roles of key individuals described in the case. The intent is to give participants a chance to practise with new behaviours believed appropriate by the group and to experience the effect of behaving this way on themselves and on others who are playing roles. There is good reason for this. The probability of on-the-job application of new behaviours increases to the extent that people try out and evaluate the new behaviours under supervised training conditions.

Role-playing may be planned by a trainer or introduced spontaneously to increase the learning value of a case situation. For example, the “Case of the Frustrated Councillor,” presented earlier, offers a splendid opportunity for a trainer to employ role-playing to make the case come to life for a group of participants.

After discussing appropriate ways for Councillor Mlohla to behave with his friends in the club, the trainer might invite participants to role-play the situation. The participant in the role of Councillor Mlohla would be expected to try out behaviours thought to be appropriate in the circumstances for someone in Councillor Mlohla’s position.

In discussing the case, participants might have concluded that Councillor Mlohla was too abrupt and defensive with his friends at the club. They might have concluded further that a more conciliatory and less defensive posture would have been appropriate in the circumstances. With that in mind, the person in the role of Councillor Mloha might have responded differently in an effort to be more conciliatory and less defensive.

More conciliatory:

‘“You are right, my friend. Our roads are in desperate need of repair. In fact, it was the urgency of our people’s need that persuaded me to vote in favour of raising rents this year. We must correct the dust problem without delay and we shall, I promise you.”

Less defensive:

“The newspaper account is correct. There were profits from beer sales last year. I can say with greatest confidence that these moneys were used properly. Still, you are quite right to be concerned about their use, and I shall have an answer for you by this time next week.”

There are several approaches to structuring role-plays. A conflict situation may be an occasion for a role-play with the two people in the conflict assigned to play each other’s roles. Role reversal is sometimes practised to give participants a chance to react to different points of view. For example, the role-playing could involve a supervisor and an employee in a performance-review interview. After participants have played these roles for a few minutes, the roles could be reversed. Now the employee is in the supervisor’s seat and vice versa.

Still another approach is the replay which occurs after participants have had an opportunity to analyse behaviour and the effectiveness of the first role-play episode. Based on what has been learned, role-players replay it to improve their initial performance.

Videotaping adds another dimension to role-playing. If the technology is available, instant feedback of a role-playing session can have tremendous impact on behaviour. Reenactments of this kind are particularly useful to a training group for review and discussion of interpersonal problems.


Role-playing is a highly interactive, participant-centred activity that, combined with the case method, can yield the benefits of both methods. It is important that the selected cases reproduce real-life conditions in such a way that participants can act as themselves and feel as they would in real life. When this happens, role-playing can have considerable impact on a persons perceptions of a problem. The new attitudes and behaviours experienced have a good chance of being carried over by the participant into his or her real-life situation.