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close this bookTrainer's Guide for Training of Elected Officials (HABITAT)
close this folderPart III - Workshop learning components
View the documentOverview
View the documentReading
View the documentPresentations
View the documentDiscussions
View the documentStructured exercises
View the documentCase study
View the documentRole playing
View the documentSimulations
View the documentInstruments

Role playing

Role playing involves asking workshop participants to assume parts of other real or imaginary persons and to carry out conversations and behave as if they were these individuals. The intent is to give participants the chance to practice with new behaviours believed appropriate for their work roles, and so they can experience the effect of behaving this way on themselves and on others who are playing related roles. It is generally believed that on-the-job application of new behaviours increases to the extent that people are willing to try out and evaluate the new behaviours under supervised training conditions. Few training methods offer so effective a way to encourage experimentation with new behaviours than role playing.

To help role playing achieve its greatest benefit as an inducement for genuine behaviour change is to couple it with the case study method. After reading and discussing a case, participants can be invited to step into the roles of the individuals introduced to them in the case situation. Realism is enhanced when detailed role descriptions are developed for each of the role players. Examples of role-playing case studies with detailed role descriptions that were developed for the Elected Leadership series are: (a) a situation involving privatization of public markets in The Councillor as Facilitator, and (b) a situation concerning a dispute over use of a bulldozer in The Councillor as Negotiator.

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 during a workshop, do not compel them to participate or embarrass them for refusing to do so.

In other words, you set the tone for role playing. It is your job to provide firm direction when moving a group into role playing. You establish ground rules and the boundaries of good taste. It is up to you to cut off the role playing at any time that it begins to lose its realism and, hence, its learning value. Here are some useful steps to take in setting up and directing a role play.

Step 1:

Introduce the setting for the role play and the people who will be represented in the various roles. If names are not given, encourage role players to use their own names or provide them with suitable names for the roles they will be playing (e.g., "The Allocation Decision," in The Councillor as Decision-maker).

Step 2:

Check to be sure participants are found to play the various parts. Coach them until you are satisfied they understand the "point of view" represented by each part. Participants may be asked to volunteer for roles, or you may attempt to volunteer them for roles in a good-natured way.

Step 3:

Ask participants who play roles to comment on what they have learned from the experience.

Step 4:

Ask other participants to give critical feedback to the role players.

In summary, role playing is a highly interactive, participant-centred activity that, combined with the case-study method, can yield the benefits of both. When the case situations and role descriptions closely represent real-life conditions, role playing can have a powerful impact on a councillor's perception of a challenge or opportunity. The new attitudes and behaviours that may result have a good chance of being carried over by participants to their roles as councillors.