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Finding the Balance in Public Policy Simulations and Role Playing
Unformatted Document Text:  Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008 FINDING THE BALANCE IN PUBLIC POLICY SIMULATIONS AND ROLE PLAYING ABSTRACT Simulations and Role Playing are particularly suited to teaching public policy. Because of the complexity of policy making and the increasing emphasis in the field on the need for more complex methodological approaches to its understanding, public policy presents a difficult field of teaching. Instructors and textbook authors necessarily present the student with a more coherent, rational and predictable process than exists in reality. Some of this bias can be alleviated by immersing the students in a policy making simulation. This paper recommends the use of four types of person-to-person, role playing, policy simulations: an intergovernmental meeting, a legislative assembly session, an all-party policy committee meeting, and a policy sector management meeting. Best practices which involve the balancing of key elements of these four types of simulations are presented and discussed. INTRODUCTION i Simulation and role playing exercises provide a valuable addition to courses in public policy. Policy, as it is lived out in real life politics, is a complex, messy process, so the academic discipline of political science has learned to structure public policy courses and materials in a way which provides instructors and students with a manageable teaching and learning task. Structures, actors and processes are presented in a coherent manner which often implies considerably more rationality and predictability than that which exists in the real world of public policy making. Students, particularly undergraduates, are often taught about the policy cycle of formulation, implementation and evaluation and while this is a useful heuristic tool it leaves an impression of causality that is often excessive. As an instructor, experience has taught me that no amount of countering the presentation of this structured analysis with theories such as the garbage can model of policy making or the subjectivity of interpretive elements of policy making are as effective as having the students themselves live out some of the unpredictability and subjectivity of the policy process. Even graduate students who are more theoretically sophisticated and learned in a variety of analyses and therefore less susceptible to the assumed rationality of the policy cycles model or similar structural analyses tend to underestimate both the influence of power politics and the role of human relations in the process. Policy simulations and role playing provide an effective teaching method for introducing a better balance between the textbook rationality and the real world complexity of public policy making. As one student put it, The negotiations and simulation meeting provided a unique opportunity to understand the realities of shaping policy in a parliamentary committee situation. In the theoretical study of policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation, diagrams and arrows depict the multifaceted nature of stakeholder interactions illustrating the policy process. The policy cycle looks relatively logical and clear-cut. What is missing for the students studying 1

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
FINDING THE BALANCE IN PUBLIC POLICY SIMULATIONS AND ROLE PLAYING
ABSTRACT
Simulations and Role Playing are particularly suited to teaching public policy. Because of the
complexity of policy making and the increasing emphasis in the field on the need for more
complex methodological approaches to its understanding, public policy presents a difficult field
of teaching. Instructors and textbook authors necessarily present the student with a more
coherent, rational and predictable process than exists in reality. Some of this bias can be
alleviated by immersing the students in a policy making simulation. This paper recommends the
use of four types of person-to-person, role playing, policy simulations: an intergovernmental
meeting, a legislative assembly session, an all-party policy committee meeting, and a policy
sector management meeting. Best practices which involve the balancing of key elements of these
four types of simulations are presented and discussed.
INTRODUCTION
Simulation and role playing exercises provide a valuable addition to courses in public policy.
Policy, as it is lived out in real life politics, is a complex, messy process, so the academic
discipline of political science has learned to structure public policy courses and materials in a
way which provides instructors and students with a manageable teaching and learning task.
Structures, actors and processes are presented in a coherent manner which often implies
considerably more rationality and predictability than that which exists in the real world of public
policy making. Students, particularly undergraduates, are often taught about the policy cycle of
formulation, implementation and evaluation and while this is a useful heuristic tool it leaves an
impression of causality that is often excessive. As an instructor, experience has taught me that no
amount of countering the presentation of this structured analysis with theories such as the
garbage can model of policy making or the subjectivity of interpretive elements of policy making
are as effective as having the students themselves live out some of the unpredictability and
subjectivity of the policy process. Even graduate students who are more theoretically
sophisticated and learned in a variety of analyses and therefore less susceptible to the assumed
rationality of the policy cycles model or similar structural analyses tend to underestimate both
the influence of power politics and the role of human relations in the process. Policy simulations
and role playing provide an effective teaching method for introducing a better balance between
the textbook rationality and the real world complexity of public policy making. As one student
put it,
The negotiations and simulation meeting provided a unique opportunity to understand the
realities of shaping policy in a parliamentary committee situation. In the theoretical study
of policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation, diagrams and arrows depict the
multifaceted nature of stakeholder interactions illustrating the policy process. The policy
cycle looks relatively logical and clear-cut. What is missing for the students studying
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