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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 else in the simulation, assuming they all vote along party lines. It is best in my opinion to worry less about the actual composition of the governments of the day and more about the simulation dynamics. You do not want to flatten the negotiation and simulation experiences with predetermined outcomes. In the case of a large majority government I steal some of the majority’s players and put them in as nongovernmental actors, while still allowing the governing party enough of a majority to demonstrate the power they hold in reality. With regard to the selection of particular players for each role, I have at times allowed students to choose their region (federal/provincial/ territorial) and their political party but this results in a scrum at the front of the class to get to the sign-up sheets and after the usual complaining about fairness from the students and discussions with former post-simulation students, I now have them pick their role ‘out of a hat.’ For a time I allowed them fifteen minutes to swap selections among themselves but now I do not often do this. The feedback I have received from the simulations indicates that one of the most powerful learning experiences is for a student to have to argue from the point of view of a party with which they do not agree and which they would have avoided representing if possible. Several former students have recommended I suggest to students that they deliberately represent a party with which they have little sympathy. The instructor’s role in this early preparatory stage is to organize and relax the students, telling them what to expect without taking away from the learning elements of the simulation which include some unexpected consequences. They should experience some “on the fly” reactions during the negotiations and simulation. An element of surprise is not necessarily a bad thing, here. The best practice, in my experience, is to warn them that this will happen but not explain how it will happen. That is what they will be playing out and it will, at times, be both unpredictable and frustrating, but it will also be interesting and fun. As one student put it, “What I thought was going to happen was that the entire exercise would adhere to a precise agenda… But it was far livelier than I could have imagined!” another said, “The fun was had in taking political shots and scoring a point or two at the expense of the other side. This added to the liveliness of the discussion and drove home some relevant, partisan points.” The student’s role in this early preparatory stage is to sign up and begin to research the simulation role they have been assigned. Often they ask if they are supposed to play the exact person who holds the role, of Prime Minister for example. I tell them, if they have a colourful character, such as our Alberta premier was for many years, they may wish to do so, but they may not know much about their politician’s, or especially administrator’s personality, so here it is more important to play out their overall political position on the left or right of the political spectrum for example - or in the case of the more neutral civil servant or manager, to play out their policy position. I tell them this does not mean they should eliminate emotional appeal from their simulation participation. In reporting on a class simulation, one student commented on “the passion in people’s voices” she had noticed when attending a real political meeting as part of her preparatory research. 10

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
else in the simulation, assuming they all vote along party lines. It is best in my opinion to worry
less about the actual composition of the governments of the day and more about the simulation
dynamics. You do not want to flatten the negotiation and simulation experiences with
predetermined outcomes. In the case of a large majority government I steal some of the
majority’s players and put them in as nongovernmental actors, while still allowing the governing
party enough of a majority to demonstrate the power they hold in reality.
With regard to the selection of particular players for each role, I have at times allowed students
to choose their region (federal/provincial/ territorial) and their political party but this results in a
scrum at the front of the class to get to the sign-up sheets and after the usual complaining about
fairness from the students and discussions with former post-simulation students, I now have them
pick their role ‘out of a hat.’ For a time I allowed them fifteen minutes to swap selections among
themselves but now I do not often do this. The feedback I have received from the simulations
indicates that one of the most powerful learning experiences is for a student to have to argue
from the point of view of a party with which they do not agree and which they would have
avoided representing if possible. Several former students have recommended I suggest to
students that they deliberately represent a party with which they have little sympathy.
The instructor’s role in this early preparatory stage is to organize and relax the students, telling
them what to expect without taking away from the learning elements of the simulation which
include some unexpected consequences. They should experience some “on the fly” reactions
during the negotiations and simulation. An element of surprise is not necessarily a bad thing,
here. The best practice, in my experience, is to warn them that this will happen but not explain
how it will happen. That is what they will be playing out and it will, at times, be both
unpredictable and frustrating, but it will also be interesting and fun. As one student put it, “What
I thought was going to happen was that the entire exercise would adhere to a precise agenda…
But it was far livelier than I could have imagined!” another said, “The fun was had in taking
political shots and scoring a point or two at the expense of the other side. This added to the
liveliness of the discussion and drove home some relevant, partisan points.”
The student’s role in this early preparatory stage is to sign up and begin to research the
simulation role they have been assigned. Often they ask if they are supposed to play the exact
person who holds the role, of Prime Minister for example. I tell them, if they have a colourful
character, such as our Alberta premier was for many years, they may wish to do so, but they may
not know much about their politician’s, or especially administrator’s personality, so here it is
more important to play out their overall political position on the left or right of the political
spectrum for example - or in the case of the more neutral civil servant or manager, to play out
their policy position. I tell them this does not mean they should eliminate emotional appeal from
their simulation participation. In reporting on a class simulation, one student commented on “the
passion in people’s voices” she had noticed when attending a real political meeting as part of her
preparatory research.
10


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