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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 cubbyholes is just right for the sort of secretive, looking-over-your-shoulder kind of political negotiations in which I want them to engage. The instructor’s role during the negotiation phase is one of monitoring and addressing the concerns of the role playing participants. Plus, the instructor needs to speak to the government or party which will be chairing the policy meeting (except in a legislative assembly where the instructor needs to act as the Speaker of the House), that is, the central government for the intergovernmental meeting, the governing party for the assembly for committee meeting, and the government Minister (of Health) for the policy management meeting. These policy meetings could also be co-chaired with a representative of the regional governments, the opposition parties, and the hospital or medical administrators, but I prefer to keep it simple here. If the simulation is to be run in three hours or less, the introduction of another chair may result in a timing problem. The instructor may choose to act as chair in all cases and I have experimented with this, but I have found it best (except in a legislative assembly meeting) to let the lead government or party play this role, since it enhances the power dynamic among the players. When speaking to the student who will act as chair, (i.e., the Prime Minister, party leader or Minister of Health) you need to reassure her or him that they will simply be taking the lead off their triage list and that you will be sitting beside them and will give assistance with a quick whisper or a note if they need help in directing the session. My experience has been, as long as you carefully pick the student (more below), there is very little need to intervene. Aside from this, it is important for the instructor to maintain a certain distance during both the negotiation and meeting phases of the role playing. Some students will ask for more direction than is appropriate. In this case I find it is best to tell them to just let the process flow and not worry overly much about controlling it. (I use the word “relax” a lot.) If they simply play their role, the dynamics will take care of themselves - they are what they are. I sometimes have to reassure the more perfectionist students who prefer a high degree of control over their course work that they are not being marked on the dynamics of the process per se. I am only expecting them to participate intelligently at this stage. They do not control the outcome nor is their mark contingent on it. (This is unlike the types of simulations, for example in international relations, where there is a debate and there will be winners and losers. In this case some instructors do add bonus marks for winning.) This is an option here, of course, but I prefer to have all of the students more focused on watching the dynamics than winning the contest. For me, the learning experience is more important than the policy outcome.) The student’s role during the negotiation phase is to be the prepared. Each student must by this time have a good sense of both the political dynamics and policy particulars, especially their own group’s preferred triage, in order to engage intelligently with the other groups in arguments about supporting their policy choices. During the negotiation session, the students must be willing to begin their role playing, since they will be “wheeling and dealing” during this session. This means the more dominant players in each group (the Prime Minister, party leader or Minister of Health) may direct the negotiations or may leave it up to his or her group members to 14

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
cubbyholes is just right for the sort of secretive, looking-over-your-shoulder kind of political
negotiations in which I want them to engage.
The instructor’s role during the negotiation phase is one of monitoring and addressing the
concerns of the role playing participants. Plus, the instructor needs to speak to the government or
party which will be chairing the policy meeting (except in a legislative assembly where the
instructor needs to act as the Speaker of the House), that is, the central government for the
intergovernmental meeting, the governing party for the assembly for committee meeting, and the
government Minister (of Health) for the policy management meeting. These policy meetings
could also be co-chaired with a representative of the regional governments, the opposition
parties, and the hospital or medical administrators, but I prefer to keep it simple here. If the
simulation is to be run in three hours or less, the introduction of another chair may result in a
timing problem. The instructor may choose to act as chair in all cases and I have experimented
with this, but I have found it best (except in a legislative assembly meeting) to let the lead
government or party play this role, since it enhances the power dynamic among the players.
When speaking to the student who will act as chair, (i.e., the Prime Minister, party leader or
Minister of Health) you need to reassure her or him that they will simply be taking the lead off
their triage list and that you will be sitting beside them and will give assistance with a quick
whisper or a note if they need help in directing the session. My experience has been, as long as
you carefully pick the student (more below), there is very little need to intervene.
Aside from this, it is important for the instructor to maintain a certain distance during both the
negotiation and meeting phases of the role playing. Some students will ask for more direction
than is appropriate. In this case I find it is best to tell them to just let the process flow and not
worry overly much about controlling it. (I use the word “relax” a lot.) If they simply play their
role, the dynamics will take care of themselves - they are what they are. I sometimes have to
reassure the more perfectionist students who prefer a high degree of control over their course
work that they are not being marked on the dynamics of the process per se. I am only expecting
them to participate intelligently at this stage. They do not control the outcome nor is their mark
contingent on it. (This is unlike the types of simulations, for example in international relations,
where there is a debate and there will be winners and losers. In this case some instructors do add
bonus marks for winning.) This is an option here, of course, but I prefer to have all of the
students more focused on watching the dynamics than winning the contest. For me, the learning
experience is more important than the policy outcome.)
The student’s role during the negotiation phase is to be the prepared. Each student must by this
time have a good sense of both the political dynamics and policy particulars, especially their own
group’s preferred triage, in order to engage intelligently with the other groups in arguments
about supporting their policy choices. During the negotiation session, the students must be
willing to begin their role playing, since they will be “wheeling and dealing” during this session.
This means the more dominant players in each group (the Prime Minister, party leader or
Minister of Health) may direct the negotiations or may leave it up to his or her group members to
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