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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 from the political to the policy rather than vice versa, this is not a problem. This is why I do not start their research with the policy issue per se. Even for the management simulations, the students, working in groups, can come up with the key policy issues of concern to management of their sector, rather than having these provided for them by the instructor. If the students have been on board from the beginning, developing these issues and then negotiating with other groups above their triage, the backdrop has been set for the simulation and my experience is that it virtually runs itself. The instructor should also decide ahead of time what format the settlement will take. Will it be decided by vote or by consensus? This may come down to a question of time since the vote is much quicker. However, the consensus process extends the group engagement. If you are using the vote, it is useful to have a table ready to record the votes, since they will be needed for the debriefing. The question may also arise about abstention from the vote. I have learned not to allow this because it throws off the power weighting I had set up in the choice of numbers in each group prior to the simulation. Some students have also suggested using Robert’s Rules of Order but I have resisted this because I want more control over the participation. If the instructor is not free to interject during the proceedings you tend to get a high level of participation from the more vocal actors (exacerbated by the fact that you have chosen to place them in the more powerful positions) with a low level of participation by some of the actors who may not under Robert’s rules be able to get much said at these meetings. This may approximate reality but it leaves too many students out. This is why I act as at least a second chair or moderator in all of the simulations, because then I am free to override the speaking list when an exceptionally quiet student finally puts up his or her hand to speak. I explain to the class that I will be doing this when I deem it necessary. Regarding formality and informality in general, again I would recommend the best practice is a balance of the two. If the process is too formal it can become stiff and if it is too informal, the quality may suffer. My practice is to set a fairly formal atmosphere for the opening of the simulation so that it does not break down with overly friendly chatter and disruption. (The participation mark also helps here since you can explain that the mark will be based on the quality of the students’ remarks not the quantity.) I ask the students to dress as the participants of the real meetings would, with business attire, and while a few students invariably come dressed in sweatshirts, enough of them wear a suit to give a feeling of seriousness to the proceedings. Likewise, I dress formally and leave the room just before the simulation to return with formal demeanor and remarks. The students then take on the same seriousness for their opening remarks. While there is occasional laughter over some of the role-playing (I once had one of my western premiers show up in a cowboy hat, quite appropriately.) which helps lighten the atmosphere a bit, overall the injection of some degree of formality signals to the students that they are expected to perform as professionals. Simplicity and complexity also need to be balanced in the simulation process. The students sometimes begin to operate at either a rather too general or rather too specific level and end up 16

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
from the political to the policy rather than vice versa, this is not a problem. This is why I do not
start their research with the policy issue per se. Even for the management simulations, the
students, working in groups, can come up with the key policy issues of concern to management
of their sector, rather than having these provided for them by the instructor. If the students have
been on board from the beginning, developing these issues and then negotiating with other
groups above their triage, the backdrop has been set for the simulation and my experience is that
it virtually runs itself.
The instructor should also decide ahead of time what format the settlement will take. Will it be
decided by vote or by consensus? This may come down to a question of time since the vote is
much quicker. However, the consensus process extends the group engagement. If you are using
the vote, it is useful to have a table ready to record the votes, since they will be needed for the
debriefing. The question may also arise about abstention from the vote. I have learned not to
allow this because it throws off the power weighting I had set up in the choice of numbers in
each group prior to the simulation. Some students have also suggested using Robert’s Rules of
Order but I have resisted this because I want more control over the participation. If the instructor
is not free to interject during the proceedings you tend to get a high level of participation from
the more vocal actors (exacerbated by the fact that you have chosen to place them in the more
powerful positions) with a low level of participation by some of the actors who may not under
Robert’s rules be able to get much said at these meetings. This may approximate reality but it
leaves too many students out. This is why I act as at least a second chair or moderator in all of
the simulations, because then I am free to override the speaking list when an exceptionally quiet
student finally puts up his or her hand to speak. I explain to the class that I will be doing this
when I deem it necessary.
Regarding formality and informality in general, again I would recommend the best practice is a
balance of the two. If the process is too formal it can become stiff and if it is too informal, the
quality may suffer. My practice is to set a fairly formal atmosphere for the opening of the
simulation so that it does not break down with overly friendly chatter and disruption. (The
participation mark also helps here since you can explain that the mark will be based on the
quality of the students’ remarks not the quantity.) I ask the students to dress as the participants of
the real meetings would, with business attire, and while a few students invariably come dressed
in sweatshirts, enough of them wear a suit to give a feeling of seriousness to the proceedings.
Likewise, I dress formally and leave the room just before the simulation to return with formal
demeanor and remarks. The students then take on the same seriousness for their opening
remarks. While there is occasional laughter over some of the role-playing (I once had one of my
western premiers show up in a cowboy hat, quite appropriately.) which helps lighten the
atmosphere a bit, overall the injection of some degree of formality signals to the students that
they are expected to perform as professionals.
Simplicity and complexity also need to be balanced in the simulation process. The students
sometimes begin to operate at either a rather too general or rather too specific level and end up
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