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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 large degree. The same has been true for the situation where, in a small class, the extra players such as the Aboriginals or municipal governments are played by one person. Here again, this student needs to be comfortable speaking out or the role may as well be dropped. Now I do a little prodding of the more vocal students and then ask for a number of volunteers from whom I can choose for the leadership roles. I also wait to assign these key roles rules until I know the class somewhat in order to ensure they will be filled by a strong character. The quieter students generally feel better in a larger group or playing the role of a public servant, which becomes more of a research advisory role. Although, if I have a tiered representatives in the policy meeting (say the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister of Intergovernmental Relations, Minister of Environment, and Deputy Minister of Environment), I offer the students with the quieter or more research-oriented roles the chance to switch up to the conference table part way through the meeting if they wish to do so since they sometimes report feeling left out of the power dynamics being played out by the students assigned to the key roles. (Have the Prime Minister take a long telephone call.) The less dramatic sectoral minister or deputy minister role can also be balanced out somewhat by allowing these players to pass written comments up to the prime minister or other key player during the simulation and then have them collect and pass on these written comments to the instructor at the end of the simulation. This way they feel their participation mark has been more fairly assessed. The other reason I like to do a certain degree of assigning of key roles is that it allows me to ensure a better balancing of the gender and ethnic composition of the class. To begin with, when setting up the roles I simply tell the students I do not want to see all of the positions of power being held by white males – however true to reality this may be. If the body of volunteers from which I make my key-role choice is too masculine, as it often is if left up to a volunteering process alone, I lobby the more vocal women in the course or I simply designate particular roles as female. The ethnic composition, of course, has to be dealt with more subtly but here is where I like to leave myself enough control in the selection process to allow some massaging along these lines. Students interested in this dynamic often volunteer to represent the Ministry of Multiculturalism, for example. When combined with the encouragement of policy ideas related to gender, ethnicity, sexual-orientation and so on, this results in more participation and inclusion of alternative or marginalized actors and ideas throughout the entire process. Any other variation within the student group can of course be dealt with the same way. The holding of the simulation per se helps provide a balance for the students who perform better orally than in written form - a group who are highly discriminated against in any university with all its written assignments and exams. The professional student/academic student balance is also righted somewhat in the simulation because the professional students (in my university’s public administration programs for example) get a chance to display and get credit for their professional skills in informal negotiation sessions and formal meetings – rather than always conforming to the standard academic seminar format. Whatever the mix, I have found steps can be taken to ensure a balance of participatory input and inclusion. 18

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
large degree. The same has been true for the situation where, in a small class, the extra players
such as the Aboriginals or municipal governments are played by one person. Here again, this
student needs to be comfortable speaking out or the role may as well be dropped. Now I do a
little prodding of the more vocal students and then ask for a number of volunteers from whom I
can choose for the leadership roles. I also wait to assign these key roles rules until I know the
class somewhat in order to ensure they will be filled by a strong character.
The quieter students generally feel better in a larger group or playing the role of a public servant,
which becomes more of a research advisory role. Although, if I have a tiered representatives in
the policy meeting (say the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister of Intergovernmental
Relations, Minister of Environment, and Deputy Minister of Environment), I offer the students
with the quieter or more research-oriented roles the chance to switch up to the conference table
part way through the meeting if they wish to do so since they sometimes report feeling left out of
the power dynamics being played out by the students assigned to the key roles. (Have the Prime
Minister take a long telephone call.) The less dramatic sectoral minister or deputy minister role
can also be balanced out somewhat by allowing these players to pass written comments up to the
prime minister or other key player during the simulation and then have them collect and pass on
these written comments to the instructor at the end of the simulation. This way they feel their
participation mark has been more fairly assessed.
The other reason I like to do a certain degree of assigning of key roles is that it allows me to
ensure a better balancing of the gender and ethnic composition of the class. To begin with, when
setting up the roles I simply tell the students I do not want to see all of the positions of power
being held by white males – however true to reality this may be. If the body of volunteers from
which I make my key-role choice is too masculine, as it often is if left up to a volunteering
process alone, I lobby the more vocal women in the course or I simply designate particular roles
as female. The ethnic composition, of course, has to be dealt with more subtly but here is where I
like to leave myself enough control in the selection process to allow some massaging along these
lines. Students interested in this dynamic often volunteer to represent the Ministry of
Multiculturalism, for example. When combined with the encouragement of policy ideas related
to gender, ethnicity, sexual-orientation and so on, this results in more participation and inclusion
of alternative or marginalized actors and ideas throughout the entire process.
Any other variation within the student group can of course be dealt with the same way. The
holding of the simulation per se helps provide a balance for the students who perform better
orally than in written form - a group who are highly discriminated against in any university with
all its written assignments and exams. The professional student/academic student balance is also
righted somewhat in the simulation because the professional students (in my university’s public
administration programs for example) get a chance to display and get credit for their professional
skills in informal negotiation sessions and formal meetings – rather than always conforming to
the standard academic seminar format. Whatever the mix, I have found steps can be taken to
ensure a balance of participatory input and inclusion.
18


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