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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 off worrying about the other elements, and the students will be exposed to both the processes and procedures without over-thinking them in the beginning stages, arriving at the end of the simulation with enhanced knowledge of both of these elements which can be further drawn out in the debriefing stages of the simulation exercise. It is also easier, in my experience, to interest the students in a policy issue rather than a parliamentary committee meeting process or a listening procedure. The policy focus gives them something of interest with which to start their research and helps give them a sense that their familiar course skills, such as researching a policy issue, can be used for this unusual simulation exercise. Even in courses I have taught on intergovernmental relations, I have found the policy focus a useful starting point as the important intergovernmental relations themselves will get played out during the simulation. Whatever the instructor’s choice of focus, the three elements of content, process and procedure should be carefully (if not equally) balanced. THE SIMULATION/COURSE BALANCE Another balance which is important to the instructor and students is that of the simulation with the course itself. The instructor needs to decide whether the simulation is a small extra exercise in the course or whether the whole course will be designed around it. Either can be a valuable learning experience but here again the instructor needs to make this decision early in the design of the course rather than trying to force an ill-fitting simulation into a course. Having said this, no course is likely to suffer much from the loss of one week, so the instructor may wish to experiment with a one-class simulation without being overly concerned. It is best in the beginning, I think, to keep it simple and contain it within one week for both psychological and organizational reasons (more below). This is how I began my simulations, taking one (2-3 hour) teaching slot and focusing on one policy problem. The mark consisted predominantly of a participation mark (more below). As I became more comfortable with running simulations, I extended them over three weeks of classes and began to tailor at least 2/3 of the course assignments around the simulation exercise, using it to bring together many of the main elements of the course. In the case of a federalism course, because so many of the big issues around federalism relate to the relations and interactions between the two levels of government, the acting out of an intergovernmental meeting simulation brings out many of the elements of federalism you are wishing to teach in the course. For example, students playing the role of the peripheral governments in an intergovernmental meeting often comment that prior to the meeting they had known little about the smaller or less powerful governments or regions and their role in the federation. They also often comment they had greatly underestimated the influence and control of the government which gets to dominate the meeting agenda and act as its chair, as well as the control exerted by the political actors regardless of the level of high quality research from the civil service or external players on the policy issue. One student commented, “You can really see 4

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
off worrying about the other elements, and the students will be exposed to both the processes and
procedures without over-thinking them in the beginning stages, arriving at the end of the
simulation with enhanced knowledge of both of these elements which can be further drawn out
in the debriefing stages of the simulation exercise. It is also easier, in my experience, to interest
the students in a policy issue rather than a parliamentary committee meeting process or a
listening procedure. The policy focus gives them something of interest with which to start their
research and helps give them a sense that their familiar course skills, such as researching a policy
issue, can be used for this unusual simulation exercise. Even in courses I have taught on
intergovernmental relations, I have found the policy focus a useful starting point as the important
intergovernmental relations themselves will get played out during the simulation. Whatever the
instructor’s choice of focus, the three elements of content, process and procedure should be
carefully (if not equally) balanced.
THE SIMULATION/COURSE BALANCE
Another balance which is important to the instructor and students is that of the simulation with
the course itself. The instructor needs to decide whether the simulation is a small extra exercise
in the course or whether the whole course will be designed around it. Either can be a valuable
learning experience but here again the instructor needs to make this decision early in the design
of the course rather than trying to force an ill-fitting simulation into a course. Having said this,
no course is likely to suffer much from the loss of one week, so the instructor may wish to
experiment with a one-class simulation without being overly concerned. It is best in the
beginning, I think, to keep it simple and contain it within one week for both psychological and
organizational reasons (more below). This is how I began my simulations, taking one (2-3 hour)
teaching slot and focusing on one policy problem. The mark consisted predominantly of a
participation mark (more below). As I became more comfortable with running simulations, I
extended them over three weeks of classes and began to tailor at least 2/3 of the course
assignments around the simulation exercise, using it to bring together many of the main elements
of the course.
In the case of a federalism course, because so many of the big issues around federalism relate to
the relations and interactions between the two levels of government, the acting out of an
intergovernmental meeting simulation brings out many of the elements of federalism you are
wishing to teach in the course. For example, students playing the role of the peripheral
governments in an intergovernmental meeting often comment that prior to the meeting they had
known little about the smaller or less powerful governments or regions and their role in the
federation. They also often comment they had greatly underestimated the influence and control
of the government which gets to dominate the meeting agenda and act as its chair, as well as the
control exerted by the political actors regardless of the level of high quality research from the
civil service or external players on the policy issue. One student commented, “You can really see
4


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