Practice makes perfect, and role-play simulation exercises offer a powerful way for decision-makers, stakeholders, students and others to engage with problems similar to those they are wrestling with in the real world (or may face in the future). Whether in a classroom or community meeting as part of a larger collaborative process, participants can gain insights, test tools and approaches, hone skills and enhance their relationships by grappling with simulated situations.
Our role-play simulation exercises typically revolve around challenging environmental policy and management questions, like how communities can effectively prepare for the risks posed by climate change, and how science is used in international treaty negotiations. Participants are given a scenario – a challenge, background information and some guidelines on how they should approach the problem – similar to, but abstracted from a real-world case. Each participant is then assigned the role of a particular stakeholder, and given confidential instructions to help fill those shoes. Participants are assigned roles different than those they normally fill so that they can gain insights into other’s perspectives. Exercises are always followed by debrief conversations to facilitate reflection and shared learning.
Role-play simulation exercises are central to the MIT Science Impact Collaborative. Director Lawrence Susskind was a pioneer in the field, and the team continues to employ them throughout our projects. Exercises were traditionally designed for the immediate benefit of participants – directly enhancing skills, fostering insights and building relationships. We are increasingly using them to also learn from what happens and how participants respond so that we can extrapolate more generalizable research findings – this is a central goal of the Harboring Uncertainty project. The New England Climate Adaptation Project is testing the efficacy of games as tools for initiating wider, tangible change within communities.
For more information on the use of role-play simulations and to find exercises for your own use, see the following resources: