Not doing role play

Paul Clarke muses on the morality of his own eavesdropping. Interesting stuff.

As someone who works in training/facilitation I was quite engaged by the eavesdropped rail employee who was in recovery from a recent course.

I cringed a little both for him and also for whoever ran the course. It’s no fun trying to cajole people into activities. It’s no fun being cajoled. I do try to make all such things optional as the most sane route through this.

The prospect of “role play” is likely to strike dread into someone’s heart in any group. Done with sensitivity it can create more exciting learning than any amount of theory or argument. It’s a question of people feeling able to get to the edge of but not outside their comfort zone. And that means having the option to watch and not play.

What’s interesting is people who “don’t do role play” often opt to watch from the sidelines. And then find themselves expressing strong opinions on the scene they’re watching… and with that engagement, they’ll often be up for having a go after all.

Mind you, if the scene is all about classifying customers by some four-part colour scheme, I’d probably be outside the room with the train guard having a grumble myself.

2 thoughts on “Not doing role play

  1. Johnnie Moore

    This post reminded me of Lave and Wenger’s, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation that is at the heart of communities of practice.

    This paper/book highlights the fact that, in CoPs we start from the outside and may work our way towards the centre or remain near the periphery while continuing to learn and develop in our own everyday situations. This phenomenon explains why most discussion lists have a very high proportion of lurkers. Making people earn their participation by posting (the equivalent of workshop roleplays) would be unlikley to promote membership of any discussion list I can think of.



    Hi Ivan: Thanks, that’s a very useful analogy. I think there’s a lot of pressure on training to deliver explicit goals which ups the pressure for “active” participation.

    It reminds me too of Roland Harwood’s mantra conversations-relationships-transactions. Pushing too hard for transactions can come at the expense of the relationships that will, over time, support more learning.

  2. Dwight Towers

    Thanks Ivan for the analogy and idea on “legitimate peripheral participation” – a phrase I’d searched for without success previously.

    I guess this is about short-term versus long-term/iterative. If it’s all about ticking boxes to show that the “training” has been “effective” then you can rely -even when it’s anonymous – on people’s ‘good manners’ not to put the stark truth. You can quietly bin the negative comments and report back to the client that all is well.

    There’s also something here perhaps about “activation phenomenon” – according to Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto – it’s brill), nurses are more likely to speak up if they think something is going wrong during an activation if everyone has said their name and “hello” to everyone else, rather than just being anonymous behind their masks. So yes, forcing lurkers to post is – I think you are right – going to be disastrous. But having weekly “open forums” (Joe Romm at Climate Progress does it) may turn lurkers into occasional posters. But doubtless a Pareto equation will still apply. Will stop now – jamming up Johnnie’s electrons…


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