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Special - Spatial Planning and Energy for Communities in All Landscapes Town and Country Planning Association European Union

Knowledge Pool

Role play


Simulation, interaction, rules


Role play in a simulation exercise where persons take on assumed roles in order to act out a scenario in a contrived setting. The learners or participants can act out the assigned roles in order to explore the scenario, apply skills (maybe communication, negotiation, debate etc.), experience the scenario from another view point, evoke and understand emotions that maybe alien to them. It helps to make sense of theory and gathers together the concepts into a practical experience.

Role play is a valuable teaching and training tool that delivers immense amount of imprinted learning. This learning is retained and recalled better through the role-play experience. While it is evolving as a very effective, interactive teaching and training tool, many feel unprepared and uncomfortable about participating, or using role-play in routine teaching and training.
In adults the tool respects their prior knowledge, experience and the reality they bring to a concept. It helps to make the concept being taught to be constructed and then reflected on.
It helps to move beyond any comfort zones and helps bring on attitudinal change through different viewpoints too. It helps to develop all domains of learning, cognitive (knowledge) , psychomotor (skills) and affective ( emotional)

There are various types of role plays, such as:

Multiple Role Play – In this type of role play, all trainees are in groups, with each group acting out the role play simultaneously. After the role play, each group analyzes the interactions and identifies the learning points.

Single Role Play – One group of participants plays the role for the rest, providing demonstrations of situation. Other participants observe the role play, analyze their interactions with one another and learn from the play.

Role Rotation – It starts as a single role play. After the interaction of participants, the trainer will stop the role play and discuss what happened so far. Then the participants are asked to exchange characters. This method allows a variety of ways to approach the roles.

Spontaneous Role Play – In this kind of role play, one of the trainees plays herself while the other trainees play people with whom the first participant interacted before.


Suitable for

  • analyzing problems,
  • conflict resolution,
  • developing teamwork, cooperation, and creative problem-solving,
  • group decision making,
  • developing interpersonal skills and communication skills,
  • developing insight into one’s own behavior and its impact on others.
Expiry of the method

Role-plays can be simple or complex, short or long and can be adapted to suit the needs of what is being taught or explored. If it is a simple skills being practiced we can set the scene quickly and let the participants practice.

The key steps in constructing a role-play are:

a) Define Aims and Objectives (is it to practice skills, explore concepts etc.)

b) Define setting/placement

c) Define clear role descriptors and what they will say (at least an outline)

d) Define time limit

e) Define observer tasks (if any)

f) Define ground rules of safety and feedback

g) Define debrief agenda

h) Define facilitator tasks

There are three stages to a standard role-play exercise: (1) the set-up, (2) the play, (3) the follow up.

Setting up:
In the set up stage, the training team describes the scenario and assigns roles to the participants.  If the participant plays a particular role in reality, it would be more effective to assign a different role to that participant during the role-play exercise.
Another option is to put together a single page description of the scenario to be worked out by the role-play participants.
Alternatively, it may be useful to write one-paragraph descriptions of the key role players.  A description can include the main objectives and concerns of the person in that role, perhaps can include some key dialogues or a statement to be read by the person playing the role.

The Play Stage:
During the play stage, the participants act out their roles and the play is carried out.
If the role-play becomes too long, then the facilitators can give the participants a time warning of one or two minutes, and then end the play after that.

The Follow Up: 
It is important for all the participants to discuss what happened during the role-play.  They may question individual role-players to ask why they took a particular position, made a certain statement, or undertook an action.  The explanation and the resulting discussion is important for the participants to obtain a greater understanding of the social dynamics related to a particular "real life" situation.

Sometimes a role-play session may generate strong emotions (anger, dismay, disagreement), especially if some role-players take the play too seriously, and take extreme positions.  The follow-up discussions offer the facilitators an opening to explain that these reactions were caused by the structure of the situation, not by the stubbornness of the individuals playing the roles.  It is not necessary to avoid strong emotions; rather, it is an opportunity to reveal the nature of some "real-life" situations, and to encourage participants to be sensitive to the different assumptions, values, goals and positions that may be taken by different persons actually in "real life".


Appr. 2 hours to several days (depending on the range of subjects)


Interested citizens, representatives of interest groups, politicians, administrators, experts

Prerequisite for success

The Role play makes specific remarks on the participants:

  • Willingness and ability to change roles
  • Willingness to be in the focus of observation

Remarks are also made on the supervisor:

  • Experiences in Role plays
  • Ability to motivate
  • Role distance
  • Trained observation skills, top down perspective
  • Experience in addressing the most impoertant aspects
  • Counteract if the play drifts
Required materials

Different, depending on the Role play

Principles, relevant parameters to be considered
  • Use actual locations: The best role-play is as realistic as possible. Put participants in the physical locations where they actually would experience the scenarios you’re trying to replicate, whether that’s the boardroom, the warehouse, or an executive’s office.
  • Videotape your role-play: Videotaping the participants in role-playing scenarios is a valuable teaching tool. It allows people to see themselves—and their strengths and weaknesses, which can be quite powerful. It also allows them (and you) to “record” improvement as they progress.