MP roleplay: group game

This is part team exercise, part game. It’s a good way to get people thinking about the tactics they would use when meeting someone in power. That might be an MP/MSP/MWP, or a local councillor, or someone with another form of decision making power. If you’re running a workshop over two days, this session could be an excellent wind-down session for the end of the first day.

  • Length: around one and a half hours
  • Number of people: groups of four or five
  • Best used: towards the end of the day
  • Purpose: preparing for a meeting, seeing how different people might act
  • Extra materials: some six sided dice, paper and pens

Creating characters

Each person needs to create two characters. One character is themselves. The other character is a person in power. The characters are created with a sliding scale on six different characteristics, which are:

  • Detail v Big picture
  • Long term v Short term
  • Process vs Principle
  • Friendliness vs Formality
  • Quick change vs Slow steps
  • Talkative vs Quiet

For each characteristic, the character is someone on a sliding scale of one to six. For example, with the characteristic Detail vs Big Picture, someone on a number 1 would be heavily focused on detail and not interested in the wider picture at all. A number 2 on the same characteristic would be able to see the big picture, but more comfortable discussing the detail. Number 3 or 4 would be relatively well-balanced, with only moderate preferences. Number 5 would happily acknowledge the usefulness of detail while knowing that their strengths lay firmly with the wider picture. Number 6 would be the mirror image of number 1, being heavily invested in the big picture without caring about detail.

Your own character

For your own character, you place yourself in the most appropriate place on the scale. Some people might find it useful to discuss it with colleagues or friends first, if they are not sure where they would be. I, for example, would be:

  • Detail v Big picture — 3
  • Long term v Short term — 4
  • Process vs Ideas — 2
  • Friendliness vs Formality — 3
  • Quick change vs Slow steps — 5
  • Talkative vs Quiet — 3

….which translates into someone who prefers detail, is slightly better at making short term plans, who is quite process-driven (while recognising the use of the big idea!), slightly more comfortable in informal settings, is definitely better with a slow steps theory of change, and can be moderately chatty.

Your person-in-power

The second character you create is that of someone in power. For the purpose of this exercise, it’s not a known politician. It’s simply someone who has the power to make a decision which you would like made, and whom you have not met met.

Remember that at the top of this page I asked you to have dice? For each of the six characteristics, roll a six-sided die. You’ll get a random character for your person in power. Don’t show this to the people you’re working with — this character is just for you.

I rolled a die, and I got someone who looks like this:

  • Detail v Big picture — 4
  • Long term v Short term — 1
  • Process vs Ideas — 6
  • Friendliness vs Formality — 1
  • Quick change vs Slow steps — 5
  • Talkative vs Quiet — 3

This person would be described as being very friendly, quite talkative, entirely interested in the end goal rather than the means of getting there, wanting to think about wider implications but also caring about detail, as really looking at the long term impacts, and being keen not to rush but take change slowly.

Roll for your own person-in-power character. Spend a bit of time thinking about what those characteristics mean. Are there some which seem contradictory? What sort of person do you think they might be? Don’t introduce this character to your fellow participants.

Creating a scenario

Gather in small groups of four or five people. Decide in the group what you are about to role play. Specifically, think about:

  • Who in your group will play the people-in-power?
    Two people should take on this role, using the person-in-power characters they created. The others should be themselves, ie campaigners.
  • What is the decision you are asking the people-in-power to make?
    It is generally a good idea to make this one discrete decision, rather than a decision which has an impact on other decisions. A simple one is asking a local councillor to oppose a planning application for a new supermarket.
  • Have the people-in-power not made that decision because it has not yet been suggested, or are they opposed to the decision?
    If this is the first time this group is trying role play, it is probably sensible to play as if the person-in-power hasn’t heard the suggestion yet.
  • Precisely what powers do the people-in-power have?
    Do they need to consult with others, or can they answer yes or no now?
  • Where is the meeting happening?
    Is this an office, or a cafe — or on site somewhere?

Playing the game

First: 5 minutes prep. The campaigners and the two people-in-power split into different groups. They have five minutes to prepare, before they need to meet each other. The people-in-power should get to know each other, as if they are work colleagues. Both groups should think about what they are going to say and how they might act.

Second: 15 minutes discussion/negotiation. The two groups should meet, and shake hands etc as if it were a real meeting. Role play with as many embellishments as needed — imagine it’s a real meeting! If you wish to use props then do — perhaps a sheet of paper with “detailed breakdown of costs” written on it could stand in for the real thing.

End the role play either after 15 minutes or when either group finds it too hard going.

If time allows, create a new scenario and have two different members of the group play the people-in-power.

Discussing the game afterwards

It’s useful to discuss what happened afterwards. Try using these questions as a starting point.

  • When did the campaigners start to feel that they knew what the people-in-power were looking for?
  • Did the people-in-power feel sympathy with the characters they had created?
  • Did any of the people-in-power change the minds of the campaigners?

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