Tools And Methods

Role play

Role play

To analyse issues and to rehearse speaking up in new situations or on different topics. 

Everyone has different roles in different spheres of their lives, perhaps as a colleague, employee, mother, daughter, wife, politician or friend. Someone may be a passive participant in one context, active in another, empowered in one sphere but a victim in another situation. Role playing enables participants to explore the different power relations and patterns of communication between different roles. Role-play is an effective way for people to think about different perspectives in a particular situation, and the impact this has on communication – an important step in the process of challenging and changing relationships of power.

Enabling people to reflect on their multiple identities in life can help raise awareness of the idea of roles and role-playing and make it easier for people to take on or act out the roles of others. Often participants are nervous at first, and the use of simple props or masks can help them take on a character.

Role-plays may come in many forms for example:

  • Re-enactment: Participants re-enact a real incident, highlighting power dynamics and pivotal moments of conflict.
  • Simulation: Participants act out a situation that could happen or which represents what normally happens in a particular situation.
  • Rehearsal: Participants act out a situation that they want to happen – to practice their roles. For example, if the group has decided to send a delegation to the local government offices, the scenario of the meeting can be rehearsed in advance to test out roles, help refine arguments, or prepare for different responses/eventualities.
  • Projection/Inversion: Participants invert or switch normal roles, projecting themselves into the roles of others: men become women; bosses become employees; the landless become landowners etc, in order to understand better that person’s reactions and behaviour. This can help people see other points of view and identify points of leverage for changing relationships.

In each case the role play should be the starting point for discussion and can be re-visited at different stages of the discussion to explore alternative responses or outcomes. Relating this to the circle itself and self-reflection, it can be interesting to encourage participants to come up with different stereotypes or labels for the behaviour of individuals in group discussions. In situations where this approach has been used, labels have included: rambler, talkaholic, wise-guy, coloniser, aggressor, joker, daydreamer, pontificator, silent cowboy. Having such labels can enable participants to reflect on their own roles and challenge each other with humour.


Photographer's Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah/ActionAid


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