Friday, 9 March 2012

Building scenarios using participative methods

There is no happiness if the things we believe in are different than the things we do. -- Albert Camus, Philosopher, Writer (in Reed & Kolibar 1995).

analyzing mirror self-recognition
In a previous post I mentioned our use of recorded role play scenarios in our group sessions. Here I'll elaborate on our role play process and reflect on its effectiveness in our project so far.
Firstly, a brief background on role play scenarios. Role plays have been used as a group facilitation method across a range of contexts for some decades. Role plays have been utilised in education, therapy (e.g. psychodrama and sociodrama), business and leadership, community development, even computer based role-playing and simulation games and various other spaces where reflection and discussion take place for the purpose of learning, development and transformation.
Our first role play scenario displayed what a mental health service should NOT do when dealing with a client (in this case in a phonecall). Participants are all too familiar with this scenario!
Our second role play scenario displayed what a service MUST do when supporting a client (again in a phonecall). The role play scene was refined to capture the "first point of contact" between the service and the (potential) client.
To attempt a definition, a role play is
a staged and emotive encounter which delves into issues and problems people experience in their lives (or the lives of others). Role plays offer participants an opportunity to reflect on complex situations with multi-layered meanings, factors and issues. They enable a group to "spotlight" these complexities so as to make them more accessible in order to address them.
In our case, and particularly with the second role play we held in our last group session, we invited the group members to be "directors" of the role play; that is, offering suggestions to the actors on how they might improve the scene and thus display the "ideal service" they could hope for. This meant stopping and starting the scene to incorporate the suggestions as discussed by the group. Some of these discussions were wide ranging, vigorous and emotive.
Reed and Kolibar (1995) present a similar technique but go a step further to suggest a participant tap the actor on the shoulder and step into the scene, replacing the actor from that point, acting out what they think should occur in the scene. This reflective technique, while emotional charged, is also a way to draw on people's ability to connect with issues and commit to - indeed invest in - seeking solutions to them.
Did the process work for us? Yes, I think it did. With more than an hour of discussion, we ended up with about 7 minutes of unedited, cut together footage, but the real outcome was the way the group moved to resolve some of the key element they saw were necessary for a relevant, high quality mental health service. The role play technique certainly supports the participatory process we've undertaken to use in the project, as this quote from Reed and Kolibar (1995) demonstrates:
Participants are challenged to develop potential solutions to the identified problem and then try out their comfort level in implementing the solution. In the process participants can realize the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed solutions, and may discover new facets of the problem. [my emphasis]
Could we have achieved this in other ways? Most probably, but I would argue that we may not have done so as quickly! The level of commitment of the group members was highly apparent. And, as one member stated, this process (of using role plays) was real and authentic! So too, as a facilitator in this process, I was mindful of the vulnerability of the actors as much as of the group members. It is necessary to ensure the space remains a safe one in which all can explore and confront the issues at hand, in ways that best suit them. To juggle such interactions is tricky and group protocols are necessary to have in place beforehand, so all can respect the space and its purpose ahead of such emotive interactions.
Such is the emergent and liminal nature of participatory action research!