Role Playing Royal Commission


Brief description

The class takes on the form of a Royal Commission. Students are briefed to represent the viewpoints of various interest groups over a period of weeks.

Aims and skills

To develop students' ability to work in groups, research an issue, speak in public and write a report from a particular perspective.

Courses used in

Various courses in urban geography; but suitable for any course where different groups in society will have marked differences about the approach to be adopted to a particular issue.

What the teacher does

Decide upon the issue to be investigated. This approach is particularly suitable for analysing how different interest groups formulate their courses of action on the same issue. Thus it is suited to a wide variety of political or social issues which in the 'real world' could be the subject of a Royal Commission (or Public Inquiry) see the description of an enquiry into the problems of the inner city. The method can also be used for issues of a more overtly scientific nature e.g. what are the best forms of sea defences or what are the causes of and solutions to the problems of acid rain.

Decide upon the interest groups to be represented at the enquiry. The number of interest groups will largely depend on the variety of interest groups and opinions on this issue in the 'real world' and the number of students for whom you have to find roles . Each interest group should be formed of about 2-4 people: if a group becomes larger than 4, co-ordinating the group can become difficult and some students may play a very marginal role.

Pick one student to chair the Royal Commission. This should ~ be left to student choice. Much of the success of the exercise depends upon the person playing this role. She needs to be someone liked and respected by their peers but able to act in authority. Of course you (or another member of staff) can choose to play that role but it then becomes a teacher-centred rather than a student-centred activity.

Divide students into the various interest groups in whatever way you think appropriate. It can be very valuable for students to take on a role with which they are initially not in sympathy. This can enable them to get to grips with a viewpoint they do not readily understand. However this presents a danger that they will not forcibly or convincingly argue from that position.

If students are unused to simulations then it may help initially to do various role play exercises - perhaps a colleague in the Drama or English department can assist you here?

Either provide them with reading or people to contact so they can readily represent their allotted interest group; or give them initial guidance on finding key sources. Make very clear the form and the timetable of the various presentations and reports. Be specific about the role you will take and how the exercise will be assessed.

Well before the first session of the Royal Commission meet with the chair and the other students playing the Commission. Help them to get into their role. Lay out the room to bring out the formality and form of the proceedings. After each presentation or at the end of the exercise state your grade for the presentations(s) and give your reasons.

Problems for the teacher

A poor chairman or woman can destroy this exercise. Choose that person with care and help them get into that role.

The number of presentations (with subsequent questioning) which people can take at one sitting is limited. Generally there should be no more than two groups presenting at one sitting.

Students can initially have difficulty in getting into the form and quality of presentation required. Tape or video recordings of previous Commissions can form invaluable guidance. Though you should appear to be very much in the background you should try to ensure that the first group which is presenting is a strong one. It can set the tone for what follows.

Similarly, guidance is needed on the art of skilful questioning to draw out key ideas and assumptions (the role of the Commission) and to destroy assertions and assumptions (the role of other interest groups). On the first occasion that students do this type of exercise it may be necessary to see them separately beforehand to help them to get into the form of presentation and questioning required. You may also choose to discuss this after the first session.

Perhaps the central difficulty for the teacher is to ensure you have intervened to set up the exercise and then to withdraw so that you are virtually invisible! Where you sit and how you act at the enquiry is very important. The commission and the interest groups are the centre of attention. You should find a quiet corner where you hear and see but where students can forget that you are there.


The Geography Discipline Network would like to thank the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) for permission to reproduce material from this publication.

Case Studies

GDN Home

Page updated 7 July 2000