Role-play simulations are a transdisciplinary method for engaging diverse stakeholders beyond traditional policy- and decision-making communities in an informed and inclusive public debate around the governance of complex socio-environmental challenges. 

Role-plays are “as-if” experiments, in which participants are asked to take the role of a particular person in a particular situation and behave “as if” they were that person (Hendrick & Jones, 1972; Van Ments, 1983; Wakefield et al., 2012). Players, by assuming the roles of other actors, distance themselves from their own personal beliefs and develop a reciprocal understanding and acceptance of the interests and resources of their co-players (Geurts et al., 2007). Moreover, temporarily freed from everyday limitations, players become more open and creative, often entering into meaningful discussions and coming up with innovative solutions to the in-game problems (Solinska-Nowak et al., 2018). Based on our own effectiveness assessment, we found a role-play to have a high potential for fostering social learning. 

Respect workshop Lienz © Michele Lintschnig

Respect workshop in Lienz

The RESPECT role-play simulation in the context of managing climate-related risks 

The RESPECT role-play concept (Lintschnig et al., 2019) uses possible climate risk scenarios to identify a portfolio of feasible risk management measures according to different layers of risk. Risk layering involves the identification of efficient and acceptable interventions based on the recurrence of hazards and the allocation of roles and responsibilities to reduce, finance, or accept risks. The future risk scenarios are integrated into the RESPECT role-play concept in the form of storylines co-developed with key stakeholders in the study region and building on the region’s most recent climate and socioeconomic data. Storylines provide narrative descriptions of plausible pathways that lead to the development of future climate-related risks.

The RESPECT role-play concept requires players to work out the responsibilities of public- and private-sector actors with respect to different climate risk management measures provided to the participants in the form of a descriptive catalog. They then need to elaborate from the perspective of their respective role-play character, as characterized by the distributed role cards, upon the effectiveness of the adaptation measures for two contrasting risk categories that differ in their return period and in the level of stress imposed by risk (risk layering). 

The key objective of the role-play simulation in Lienz was to draw on social learning theory (Pahl-Wostl and Hare, 2004; Reed et al., 2010) in order to formulate an aligned understanding of how local risks, roles, and possible actions might be defined and shared among multiple societal actors. The project featured a co-design process which comprised a literature/media review and semi-structured key-informant interviews. This preparatory work resulted in the selection of riverine-flood risk, the most pressing climate-related risk in the case-study region, for the role-play simulation. In a next step, we worked with key stakeholders in the region to identify a broad list of potential flood risk management measures as a basis for jointly designing risk management portfolios in the role-play simulation.

The RESPECT project received funding from the Austrian Climate Research Program (ACRP).