Role Play is the act of temporarily taking on another persona or doing something unfamiliar by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and acting and talking as they might do in a particular situation. A single person or a group can enact a role or situation.
Role Play can be used in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. It is typically used as a training exercise, e.g. acting out the role of a hygiene promoter doing a Household Visit T.18. It can be used to practise communication or other skills in a variety of situations, e.g. carrying out a hygiene promotion activity, sitting on a WASH Committee T.55, or attending a coordination meeting. It can also be used to problem solve e.g. communicating with a community member who is unwilling to use a latrine or is making a complaint. Participants can be asked to reverse their roles, taking it in turns to see a situation from different perspectives, e.g. male or female. They can enact a good and bad situation, e.g. didactic versus interactive training. Role Play can provoke discussion and unleash creative solutions to problematic issues. A Role Play usually lasts between three and ten minutes – any longer and participants can struggle to find material. Many people feel self-conscious taking on a specific role in front of others or without preparation; they may need time to familiarise themselves with the benefits of the technique. People should not be forced to Role Play if they are very uncomfortable with it. Some may feel more confident in much smaller groups or by simply imagining what might happen in a specific situation and then discussing it with others.
Role Play is often used to train WASH personnel but it can be used with community members, during meetings, or to resolve problems in a variety of contexts and response phases. Unlike theatre, it can be used spontaneously without specific tools or equipment as they can be created or visualised if required.
Clearly explain the process including the benefits e.g. the chance to practise a skill or action in a safe space
Make space to discuss how participants and observers felt in another role and what can be learned
Debrief afterwards – make it clear when the activity starts and finishes, especially if discussing difficult situations
Do not force people to take on a role if they are not comfortable with the process
Do not allow the Role Play to go on for too long before discussing the issues
Following an assessment in the Ivory Coast, Oxfam planned various WASH activities, but a community meeting revealed limited support for them. Oxfam decided that subsequent activities would be defined with the community. Leaders, key community stakeholders and Oxfam held a workshop that included a Role Play where Oxfam staff played the community and vice versa. This helped to reveal either other’s perspectives and constraints and built trust between the NGO and the community. A more ambitious project was developed as a result and the community contributed additional time and resources, leading to a very successful project.
House, S., Ferron, S. et al. (2014): Violence, Gender and WASH. A Practitioner´s Toolkit. Toolset 4-E Methodologies for Working With Communities. Pocket Chart Voting and Participatory Ranking, WaterAid, SHARE
The Bell Foundation (undated): Great Idea: Drama and Role Play