Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.6, 696-707
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciR e s .
Evaluating the Use of Role Playing Simulations in Teaching
Negotation Skills to University Students
John Andrew, John Meligrana
School of Urban and Regional Pl a n n ing, Queen’ s University, Kingston, Canada
Received June 2nd, 2012; revised July 5th, 2012; accepted July 18th, 2012
This paper critically evaluates the use of role-playing simulations in a negotiation course taught to gradu-
ate students. The course consisted primarily of a series of simulations involving the alternative dispute
resolution (ADR) processes of negotiation, facilitation and mediation. Data were obtained from two sets
of questionnaires completed by 41 students before and after the course. A review of previous research re-
veals that despite the widespread use of role-playing simulations in education, there has been very little
empirical evaluation of their effectiveness, especially in conflict resolution and planning. Comparison of
the data acquired from the two surveys generated findings regarding student understanding of ADR proc-
esses and key issues in conflict resolution; the educational value of simulations; the amenability of types
of planning and planning goals to ADR; appropriate learning objectives; the importance of negotiation
skills in planning; challenges in conducting effective simulations; the value of simulations in resolving
real conflicts; the utility of negotiation theory; and obstacles to applying ADR to planning disputes. More
generally, the paper concludes that role-playing simulations are very effective for teaching negotiation
skills to students, and preparing them to manage actual conflicts skillfully and to participate effectively in
real ADR processes. However, this technique is somewhat less valuable for teaching aspects of planning
other than conflict resolution. Surprisingly, prior experience with simulations had no significant influence
on the responses to the pre-course survey. Also surprising was the lack of a significant correlation be-
tween final exam scores and responses to relevant questions on the post-course survey.
Keywords: Role-Playing Simulations; Negotiation Skills; University Students
The educational use of role-playing simulations has become
popular in many diverse fields. However, few, if any areas of
instruction have adopted this modality of teaching to the same
extent as conflict resolution. So ubiquitous has this technique
become in this field that a course on negotiation or mediation
that did not employ at least some component of simulation would
stand out to participants as unusual and would likely be perceived
as lacking credibility. Since the success of negotiation and me-
diation depends in large part on complex interpersonal dynam-
ics, simulations are extremely valuable to illustrate concepts fi rst
introduced at a theoretical level but only fully grasped through
“learning by doing” (Schön, 1983).
Despite the widespread use of role-playing simulations in edu-
cation, there has been very little empirical evaluation of the
effectiveness of this style of learning. While most educators
accept the unique contribution that simulations make to learn-
ing in a broad range of fields, published literature addressing its
merits has been predominantly descriptive and anecdotal.
The purpose of this paper is to critically and empirically eva lu -
ate the use of role-playing simulations, based on two question-
naires completed by 41 Master’s level students enrolled in a short
(four weeks) course on negotiation. The course co nsisted prim ar -
ily of a series of role playing simulations involving negotiation,
facilitation and mediation. One questionnaire was administered
just before the course began and the second at the end of the
final session. The survey results are used to examine the effec-
tiveness of the simulations from the perspective of the student,
in terms of benefits accruing from this teaching device, st re ngt hs
and weaknesses of various aspects of the simulations, and the
appropriateness of simulations to various components of plan-
ning education. Three types of statistical analysis are applied to
these data: comparing the pre- and post-simulations responses,
comparing the responses of students with and without prior
experience with role-playing simulations, and testing for corre-
lation between responses to selected questions and scores on the
final examination for the course.
Previous Research
Role playing has long been recognized as an effective means
of learning in various fields, especially those reliant on inter-
personal relations (Krause & Amaral, 1994). Innes and Booher
(1999; Meligrana & Andrew, 2003) also point out that simula-
tion is a legitimate tool of analysis. Yet, there has been very l i tt le
published research on the advantages of using simulations in an
educational setting, nor on evaluating their effectiveness (Kr aus e
& Amaral, 1994; Petranek et al., 1992). This section summar iz es
previous research regarding role-playing and simulation games.
It begins with a description of th e commonly held beliefs reg ar d-
ing the benefits of simulations and a review of the scant empir i-
cal research into these beliefs. The discussion then turns to how
simulation s ha ve re po rte dly been use d t o teac h pl anni ng a nd nego -
Educational Value of Role-Playing Simulations
Contributions that simulations can make to teaching that are
frequently cited include easier learning of subject matter (espe-
cially complex concept s) ( Walford, 1981); better long-term recall
of material learned (Innes & Booher 1999; Petranek et al., 1992;
Randel et al., 1992, Walford, 1981); greater student interest,
motivation and enjoyment (Randel et al., 1992; Walford, 1981);
the fostering of a more appropriate teaching environment (Wal-
ford, 1981); and the improved development of problem-solving
skills (Walford, 1981 ). Nightinga le (198 1) believes that the va lue
of simulations and games as teaching tools lies in their empha-
sis on decision making processes and the myriad of human
factors that influence them. They also appropriately capture the
concept of the uncertainty of the outcomes of these processes.
However, the literature offers little empirical evidence to sup-
port these claims (Walford, 1981). Much of the published evalua-
tion of simulations and games is descriptive and anecdotal, with
a few notable exceptions (Randel et al., 1992). Early research
(e.g. Cherryholmes, 1966) found no evidence that simulations
are more effective than other forms of learning. A decade later,
Pierfy (1977) reviewed 22 evaluations of the effectiveness of
simulations and games and concluded that simulations are nei-
ther better nor worse than other methods of teaching. The ex-
ception was that simulations are better at changing attitudes and
stimulating participant interest. More recent research (e.g. Bre-
demeier & Greenblat, 1981; Fost er et al., 1980; Hankinson, 1987)
suggests that simulations may provide better behavioural, cog-
nitive and affective learning, and subjective understanding of
social issues. Randel et al. (1992) compared the effectiveness of
46 cases of simulations or games reported in the social sciences
(which would include planning) literature with traditional class-
room teaching. They found that in 33 (or 72 percent) of the ca s e s
there was no significant difference in the instructional effec-
tiveness of the two methods. In ten cases (22 percent), simula-
tions/games were more effective, while the re maining three cas e s
favoured conventional methods.
Debriefing Simulations
Most of the literature (e.g. Dolin & Susskind, 1992; Ryan
2000; Walford, 1981) maintains that a well-structured debrief-
ing session with the participants is an essential component of an
effective role-playing simulation. Debriefing refers to the dis-
cussions among the participants about what occurred during the
simulation, and what lessons may be gleaned from the experi-
ence. Such discussions are usually led by the instructor, using a
set of questions to stimulate and guide the dialogue. Krause and
Amaral (1994) observe that it is essential to evaluate the effec-
tiveness of any role-playing exercise by carrying out a post -sim-
ulations evaluation. This is often done in conjunction with a
post-game debriefing, in which most of the learning usually
occurs (Krause & Amaral, 1994). Although Krause and Amaral
(1994) carried out such a formal evaluation of a simulation
debriefing with students, Randel et al. (1992) observe that there
has been to date no systematic analysis of the education merits
of simulations with and without post-simulations debriefing.
Bredemeier and Greenblat (1981) and Szafran and Mandolini
(1980) provide empirical evidence to support their dissenting
opinion that debriefing does not enhance learning.
Use of Simulations in Teaching Planning
Innes and Booher (1999) argue that role-playing simulations
can be useful to train planners t o act in a more cooperative, c on-
sensus-based manner. It helps planners to think more creatively,
and to respond more flexibly to unforeseen and complex circu m-
stances. However, simulations are unlikely to be effective u nle ss
carefully integrated into a program of study which includes other,
more didactic modes of learning (Innes & Booher, 1999).
The use of simulations has considerable potential to remedy
what Baum (1997) and others identify as a significant weakness
of most university planning programs that was identified by B a u m
(1997) and others (e.g. Friedmann & Kuester, 1994; Sawicki,
1988). This result in many graduates being inadequately pre-
pared to enter the profession, they argue. Furthermore, most
programs equate planning “methods” with the more academic
activities of analysis and research, rather than t he i mportant skills
of communicating and interacting effectively with others, and
using knowledge to influence others. Although Baum does not
call them such, the latter are essentially negotiation skills. Le ar n-
ing them requires hands-on training, which most programs lack,
but which the inclusion of simulations as a teaching tool could
provide. As Baum (1997: p. 182) writes: “It is impossible to
learn to practice planning without practicing: trying out ways of
acting, analyzing the results, designing new actions at least as
likely to produce desirable results, and so forth.” Shepherd and
Cosgriff (1998) agree with Baum that academic teaching of
planning poorly prepares students for careers as planners. What
students lack, they believe, are well-developed problem-solving
skills. They endorse “problem-based learning” (which in other
fields such as medicine often includes role-playing simulation)
to correct this deficiency.
Simulations could also help students learn about the “ethical,
intellectual, emotional, and practical predicaments” (Baum, 1997:
p. 185) that are fundamental to planning, and give them the
opportunity for the necessary post-experience reflection on
their actions and behaviours. Use of simulations (especially the
post-simulations briefing session) in teaching is consistent with
Schön’s (1983, 1987) seminal writings on the “reflective practi-
tioner”. Schön refers to knowledge gained through the process
of problem-solving as “procedural knowledge” or “knowing-
in-action”. More conventional methods of teaching emphasize
the less important “declarative knowledge”: knowing what we
know without knowing how to employ that information.
Dolin and Susskind (1992) discuss the use of simulations not
to teach planning, but to assist disputants in actual planning dis-
putes. Parties that are reluctant to come to the bargaining table
may be willing to participate in a simulation of the conflict in
which they are embroiled. There are examples of this applica-
tion of simulation, in which it was successful in convincing the
disputants that negotiation had the potential to resolve their dis-
pute by allowing the parties to each satisfy their principal inter-
ests. Dolin and Susskind (1992) examine one such case, in w h ich
simulation catalyzed disputants in a contentious national energy
policy issue to engage in a large-scale consensus-building exer-
cise, which ultimately resolved the conflict. Several of the more
popular commercially distributed simulations in the planning f ie ld
were originally created to educate parties in actual disputants.
One example is the “Harborco” game used in this course, which
was designed by the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program in
the early 1980s to assist disputants in a long-standing contro-
versy over the proposed construction of a deepwater port in the
Lower Delaware Bay.
The only example the authors found of the evaluation of the
use of role-playing simulations to teach planning was Kra use and
Amaral (1994). They ran and evaluated a harbor management
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 697
simulation to teach about public participation methods in plan-
ning. They also correlated student opinions of the simulation ( su ch
as their satisfaction and its effectiveness as a teaching tool) with
their exam scores (as did we). However, Krause and Amaral
(1994) only looked at student perceptions of the simulation
(measured by a few variables only), their level of participation
and their performance on the exam. They found that students
who actively participated in the simulations performed better on
the exam. The degree to which the students engage themselves
in the simulation is important because there is evidence that this
correlates well with the amount learned (Petranek et al., 1992).
Krause and Amaral also found that both the exam scores and a
brief post-simulations survey of student satisfaction indicated
that the simulation had been successful.
Use of Simulations in Teaching Negotiation
One application of role-playing simulations that has become
fairly common is in teaching negotiation. However, there has
been very little discussion in the literature about how to teach
negotiation effectively. Lewicki (1986 ) believes th at r ole -pla yin g
simulations are effective in teaching students how to be good
negotiators because developing these skills requires both aca-
demic training and the development of a set of behavioural skills.
Simulations provide the instructor with the opportunity to com-
bine teaching of theory with students actually practicing with
various behaviours (Lewicki, 1986). However, Schultz (1989)
is critical of most negotiation training programs for not basing
their instruction on the well-established body of theory on the
subject. Simulations allow participants to experiment with vari-
ous negotiation styles and techniques, and to receive feedback
from others in a low-risk environment where there is no actual
dispute or any relationships at stake (Lewicki, 1986). A search
of the literature for evaluations of negotiation role-playing si mu-
lations revealed a single example. Schultz (1989) studied four
negotiation training programs (throughout North America), and
found that none monitored the extent to which the graduates were
effective conflict re solvers. All measured the success of their p ro-
gram solely on the basis of que stionnaires comple ted by stude nt s
immediately on completion of the course, in which the success
of the simulation was measured only by the students’ satisfac-
tion with the course.
In summary, despite widespread acceptance of role-playing
simulations as a teaching tool in a broad spectrum of fields, th e r e
is a clear need for empirical evaluation of their strengths and
weaknesses. Th is is par t icul arl y tru e in th e fi elds of con fli c t resolu-
tion and planning, which the cou rse on which this study is bas ed
attempte d t o fuse .
Five role-playing simulations were conducted in the course,
which consisted of seven sessions in four weeks and was taught
by the primary author. The simu lations were all purchased from
Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation Clearinghouse.
All were known by the instructor to be effective, frequently-run
simulations dealing with urban planning issues. Three of the s im u -
lations involved negotiation and one each dealt with the nego-
tiation-based processes of facilitation and mediation. These are
the three principal processes comprising Alternative Dispute
Resolution (ADR), a spectrum of voluntary, negotiation-based
processes in which representatives of the parties to a current or
potential dispute meet together for collaborative problem solv-
ing and consensus building, with the goal of achieving a mutu-
ally acceptable resolution. The processes are intended to be less
adversarial alternatives to traditional conflict resolution pathw ays.
Negotiation is simply face-to-face consensus building between
parties working co-operatively to achieve a mutually acceptable
resolution, without the services of a neutral party such as a
facilitator or mediator. Neither the facilitator nor the mediator
has the authority to impose a settlement on the disputants, but
they differ in their degree of involvement in the consensus bu il d-
ing process. The facilitator is a process manager whose man-
date is limited to procedural issues. Mediators likewise deal wi th
procedural matters; in addition, they shuttle ideas and offers ba ck
and forth between the parties, help each party to formulate pro-
posals that are more likely to be acceptable to the others, par-
ticipate in the generation of creative options, and assist in writ-
ing the final agreement. The mediator may provide each party
with a confidential and independent assessment of its position
early in the mediation process, as well as help it to see the true
interests underlying its positions.
The first simulation, called “Bradford Development,” was a
two-party negotiation about a single issue: a proposed “linkage”
payment that a municipal government would charge developers
to compensate for impacts of development on infrastructure and
housing. The conflict and settlement reached c oncerned the m a g-
nitude of the payment. Students negotiated in pairs (represent-
ing the city and the developer), four to a game, with ten differ-
ent games running simultaneously. The next simulation, “Ne-
gotiated Development at Redstone,” was also a two party nego-
tiation with four participants to a game. Representatives of a
developer and a neighbourhood group negotiated two variables
of a proposed condominium development. Each party was allo-
cated a performance score based on the values of the two vari-
ables in the agreement. “Harborco” was a five issue, scorable
negotiation over the proposed construction of a deepwater port.
Seven games ran simultaneously, with six parties in each. “A
Development Dispute at Menehune Bay” was a seven party
facilitation (including facilitator), with five different games. It
involved three issues associated with the proposed development
of a resort hotel. It was partially scorable, in that performance
was judged by ranked priorities rather than points that could be
summed. The final simulation was a three issue, scorable me-
diation over a proposed homeless shelter, called “Westville.” It
involved three parties (including mediator) playing thirteen sim-
ultaneous games.
In general, the simulations increased in complexity as the course
progressed (as suggested by Lewicki, 1986). The number of
parties (or roles) in each simulation ranged from two to seven.
Therefore the number of simulations being carried out simulta-
neously varies inversely with the number of roles in each, to
allow each student to participate in each simulation. Multiple
rooms were available to allow each simulation to be carried out
essentially in i so la ti on.
A set of readings compiled by the instructor was a mandatory
component of the course. There were approximately three short
readings selected for each session, intended to provide theoretic al
background on negotiation prior to seeing various principle s and
lessons applied in practice in the simulations. Therefore, stud en ts
were advised to have read them prior to each session. Prior to
the commencement of the course, student s were required to hav e
read Fisher, Ury and Patton’s (1991) popular book Getting to
Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving in.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
Data for this study were obtained from two sets of question-
naires completed by all 41 students in the course: the first in the
few days prior to the course beginning, and the second at the
end of the final session. The questionnaires combined three t y pe s
of questions: ordinal, ranking, and open-ended. Ordinal ques-
tions asked the students to respond to the question by choosing
an item from a five point ordinal scale, ranging from excellent
to poor, or from strongly agree to strongly disagree, or ext r e me l y
important to unimportant.
Ranking questions asked respondents to rank-order the im-
portance of five items (e.g. learning objectives), from one for
the most important to five for the least important. For most of
the first two types of questions, the number of responses was
between 39 and 41. For a very few questions, there were 37 or
38 responses. Open-ended questions asked respondents to write
in answers (e.g. identify other learning objectives not in the list
of five in the ranking question). For all but one of the questions,
the number of responses ranged from 10 to 33, and averaging
20. The one exception was the final question on the pre-simula-
tions questionnaire, which invited comments on any aspects of
the simulations not already covered.
The only question that differed from these types was the first
question of the pre-simulations survey, which asked the stud ents
if they had participated in any type of role-playing simulation
of a conflict resolution process before. This question was asked
for two reasons. The first was to test whether experience with
simulations prior to this course influenced respondents’ an-
swers to questions on the pre-simulations survey, compared to
respondents lacking prior experience. The second was to de-
termine whether the simulations in the course were still of edu-
cational value to students with prior experience. Based on prior
experience and discussions with students, it was assumed (cor-
rectly) that a significant number of students would have prior
The pre-simulations questionnaire contained 26 questions;
the post-simulations 33. To permit the researchers to use be-
fore-after comparisons to evaluate the educational contributions
of the simulations, 25 of the questions were common to both
questionnaires, with slight wording changes to match the timing
of the questionnaire. One question was unique to the pre-simu-
lations questionnaire; and eight to the post-simulations.
After the questionnaires were completed by the students, the
responses to the ordinal and ranking questions were coded and
entered into a database. For the ordinal questions, the chosen
response was coded from one to five. A value of one was as-
signed to the first choice, which was also the most positive (e.g.
“excellent”, “strongly agree” or “extremely important”). A va lue
of five was assigned to the least positive choice. In other words,
a lower value was usually “better.” The open-ended responses
were transcribed and grouped by question. The Statistical Pack-
age for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to generate fre-
quency tables, means and standard deviations for the ordinal
and ranking data. Statistical analysis was applied to some of the
ordinal an d ranking data, whe re visual inspection of the freq ue nc y
tables and means suggested that there might be significant as-
sociations between relevant pairs of data. In these cases, statis-
tical tests were used to detect the followin g conditions:
Whether there was a significant difference between the “be-
fore” and “after” responses to the 25 questions common to both
Whether there was a significant difference in the survey re-
sponses and scores on the exam taken at the end of the course
of students with prior experience with role-playing simulations
and those without.
Whether there was a correlation between exam scores and
responses to nine of the ordinal questions on the post-simulations
The before/after comparisons (1 above) employed the Wil-
coxon test for the ordinal questions and the t test for the ranked
For the prior experience/no prior experience comparisons (2
above), the data were first sorted according to whether the re-
spondent had previously participated in a role-playing simula-
tion of a conflict resolution process (Question 1 on the pre-sim-
ulations survey). Frequency tables of the responses to each sub-
sequent ordinal and ranked question on the pre-simulations sur-
vey were produced for each of the two set of respondents, along
with means and standard deviations. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov
test was then applied to the data for each pre-simulations ques-
tion, to detect any significant differences between the answers
of each set of respondents.
Spearman correlation analysis was applied for comparing the
exam scores to the other relevant questions (3 above).
For all tests, the null hypothesis was that there is no signifi-
cant difference between the two sets of data. This was rejected
only if the p value was calculated to be less than a probability
level of .05. For the Wilcoxon test, this equated to rejection of
the null hypothesis when the z score is in the range of –1.96 to
+1.96. Rejection of the null hypothesis allowed us to reasona-
bly conclude that the two sets of data are statistically different.
This section summarize s the key findings generate d from a n al y-
sis of the responses to the pre- and post-simulations question-
naires. This analysis includes meaningful patterns observed in
the data; as well as statistical analysis comparing the responses
contained in the two sets of questionnaires, comparing the re-
sponses of students wit h prior experience with negotiation s imu-
lations to those without, and testing for significant associations
between course exam scores and relevant survey questions.
Understanding of ADR Processes
In both surveys, students were asked to assess their own level
of understanding of each of the three conflict resolution proc-
esses taught in the course: negotiation, facilitation and media-
tion. The frequencies of the responses for these three sets of
questions, with their means and standard deviations, are shown
in Table 1. Also shown are the results of the Wilcoxon test for
association between the pre- and post-simulations responses in
each pair of questions. The Wilcoxon test employs the raw data
on each respondent’s answer, rather than the grouped data in th e
frequency table. In other words, it compares each person’s pre-
and post-simulations respon ses. For all three pairs, the Wilc oxo n
test indicated a statistically significant difference between the
way in which the sa me set of respondents an swered each of t hese
three questions before and after their participation in the role-
playing simulations. Overall, respondents rated their underst and-
ing of each of these three conflict resolution processes signifi-
cantly higher at the end of the course than before. Both pre- and
post-simulations, negotiation was the best understood by the
students, and facilitation the least. While the means indicate th at
the change in level of student understanding was slightly gre ater
for negotiation, the Wilcoxon results suggest that facilitation
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 699
Table 1.
Students’ levels of understanding of ADR processes.
Responden ts’ Level o f Understa nd ing of …
Negotiations Facilitation Mediation
Survey R esponse
Before After Before After BeforeAfter
Excellent 0 7 0 4 0 4
Very Good 2 21 0 18 1 21
Good 16 11 14 16 17 12
Fair 18 0 24 1 18 2
Poor 4 0 3 0 5 0
Total 40 41 41 41 41 39
Mean 3.60 2.10 3.73 2.36 3.66 2.31
Std. Dev. .7442 .6804 .5926 .7066 .7283.7310
Diff. in Mean –1.50 –1.37 –1.38
t Test Z Sc ore –4.656 –4.676 –4.491
t Test p Value .000 .000 .000
enjoyed a slightly larger gain in student understanding. Both
methods indicate that mediation had the smallest gains in stu-
dent understanding. It was expected that the greatest improve-
ment would be in facilitation, since it is traditionally the least
familiar of the three processes to those with no conflict resolu-
tion experience. A fairly good prior understanding of negotia-
tion was anticipated, and in fact it was slightly better than for
facilitation and mediation. However, since three of the five simula-
tions involved negotiation, thi s is likely responsi ble for this AD R
method seeing the largest gains (as measured by means) in stu-
dent understanding.
Overall Educational Value of Simulations
The finding that respondent s believed that the simulation s sig -
nificantly improved their understanding of negotiation, facilita-
tion and mediation is consistent with their high appraisals of the
overall educational value of the simulations. Although this asse-
ssment improved slightly after the course (mean of 2.05; s li ght ly
less than “very good”), t he students also anticipated that the s i mu -
lations would be valuable for learning (mean of 2.10). It was
apparent that there was no significant difference between the
pre- and post-simulations responses. It is noteworthy that this is
in contrast to the relatively large changes in students’ levels of
understanding of all three conflict resolution processes.
Respondents were asked (on the post- simulations survey o nly )
to rank the five role-playing simulations used in the course
according to their educational value (1 for the most valuable to
5 for the least). These results are shown in Table 2. The highest
and lowest ranked simulations were both negotiations. Although
the clearest trend appears to be that students felt that simula-
tions with a greater number of roles or parties were the best,
this is likely confounded by the Harborco and Menehune Bay
simulations (with six and seven parties, respectively) also being
the best designed of the five, which meant they ran more smoothly.
Students seemed quite sensitive to how well each simulation
functioned, and this was reflected in their level of satisfaction.
The three negotiation simulations had an overall mean of
3.05, compared to the facilitation mean of 2.38 and the media-
tion mean of 3.38. Therefore, this ranking of facilitation as hav-
ing the greatest educational value and mediation the least was
completely consistent with the Wilcoxon test results for the
respondents’ level of understanding of the three conflict resolu-
tion processes. However, these findings are quite uncertain, given
that there was only one simulation for each of facilitation and
Table 2.
Perceived educational val ue of the five simulations.
Simulation Type MeanRank
Bradford de v elopment Negotiatio n 4.08 5
Development at redsto n Negotiation 3.11 3
Harborco Negotiation 1.97 1
Development dispute menuhune bay Facilita ti on 2.38 2
Westville Mediation 3.38 4
Following up on the preceding question, students were asked
(in an open-ended question on the post-simulations survey only)
to indicate what was particularly valuable about the simulation
to which they had assigned the top rank. Comments about the
overall highest-ranked “Harborco” simulation included its di-
verse interests, its emphasis on searching for common interests,
its high level of realism, its large number of interests (six par-
ties) and issues, and its provision of opportunities to form coa-
litions of parties. As one student wrote: “There were multiple
interests and it was more realistic/complicated than the others,
[which] were too constrained by the roles to be fully useful.”
Students who picked “Menehune Bay” as the most valuable
commented on its multiple parties (seven), the fact that it was
the most complex of the simulations, the involvement of a fa-
cilitator (the previous three simulations had been negotiations),
and its flexibility to invent options in order to meet as many of
the parties’ interests as possible. The latter is one of the “Get-
ting to Yes” principles. This was the first simulation in which
they were not limited to fixed options when assembling pack-
ages of agreements, which made it more realistic. According to
one student: “It was not based upon points therefore it enabled
us to expand the pie and have real reason to explore underlying
Value of Simulations in Teaching Planning Concepts
Within the same theme of the educational value of the simu-
lations, six other questions were asked on the pre- and post-
simulations surveys. Of these, two were open-ended and one
was a ranking question. Asking the students about the useful-
ness of the simulations for learning about planning yielded a
pre-simulations mean of 2.68 and a post-simulations mean of
2.85 (shown in Table 3). Both were slightly better than the
“good” response. Surprisingly, the post-simulations question-
naires were slightly less enthusiastic. Slightly more positive but
experiencing a very small change was the question whether the
simulations would help the students create better environments
as planners. As Table 4 illustrates, this question had pre- and
post-simulations means of 2.20 and 2.18, respectively; both
slightly less than “somewhat agree.” A slightly greater positive
change was observed for the question of whether the simula-
tions would/did help the students to better understand different
perspectives on urban development (present and future) held by
various stakeholders (also shown in Table 4).
This mean changed from 2.10 to 1.87, yet still remained within
the “somewhat agree” range. The slight before-after changes of
these three questions, although varying in direction, are similar
in magnitude to the very slight change already seen in the over-
all educational value question (whose mean changed from 2.10
to 2.05). The responses regarding the merits of simulations in
learning negotiation skills and substantive knowledge in plan-
ning were remarkably consistent.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
Table 3.
Usefulness of the simulations for learning about pl anning.
Pre-Simulations Post Simulations
Excellent 3 3
Very Good 14 15
Good 17 10
Fair 7 7
Poor 0 4
Total 41 39
Mean 2.68 2.85
Std. Dev. .8497 1.1364
Diff. Mean .17
Table 4.
Other merits of role-playing simulations in learning planning.
Simulations will assist in
creating better
Simulations will assist in
understanding different
perspectives on urba n d evelopment
Simulations Post-
Simulations Pre-
Simulations Post-
Agree 6 8 7 10
Agree 21 20 24 25
Neither Agree
nor disagree 14 9 9 3
disagree 0 0 1 1
disagree 0 2 0 0
Total 41 39 41 39
Mean 2.20 2.18 2.10 1.87
Std. Dev. .6790 .9423 .7002 .6561
Diff. of Mean –.02 –.23
Amenability of Types of Planning and Planning Goals
to ADR
Comparing the pre- and post-simulations surveys, there were
few differences in how respondents ranked five planning goals
according to the extent to which they could be achieved using
ADR. Although the only statistically significant change (as de-
tected by the t test) in mean ranking was observed for the goal
of “promoting and supporting planning as a profession,” its re-
duced achievability had no effect as it was already ranked fifth
on the pre-simulations survey. The only ranking change was a
switch between first and second places, with “making policies
and plans more equitable” moving to the top rank and “improv-
ing the communication of complex planning concepts” dropp ing
to the second rank. The third and fourth most achievable plan-
ning goals were “making policies and plans more efficient” and
“improving planning education”, respectively. Overall, the ex-
perience with the simulations did little to change the students’
minds about the achievability of planning goals using ADR.
The post-simulations survey asked participants to rank five
types of planning according to their amenability to the use of
negotiation-based conflict resolution processes. The results may
not be very useful as they appear to reflect the types of planning
involved in the five simulations themselves. In other words, stu -
dents ranked land use, environmental and community as the top-
three most appropriate types of planning (in decreasing order of
amenability), since these were the three types most featured in
the simulations, in roughly the same order of emphasis. The m ea n
rankings for these three items were very close together, ranging
from 2.42 to 2.61. Social and heritage planning ranked fourth
and fifth, with respective means of 3.37 and 4.13. The only
anomaly is the low ranking of social planning, since the “West-
ville” mediation dealt with the opening of a homeless shelter.
Heritage planning had a much lower mean than the other types
of planning, reflecting its very minor role in the simulations.
Learning Objectives
The students were asked, both before and after the course, to
rank five learning objectives for the simulations, according to
their importance (before) and the extent to which they were
achieved by the simulations (after). Rank one was assigned to
the most important/achieved objective and five for the least).
Table 5 shows the pre- and post-simulations means and overall
rankings of each objective. There was a considerable r e- ord eri ng
of the objectives as a result of experience with the simulations.
“Learning how to choose the most effective conflict resolution
approach to a dispute, and “learning how to determine one’s
own interests and needs in a dispute” switched places between
the second and fifth ranks. These were the only two objectives
for which the change in mean was determined to be statistically
significant by the t test. “Learning how to identify common
interests and trade-offs” and “learning how to effectively com-
municate one’s own interests and needs to other parties” experi -
enced a less dramatic place-swapping of the first and third ra nk s.
“Learning how to better understand the interests and need of
other parties” remained at the fourth rank. Clearly, the simula-
tion taught the students the importance of “interests” in nego-
tiation, with identifying common interests being of prime i mpor-
tance. Identifying and communicating one’s own interests, and
understanding the interests of other parties were of lesser im-
portance. After the course, the selection of the optimal conflict
resolution process was seen as much less important tha n be fore.
Table 5.
Ranking of importance/achievement of learning objectives by simula-
Simulations Post-
Simulations T Test
Mean Rank Mean Rankt p
To learn how to choose the most
effective conflict resolution
approach to a dispute 2.68 2 4.15 5 –4.76.00
To learn how to identify
common interests and those that
may be “traded off” 2.70 3 2.23 1 1.43.16
To learn how to determine your
own interests and needs in a
dispute 3.80 5 2.72 2 3.90.00
To learn how to effectively
communicate your own interests
and needs to other parties 2.47 1 2.79 3 –1.37.18
To learn how to better
understand the interests and
needs of other parties 3.35 4 3.03 4 1.14.26
Note: N.B. Rank of 1 re pr esents t he most important; 5 is the l east important.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 701
In both the pre- and post-simulations surveys, an open-ended
question asked respondents to identify any learning objectives
not among the five listed in the previous question. Prior to the
simulations, the answers tended to be more general, such as
learning how to negotiate to achieve one’s own objectives, dev-
eloping confidence in negotiating with others, learning to work
more productively in groups, developing greater patience, learn-
ing how to put the theory contained in the readings into practice.
Learning to concentrate on the issues in dispute rather than the
personalities involved, and how to speak more effectively and
diplomatically when negotiating were mentioned on both sur-
veys. Respondents on the post-simulations survey focused on
more specific skills developed in the simulations, such as how
to understand and utilize one’s own BATNA (Best Alternative
To a Negotiated Agreement), how to build effective coalitions
with other parties, how to effectively communicate ideas and
interests between parties, how to build consensus by generating
creative options that meet various interests, and how to develop
trust and strong relationships between parties.
Students were asked to identify the single most important thing
they expected to learn, and did learn, from the simulations (in
the pre- and post-simulations questionnaires, respectively). As
with the previous question (and some overlap with it was in-
evitable), the initial set of answers tended to be very general.
Many emulated the language of “Getting to Yes”. Typical com-
ments included: negotiation and communication skills, how to
meet one’s own needs as well as other’s needs, applying nego-
tiation theory to real life conflict situations, how to work with
difficult people to solve problems, how to persuade people, how
to listen to understand other partie s’ viewpoints, and how to ne g-
otiate without getting emotional. One comment astutely s umme d
up many students’ expectations of what they would learn from
the simulations, as “how to conduct negotiations in a manner
that produces an agreement that is mutually beneficial to all
Assessing What Was Learned
On completion of the course, students tended to identify mo re
specific skills or concepts that they had learned, compare to th eir
responses to the preceding question. Commonly mentioned ex-
amples included: the importance of discovering parties’ inter-
ests behind their stated positions, how to identify and capitalize
on common interests, how to trade-off interests for mutual ga in s,
how to determine one’s BATNA, how to effectively communi-
cate one’s interests to other parties, how to deal with emotional
situations, how to creatively invent options without committing
to them initially. One student made the interesting observation
that “honesty is the most important part of reaching a mutu-
ally-beneficial agreement.” Several others identified maturity
and listening skills as critically important features.
The post-simulations questionnaire also asked students to iden-
tify the one most important thing they learned about planning
from participating in the simulations. Many of the responses
were quite interesting. A commonly mentioned theme was that
planning disputes are more comp lex and difficult to resolve tha n
they had realized, as they often involve many stakeholders with
many seemingly-irreconcilable interests. Many involve conflicts
over values, several people noted. Several others commented on
the importance of understanding other parties’ viewpoints. An-
other frequently mentioned lesson learned was the need to gen-
erate creative options that allow trade-offs of interests to be made.
According to one respondent: “Planning is about collaboration
amongst all stakeholders”. Although the importance of foster-
ing and maintaining good relationships between parties was a
recurring theme, one person noted that: “People’s egos and pr ej u-
dices can ruin a negotiation.” One student observed that plan-
ners can seldom function as truly neutral mediators, picking up
on one of the themes of the “Westville” mediation simulation.
Finally, one student complained that s/he had not learned any-
thing about planning because the simulations were “too ficti-
tious” and they lacked sufficient background information and
the flexibility to allow players to “adapt outcomes”.
The post-simulations survey also wanted to know if the sim u-
lations helped to dispel any misconceptions previously held by
the participants. One corrected misperception that several stu-
dents mentioned was that most agreements satisfy all of the m a in
interests of the parties, i.e. they’re “win-win” (to quote an over-
used cliché). Another was that achieving a consensus agreement
is easy if you follow the “principled negotiation” process out-
lined in books such as “Getting to Yes”. Several students men-
tioned that they had underestimated the great differences between
negotiation, facilitation and mediation. One was disappointed to
discover that facilitators and mediators are not always entirely
neutral, unbiased and impartial; nor do they always enjoy the
respect of the disputants. The simulations dispelled the belief of
at least a few students that it would be relatively easy to get
everyone to engage in principled negotiation and not act in an
adversarial manner. Another had previously believed that nego-
tiation-based processes could easily control emotions, even in
volatile disputes. Finally, several students had underestimated
the importance of the BATNA concept after having read “Get-
ting to Yes”.
Importance of Negotiation Skills in Planning
Both the pre- and post-simulations results were very positive
in response to a question asking how important it is for planners
to develop effective negotiation skills. In fact, students felt that
these skills were even more important after they had completed
the course. The mean response changes slightly from 1.61 to
1.51. Although both were in the “very important” range, the
post-simulations mean was almost closer to the “extremely im-
portant” response. In fact, 23 of the 39 respondents (59 percent)
felt that negotiation skills were “extremely important” after they
had participated in the five simulations.
Logistics of Conducting Simulations
The post-simulations survey (only) asked respondents to e val u-
ate the quantity provided of three aspects of the simulations: the
preparatory information provided prior to each simulation, the
time allocated to the simulations, and the time allocated to de-
briefing the simulations. The two questions related to time were
rated on a five-point scale from far too much to far too little.
They had mean scores of 2.92 (slightly to the “too much” side
of the “just right” response), and 3.00 (exactly equal to “just
right”), respectively. The scale for the question about informa-
tion ranged from very sufficient to very insufficient. Its mean of
2.00 represented the “somewhat sufficient” response. Students
were less satisfied with the information they were given in ad-
vance the simulations than they were about the timing of the
games. Since pre-packaged simulations were used, the instruc-
tor had no control over the information provided. Although the
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 703
instructor did have some control over the timing, he generally
adhered to the timing suggested by the game designers (com-
ment about student frustration over info.).
Value of Simulations in Resolving Real Conflicts
The next set of questions common to both surveys asked re-
spondents the extent to which they agreed with four statements:
that the simulations would help them to participate effectively
in ADR processes in the future, to achieve better outcomes u si ng
these processes, to give them confidence using these processes,
and to effectively manage conflicts. The first three of these qu es -
tions (shown in Tables 6 and 7), which are all process-centred,
had similar means which experienced very slight changes (no
more than .03) between the two surveys. All of these means
ranged from 1.66 to 1.80, closer to “somewhat agree” than to
“strongly agree”. These results indicate that participation in the
simulations did very little to change students’ perceptions of h o w
this experience would help them in using ADR. The fourth q ue s-
tion (also shown in Table 8) was not focussed on ADR proc-
esses, per se. Although it too remained within the “somewhat
agree” range, its larger shift in its mean response to ward st ronger
agreement (from 2.02 before to 1.77 after) was statistically
significant, with the Wilcoxon test indicating a z score of
–2.138 and a p value of .033. Prior to the course, students be-
lieved that the simulations would be less helpful in teaching
them to effectively manage future conflicts than they would be
for learning how to use ADR processes. However, their par-
ticipation in the simulations improved their collective opinion
about conflict management to the point that it was on par with
that regarding ADR.
Table 6.
Merits of role-playing simulations in teaching effective use of ADR processes.
Simulations w i l l h elp in effe ctive partic ipation in
ADR processes in the future Simulations will assist i n achieving better ou t comes
when using ADR in the future
Pre-Simulations Post-Simulations Pre-Simulations Post-Simulations
Strongly agree 17 13 13 12
Somewhat agree 21 25 25 25
Neither agree nor disa gree 3 1 3 2
Somewhat disagree 0 0 0 0
Strongly disagree 0 0 0 0
Total 41 39 41 39
Mean 1.66 1.69 1.76 1.74
Std. Dev. .6168 .5208 .5823 .5486
Diff. of Mean .03 –.02
Table 7.
Merits of simulations in teaching effective ADR use and conflict management.
Simulations will provide confidence in using ADR
processes in the future Simulati ons will assis t in effectively managing
conflicts in the future
Pre-Simulations Post-Simulations Pre-Simulations Post-Simulations
Strongly agree 13 11 8 11
Somewhat agree 23 27 24 26
Neither ag ree nor disa gr ee 5 0 9 2
Somewhat disagree 0 1 0 0
Strongly disagree 0 0 0 0
Total 41 39 41 39
Mean 1.80 1.77 2.02 1.77
Std. Dev. .6411 .5832 .6515 .5361
Diff. of Mean –.03 –.25
Table 8.
Ranking the importance of aspects of ADR su c c e s s .
Simulations Post-
Simulations t Test
MeanRankMeanRank t p
Reducing the time requ ir ed for a sub sequent legal proces s to resolve th e disput e3.35 4 3.23 3 .32 .750
Improving the relationship between the dispu ting parties 2.40 2 2.18 2 .72 .476
Resolving some of the issues 2.33 1 2.08 1 1.38 .176
Reaching a f inal agre ement 2.65 3 3.28 4 –2.77 .009
Saving money for the disp u ting partie s 4.27 5 4.23 5 .72 .473
Note: N.B. Rank of 1 re pr esents t he most important; 5 is the l east important.
The next question asked respondents (both pre- and post-
simulations) the extent to which they believed that the simula-
tions would be/were realistic. This was related to the preceding
set of four questions, and the earlier question about the ade-
quacy of the preparatory information provided. The overall pre-
simulations mean for this question was 2.15, which was slightly
on the neutral side of “somewhat agree”. This indicates that re-
spondents were less confident about the realism of the simula-
tions than there were about any of the other merits of the simu-
lations probed in these related questions (which all had lower
means). However, the mean for this question dropped to 2.51
on the afte r-simulation que stionnaire, in contrast to the very s l ig ht
changes in the preceding four questions. In other words, after
having participated in the si mulations respondents felt they were
less realistic than they had anticipated them to be prior to the
course. The Wilcoxon test indicated that this change was not
quite statistically significant (z = .1826, p = .068).
Value of Negotiation Theory
In both sets of surveys, students were asked about the use-
fulness of the theory presented in the set of required course
readings to their participation in the simulations, and their use-
fulness in real negotiation situatio ns they will encounter as pl an-
ners. Both questions showed a small improvement in their pre-
and post-simulations means, from 2.56 to 2.49 and from 2.68 to
2.36, respectively. Although small, each change was sufficient
to switch the closest response from “good” to “very good”.
After completion of the course, students felt that the theory
contained in the readings was more useful to both the simula-
tions and to application of ADR to real conflicts than they had
before the first simulation. This fits with the fact that several
students expressed concern about the large volume of reading
prior to the course, but when asked about this following the
course reported that they had not found the reading load to be
onerous and that it had been useful and interesting.
Understanding of Substantive Issues in Conflict
Four ranking questions probed students’ understanding and
opinions about several key substantive issues in conflict resolu-
tion, both before and following the course. The first of these
asked students to rank the importance of five aspects of “suc-
cess” in an ADR process (with one being the most important).
As shown in Table 9, the only change in rankings pre- a nd po st -
simulations was a switch in the third and fourth ranks, between
“reducing the time required for a subsequent legal process to
resolve the dispute” (third rank after) and “reaching a final ag ree -
ment” (fourth rank after). This switch was largely the result of a
statistically significant decline (as indicated by the t test) in the
perceived importance of reaching agreement. This was not sur-
prising, since as people learn more about ADR, they typically
place less emphasis on the traditional measure of success of reach-
ing an agreement and recognize that there are other important
benefits that may accrue from ADR even if no final settlement
is produced, such as resolving some of the issues in dispute, i m-
proving inter-party relationships, and reducing the time required
to resolve the conflict through a subsequent process.
The second question in this set asked respondents to rank the
importance of five desirable characteristics of a facilitator or
mediator. No item changed more than one place i n rank betwe en
the pre-simulations and post-simulations surveys (see Table 9).
Table 9.
Ranking the Importance of Characte ristics of a Facilitator/Mediator.
Pre-Simulations Post-Simulations t Test
Characteristics of
facilitator/mediator MeanRank Mean Rank t p
Impartialit y and
neutrality 2.372 1.82 1 3.21.00
Substantive knowledge
in area of the dispute3.514 4.18 5 –3.09.00
Experience as a
facilitator/mediator 3.243 3.18 3 .53.59
Acceptability to each of
the parties 3.545 3.21 4 1.45.15
Listening and
communication skills2.341 2.62 2 –1.45.15
Note: N.B. Rank of 1 re pr esents t he most important; 5 is the l east important.
Three items experienced small changes to their mean responses.
Larger changes were seen in “impartiality and neutrality”, w hich
improved its ranking from second to first (changing places with
“listening and communication skills”); and in “substantive knowl-
edge in the area of the dispute”, which dropped from the fourth
rank to the fifth (switching with “acceptability to each of the
disputing parties”). These changes were confirmed by the t test
to be statistically significant. Impartiality/neutrality and substan-
tive knowledge were both themes addressed in the simulations.
Apparently, students learned the critical importance of the for-
mer, and came to understand that facilitators and mediators can
be effective without previously being experts in the specific s ub-
ject area of the dispute.
The third question involved ranking five characteristics of a
dispute that make it amenable to resolution using ADR. The hi g h-
est ranking two characteristics experienced very small changes
between the two surveys, and did not change positions (see
Table 10). They were “a good working relationship between
the disputing parties, or the need to develop one” (ranked first);
and “multiple issues that the parties value differently, allowing
them to make trade-offs” (ranked second). The remaining three
items all experienced statistically significant changes within the
lowest three rankings. “An impasse having been reached in a
previous attempt at conflict resolution” moved from fourth to
third, “the impending start of a less desirable conflict resolution
process (e.g. a trial date)” ascended from fifth to fourth, and “a
relatively small number of di sputing parties” dropped from t hird
to fifth place . It is int erestin g th at a lthough the simul ations changed
respondents’ opinions about the dispute characteristics they felt
were less important, they had little effect on interparty relation-
ships and issues valued differently, which were seen as most
important. For the latter two, either students possessed prior
knowledge about the amenability of disputes to ADR (which is
unlikely), or the simulations did not contribute much to their
knowledge in this area.
The fourth and final question in this set asked students to ran k
the relative importance of five principles of negotiation pur-
ported in “Getting to Yes”. This question experienced the op-
posite set of changes to the preceding question. The only statis-
tically significant changes (confirmed by the t test and shown in
Table 11) were in the first and second ranked principles, which
switched positions. “Focus on interests, not positions” moved
up to first place (with its mean ranking changing from 2.22 to
1.56), while “separate the people form the problem” dropped to
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
Table 10.
Ranking imp ortance of dispute characteristics for amenability to ADR.
Simulations Post-
Simulations t Test
Characteristics of Dispute MeanRank Mean Rank t p
An im
asse having been reached
in a previous attempt
at conflict resolution 3.514 2.97 3 1.98.00
The impendin g start of a less
desirable conflict resolution
process (e.g. a trial date ) 3.695 3.13 4 2.04.05
A good work ing rela tio nship
between the di sputing parties, or
the need to de velop one 2.081 2.44 1 –1.63.11
A relatively small numbe r o f
disputing parties 3.003 3.87 5 –3.12.00
Multiple issues that the p arties
value differently, allowing them
to make trade-offs 2.692 2.64 2 .001.00
Note: N.B. Rank of 1 re pr esents t he most important; 5 is the l east important.
Table 11.
Ranking the importance of principles of negotiation in “Getting to Yes”.
Simulations Post-
Simulations t Test
Principles of Negoti ation
(Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991) MeanRank Mean Rank t p
Don’t bargain ove r pos iti on s 3.514 3. 59 4 –.33.73
Separate th e people from the
problem 2.141 2.64 2 –2.11.04
Focus on interests, not
positions 2.222 1.56 1 3.17.00
Invent options for mutual gain 3.143 3. 00 3 1.05.29
Insist on using objective
criteria 3.955 4.13 5 –.96.34
Note: N.B. Rank of 1 re pr esents t he most important; 5 is the l east important.
second (due to its mean changing from 2.14 to 2.64). In dec re as-
ing order of importance, the remaining three principles were:
“invent options for mutual gain”, “don’t bargain over positions”,
and “insist on using objective criteria”. Since the simulations
and debriefings placed fairly heavy emphasis on identifying par-
ties’ interests and attempting to capitalize on differing but com-
patible interests, it is not surprising that thi s principle wa s r a n ke d
most important in the post-simulations survey. That the least
important three principles did not change their rankings is sur-
prising, considering that all five principles were repeatedly dis-
cussed in introducing and debriefing the simulations, which m ig ht
be expected to alter the students’ perceptions about their rela-
tive importance.
Concerns and Problems Encountered with the
The pre-simulations survey asked respondents (in an open-
ended format) if they had any concerns about the upcoming
simulations. Commonly expressed concerns included that the
simulations would not be very realistic, participants would have
difficulty acting their roles or would not take the simulations
seriously, the determination of course grades would not be fair,
the workload would be too onerous, and they themselves would
not perform well in the simulations. A few students worried t hat
the simulations would not focus on planning issues, and that the
large class size and brevity of the course would not allow suffi-
cient time or instructor attention to make the simulations worth-
The corresponding question on the post-simulations survey
asked about any problems encountered in the simulations. Fre-
quently mentioned ones included some of the simulations lack-
ing sufficient background information (including independent
standards that negotiators could turn to), and some people not
adhering to the “rules of the game”. Concerns mentioned prior
to the first simulation that came to fruition as problems reported
by some included respondents feeling that they had not perfo rm ed
well in the simulations, the simulations not being realistic (due
mainly to the artificial constraint of scorable points systems in
some of the simulations), and participants ha ving difficulty “ge t-
ting into their roles”. One student expressed that “participants
had difficulty playing their assigned role without allowing any
personal biases to enter”.
Several of the “problems” that were identified on the post-
simulations survey are considered by the authors to be commonly
encountered in real negotiations, and speak to the realistic na-
ture of the simulations. These include variability in the person-
alities of the participants (especially in key areas such as asser-
tiveness, charisma and persuasiveness); and behaviours such as
stubbornness, inflexibility and even dishonesty by some nego-
tiators. These findings are consistent with the problems encoun-
tered by Lewicki (1986) in using simulations to teach negotia-
tion, although we did not observe as great a display of emotion
in our simulations as he reported. One respondent wrote: “Peo-
ple would not really listen to each other. [They were] too en-
trenched in the positions or they would even lie about their
bottom line.” One reported difficulties brainstorming to “invent
options” without criticizing. Another found it challenging com-
municating with a negotiating partner and acting as a cohesive
team. S/he wrote: “I found it difficult having a partner in my
party, because it made me reluctant to take the initiative in mak -
ing offers. When negotiating o n my own, I was much more con -
fident in taking initiatives”.
Additional Comments about the Simulations
The final question on each survey invited respondents to add
any comments a bout issue s not c overed in the questionnaire. T h e
single response on the pre-simulations questionnaire was that a
full-length (rather than a four-week module) negotiation course
should be a mandatory component of the Master’s in planning
curriculum. Several students expressed the same sentiment at
the end of the course. Nearly all of the responses were positive
comments about the course, especially regarding its usefulness
in training future planning and their high level of enjoyment. A
few students confidently looked forward to their first opportu-
nity to engage in a “real life” planning negotiation and apply
what they had learned. Others were eager to learn more about
specific areas of negotiation, such as preparing for a negotiation
and drafting a final agreement. These responses were consistent
with the feedback recei ved through t he confidential c ourse eva l ua-
tion forms. Many echoed the sentiment that the course should
be full-length, although for some their rationale was that the wor k -
load and time commitment was too heavy for a four-week mod-
ule worth one-third of a course credit. One student wrote that:
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 705
“Covering negotiation/mediation skills is very important to pl an -
ning. The module was helpful in developing these skills.” An-
other commented that “[the] simulations were excellent learning
Influence of Prior Experience with Simulations on
Student Responses
The pre-course questionnaire asked students wheth er they had
ever participated in any type of role-playing simulation of a
conflict resolution process to test whether prior experience had
any effect on the responses. Nineteen respondents indicated that
they had prior experience, and 22 indicated that they did not.
We hypothesized that for at least some of the pre-simulations
questions, there would be a difference between the responses of
those with prior experience and those without. However, prior
experience would be irrelevant to the responses on the post-
simulations survey, since by then everyone would have partici-
pated in five simulations. Visual examination of the frequency
tables and means of the pre-simulations responses suggested a
few possible differences. Differences in the mean response be-
tween the prior experience and no prior experience respondents
for each question ranged for .02 to 1.01. However, the Kolmo-
gorov-Smirnov test was run on the data for each question, and
none of the differences were revealed to be statistically signifi-
cant. This clea rly indicates that prior experience with ro le -p la y in g
simulations in conflict resolution did not influence respondents’
opinions and knowledge regarding the issues asked about in the
pre-simulations survey. This is a surprising finding. However, it
is particularly interesting when combined with the findings of
significant differences between the pre- and post-simulations sur-
veys discussed earlier. When combined, these findings suggest
that the five simulations in this course significantly changed the
knowledge, perceptions and opinions of respondents with re-
spect to some areas of inquiry, even though prior experience
with simulations had failed to do so. Of course, another factor
that may be at play is the fact that some of the respondents’
prior experience may have been very limited or some time ago,
and therefore presented the respondents with little opportunity
to learn.
Testing for Association between Responses and Exam
The final statistical analysis involved testing for an associa-
tion between each student’s score on the course exam and each
of nine questions on the post-simulations survey that were rele-
vant to evaluating knowledge acquired in the course. The exam
was a take-home exam distributed at the end of the final session,
and due 28 hours later. It accounted for 40% of the course g ra d e.
The selected questions were those asking respondents their opi n-
ions about the level of their understanding of each of the three
ADR processes (Questions 1-3 in Table 12); the overall educa-
tional value of the simulations (Question 10); the usefulness of
the simulations for teaching participants to participate effec-
tively, achieve better outcomes, have more confidence when
engaged in real ADR processes (Questions 11-13); to help par-
ticipants to manage actual conflicts more effectively (Question
13); and the importance of planners developing effective nego-
tiation skills (Question 27). The exam scores were paired with
the response data for each of the above questions in turn. A
Spearman correlation coefficient was then calculated for each
pair, to test for associations between their data. The results are
Table 12.
Testing for correlation between exam scores and 9 post-simulation
Question No. Spearman Correlation Coefficient p value
Post 1 –.055 .747
Post 2 –.066 .696
Post 3 .091 .592
Post 4 –.025 .882
Post 10 –.084 .622
Post 11 –.059 .728
Post 12 –.101 .552
Post 13 –.120 .478
Post 27 –.029 .866
shown in Table 12. Surprisingly, none of these pairings pro-
duced a statistically significant association. However, this may
be due in large part to the unusually small standard deviation of
exam scores.
These findings indicate that role-playing simulations are very
effective for teaching negotiation skills (and negotiation-based
ADR processes such as facilitation and mediation) to planning
students. Participants reported high levels of satisfaction with
the simulations, both in terms of their educational value and the
students’ enjoyment of the experience. The ability of the simu-
lation to change students’ knowledge, perceptions and opinions
is indicated by the differences in responses betwe en the pre- an d
post-simulations questionnaires for many of the areas of inquiry.
This finding regarding the effectiveness of role-playing simula-
tions in teaching negotiation is consistent with the non-empirical
conclusions of Lewicki (1986). However, no previous research
was found which specifically addressed the merits of using simula-
tions to teach negotiation skills to planning students, providing
no basis of comparison for our findings. Furthermore, none of
the evaluation criteria employed in this article were also used in
any previous studies on the effectiveness of role-playing simu-
lations in other educational settings. Thi s further precluded pla c-
ing our findings in the context of previous research.
The simulations taught students the importance of interests in
conflict resolution, especially identifying common interests, and
identifying and communicating one’s own interests. Issues that
are valued differently by different parties, and which can there-
fore be traded off, are helpful. Simulations are quite valuable in
preparing students to participate effectively in real ADR proc-
esses, both in giving them confide nce and in bringi ng about good
outcomes. More generally, they help future planners to manage
actual conflicts more skillfully. Participants found the theory
contained in the course readings to be useful and relevant in the
simulations. Two of the five principles of negotiation presented
in “Getting to Yes” were especially appropriate to these simula-
tions: “Focus on interests not positions” and “Separate the peo-
ple from the problem”.
The simulations were able to dispel the misconception that
“success” using an ADR process consists only of the achieve-
ment of a final settlement. Rather, the students learned that ot her
benefits may accrue even if agreement is not reached, such as
resolving some of the issues in dispute, lessening the duration
of time required to ultimately settle the dispute, and improving
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 707
relationships between the parties. The importance of good rela-
tionships, or a mutual desire to develop them; and the complete
impartiality and neutrality of facilitators and mediators were
revealed. Simulations involving a greater number of parties (e.g.
six or seven) and a facilitator appear to be particularly benefi-
cial as educational tools.
Simulations were found to be slightly less valuable for teach-
ing aspects of planning other than conflict resolution. In part,
this contradicted the findings of Baum (1997), Innes and Boo-
her (1999) and Krause and Amaral (1994). However, we found
ADR to be particularly useful for generating more equitable
policies and plans, improving communication of complex plan-
ning conc epts, and understanding the diverse vie wpoints of s ta ke -
holders. These negotiation-based processes seem most appro-
priate for land use, environmental and community planning. Par -
ticipants in the simulations learned that planning disputes are
often complex and difficult to resolve, especially if they involve
multiple parties and many competing interests. They also dis-
covered that disputants are not always willing or able to engage
in productive and principled negotiation.
Some potential weaknesses of using simulations in this set-
ting that were detected include the provision of in adequate ba ck-
ground information, lack of realism, difficulty of some partici-
pants to portray their roles convincingly, counterproductive (but
often realistic) behaviours (e.g. stubbornness, inflexibility and
dishonesty) by some participants, and communication problems
between members of negotiating teams.
A surprising finding was that prior experience with role-play-
ing simulations of conflict resolution processes did not influ-
ence students’ opinions and knowledge of ADR processes prior
to the course beginning. This makes the ability of the simula-
tions in this course to change students’ knowledge levels and
opinions about conflict resolution in planning more impressive,
since prior experience with simulations had failed to do so.
Finally, it was also surprising that there was no significant as-
sociation between final exam scores and any of the nine post-
simulations questions tested, which were relevant to evaluating
knowledge acquired in the course. On one hand, the students
clearly learned a great deal from the simulations; yet how they
answered selected questions at the end of the course did not
have any bearing on how they performed on the exam.
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