To engage students with real-world complexity, have them role play stakeholders in a controversial issue on which a decision is required.
The teaching challenge in this environmental management course was to give students an appreciation of the complexity and uncertainty of real-world decision-making, and the importance of a participatory approach and conflict resolution techniques.
Each student took on one of 21 stakeholder positions on the issue of local water resources management (highly topical in Australia at the time).
They first prepared and posted online a position paper for their stakeholder (eg dryland farmer, aboriginal representative, independent scientist, agribusiness, fisheries), using a common information base and other resources they found for themselves. They then posted one question from their own position to each of the other stakeholders played by other students in their group.
Finally, meeting face-to-face, the students, in role, presented their position again, responded to the trickiest question they had been posed, and then attempted to reach a consensual decision.
[Gary Brierley, Mick Hillman, Elizabeth Devonshire, Leigh-Anne Funnell]
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