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Morven Pringle's design narrative: Using Forum theatre to reduce conflict

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Morven Pringle
2 April 2013


I was invited to deliver some staff development to an F.E. college that was trying to introduce annual performance reviews. There was an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion from college staff in relation to these reviews as there were a number of fears associated with performance review per se. This opportunity had arisen through the staff development  director of the college in question who was looking for an innovative way to engage the staff in a dialogue.


The staff development took place in a large carpeted room and was delivered to a good cross section of the college staff in a couple of sessions. The staff comprised both teachers and management from part time temporary lecturers to the Principal. This Forum theatre approach was introduced as there had been a great deal of resistence to the concept of annual review from both teaching staff and various layers of management. There were three of us delivering the theatre workshop. One person was the facilitator and the other two were actors. The advantage we had over all other outside organisations delivering this type of training was that we already worked in different colleges and knew exactly what all the problems and issues would be so there was a real authenticity in the acting of the various situations. Forum theatre works by taking scenarios that are directly related to the problems the audience are facing and enacting them. The situations go badly with the protagonist unable to have their 'voice' listened to by those who are in power. The scenarios are repeated and replayed exactly the same as the first time around and the audience are invited to take the place of the protagonist if they have a solution to the problem. The idea is that a dialogue is created and that people have the chance to explore other possibilities. It is important that the facilitatator leads the process and that all of the participants are treated with respect and equality. 



The task was to explore some of the difficult issues surrounding the performance review and to engage all of the staff in a productive dialogue. From our perspective we had access to the evaluation feedback forms that the staff completed and we could see that the response was completely positive from all of the participants. We knew from the response to the activities that the training session had been very well received as everyone was very engaged with it during the whole process but the additional evaluation forms confirmed this.


Before we planned anything we got a clear idea of the problems and issues from the staff development director and the steps that the college had already taken in terms of training and work around this issue. After gathering information about the likely participants and the outcomes that were desired we carefully planned the activities between us and brainstormed all of the possible scenarios. When the staff were gathered there was an initial mixed atmosphere from various individuals on a scale from very hostile to very receptive. Our facilitator who is very experienced in using this technique very quickly won round the audience and as soon as the first scenario was enacted the audience became completely engaged. The senior management were surprised by the level of engagement, openness and honesty and reported later that they had found the whole session very useful.


We met our objectives and our college was paid a fee which we used towards  our commercial target. The evidence was in the participation of the staff and the feedback. In terms of the introduction of the performance review it enabled the management to make some adjustments to the proposed documentation to allow staff to engage with it.



This experience reaffirmed to me  the power of theatre to engage with people and the value of Forum theatre in changing from a monologue to a dialogue

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Hannah Hawkins
9:35am 4 April 2013

Your design narrative caught my eye as it totally contrasts what I do as an e-learning developer. I note that you worked with the director to brainstorm the scenarios to use in the workshop: did these prove to be realistic examples, or did they change at all during the delivery? I am just wondering because we often use scenario-based learning in our e-learning courses, but these tend to come from examples given by the learners themselves.

Morven Pringle
12:15pm 4 April 2013

Hi Hannah

Thanks for responding. The scenarios were totally realistic as we as actors and facilitator also work in the F.E. environment and so are 'insiders'  The nature of Forum theatre is for the scenarios to change with the participation of the audience/learners. The quality of the initial scenarios need to be such that the audience will engage and be interested in taking part. I am interested in how you use the scenario-based learning in your e-learning courses and how you get the examples from your learners. Can you explain this some more please?



Hannah Hawkins
8:02am 9 April 2013

Hi Morven,

As an example, we recently produced an e-learning course on customer service for our call centre staff, specifically on how to deal with 'difficult' customers. We spoke to the team leaders and staff directly to get their accounts of difficult situations they have had to deal with in the past. We would then tell a 'story' within the course where the user is taking one such call and has to decide the next course of action by selecting from a series of responses. Each response would lead to a different outcome to help them understand the potential consequences.

Louise Worsley
11:28am 6 April 2015

I too was caught by the description of your narrative.

I love the approach and am now trying to relate it back to the ideas 'grounded in evidence'.   Here is my attempt - would you agree?

  • The theatre approach was right for this because you needed to create the space for surfacing of concerns and issues prior to the group engaing in constructive dialogue.
  • The theatre approach (as Hannah suggests) allows for people to tell the story and identify the conseuqences of any particular actions taken

Do you think the theatre approach is better than a simple facilitated session?

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