Who debriefs whom after a simulation?

One of the topics we covered at TLC at the weekend was the difficulty of debriefing after a simulation game. Gavin Mount (of New South Wales University in Australia [NB his hair’s not that wild in real life]) highlighted the perils of this, as part of his paper about the normative underpinnings of games.

Gavin’s argument was, roughly, that it’s easy to build in normative views of the world into our games: certainly, I’ve have pushback from students about my austerity game and why states have to cut budgets at all. That problem then can extend into debriefing.

Gavin suggested that this part of the process can often take the form of the instructor telling the students what they have learnt and what it’s all ‘about’, pushing them to cleave to our interpretation of both the game and the real world.

I found this interesting because it’s not been how I approach the debrief.

My starting point has always been that a simulation is a lived experience and as a result there is no one objective interpretation of what has happened, only the multiplicity of subjective interpretations of the players and the observers. Even with very close observation, one cannot really know all that has gone on, nor what meaning another person has given to it.

Therefore, my debrief is about me finding out what the participants have done and thought, rather than telling them what they should have done or thought. The key question for me is always “what have you learnt?”

How common the two models of debrief are is very unclear, so comments are welcome on this, but the debate is an interesting one, that deserves further consideration.

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