Assimilation of public policy concepts through role-play: Distinguishing rational design and political negotiation

F.P. Wagenaar, R. Willemse, P. Bots

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


One important objective of introductory courses in public administration is to sensitize students to the difference between two concepts: substantive rationality and political rationality. Both types of rationality play an important role in policy processes. Yet, although the difference is straightforward in theory, and is addressed and well-illustrated in most standard textbooks on public administration, students seem to have difficulty internalizing it. This article reports on our findings from a role-playing game designed to make students experience the difference between policy making as a process of rational design and policy making as a process of political negotiation. We conducted an experiment involving a large group of students enrolled in a first year, one-semester course, and a control group of students who enrolled in the same course 1 year later. The former were tested four times (start of the course, immediately before and after playing the game, and 3 months later) and the latter two times (at the start of the course and at the exam) for their understanding of how policy making-as-rational-design and policy making-as-political-negotiation differ on seven characteristics. Comparison of test results obtained before and after the role-play indicates a positive learning effect for some characteristics, and a negative learning effect for others. © 2010 SAGE Publications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)743-766
Number of pages23
JournalSimulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory, Practice and Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Assimilation of public policy concepts through role-play: Distinguishing rational design and political negotiation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this