A Role Play Guide:
Role play rules are basically simple: role plays must be focused; the objectives must be clear and understood; instructions must be clear and understood; feedback needs to be specific, relevant, achievable and given immediately. Crucial to learning and developing options of behaviour - knowing what works, what doesn't work, the range of behaviour available to an individual - is the opportunity to go back and have another go or several goes at bits of the role play and/or the whole role play. This flexibility needs judging and managing on each occasion, so as to provide a more comfortable experience, and to double the learning value. Aside from which, when you plan and run proper role play sessions, participants will often tell you they actually enjoyed the experience; that they forgot it was a role play, and found it the most powerful learning they've ever experienced.
Role Play Objective.
Be very clear about what you want people to get out of the role playing experience. Muddy thinking at the outset will result in muddy outcomes. Clear thinking and role play preparation result in clear outcomes.
Are you assessing skills or are you developing them? Are you giving everyone the same level of challenge, or are you flexing according to the level of skill demonstrated by each individual? The former is more recommended for assessment, the latter for development.
Role Play Briefing
The briefs for all sides of the role play should be unambiguous and totally in line with the objectives. Role playing briefs should contain enough information for both parties to engage in a believable and relevant conversation, which should be in line with the objectives. Give as much detail as is necessary - too little and there won't be enough to sustain a conversation, too much and people will be swamped with information, most of which they either won't need or won't remember.
Adequate preparation time may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked in the belief that it is best to get on with it. People can be encouraged to share what they are trying to achieve with observers, so it becomes a shared, facilitative exercise rather than a battle - this will also defuse fear and tension. Again, sharing objectives will help and not 'spoil' the role play.
Role Play Observation and Feedback.
Allow the other participants to observe the role play and give their comments afterwards. Observers are hugely beneficial to the participants' learning. The order of feedback should be participant or participants first (that way it's untainted by others' views; it also recruits them into their own learning experience - people 'buy in' more if they are themselves expressing what happened and why). If others give feedback and participant(s), wait till the end, they may feel they've been bombarded by a lot of 'tell', without initial space to compose their expression of what it was like to be inside the experience. It's best to hear from them without the pressure of someone else's views first which may then colour their own. It's worth asking what went well for them and why.