Using role play to explore energy perceptions in the United States and United Kingdom

Merryn Thomas, Tristan Partridge, Nick Pidgeon, Barbara Herr Harthorn, Christina Demski, Ariel Hasell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (SciVal)


We present the methodology and results of a role-play game that explored energy preferences and decision making criteria for a hypothetical town. Six day-long, mixed-methods workshops focussing on public perceptions of shale gas and oil development were held with highly diverse groups in four urban locations (Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, US; London and Cardiff, UK) and two rural locations (Hirwaun and Winford, UK), N = 83. As part of the workshops, small groups of participants assumed the role of town council members and were asked to debate and rank six energy infrastructure proposals (wind, solar, nuclear, shale gas, shale oil, and coal) in order of preference; a task that stimulated energetic, in-depth discussions around preferences, decision-making criteria, conditions and trade-offs. We reflect on how role-play methodology can be used to elicit insights into the nature of complex decision-making, as well as affording participants clarity and efficacy about decisions, and providing a novel platform by which to engage with energy conundrums. We also elucidate the challenges posed by inevitable disparities between role play and reality, and those associated with materials, framings, and group dynamics. Finally, we make recommendations for extending and refining the methodology, including participant-led framing and cautious consensus building.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-373
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2018


  • Energy
  • Local governance
  • Public perceptions
  • Role play methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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