Issue No.154
Newsletter of the American Forum for Global Education




This simulation exercise can be used in conjunction with a civics course or in a "service learning” opportunity prior to student participation in their communities. In order to assess student performance in this activity, we have included a rubric for simulation participation.

Guiding question:

Can a community make decisions that are good for the ecology, good for the economy and good for the community?


Students will:

  • Engage in creative "holistic” problem solving modeling "real world” issues and events;
  • Develop courses of actions and analyze their compatibility with other's courses of action;
  • Determine indicators for decision making as part of a social or group effort;
  • Review, evaluate and debrief choices made during the activity, comparing "mock” with "real” cases or examples.

Simulations should center around an issue or problem that reflects a real situation in the students' community and that seems to pit business vs. environment, economics vs. environment, community vs. business, or community vs. government.

Class Activity:

Students will be given a setting, a map, a crisis or problem, roles to play, the goal of the exercise, and a time limit.

THE SETTING: Descriptive materials of the community should be provided — where the problem or issue is taking place including, size, location, population, economics, topography, infrastructure, industry, cultural or ethnic groups, historical background, and general educational level of the community. (If you need further assistance with this or wish to teach this simulation on more than one occasion, you might wish to purchase the CD Rom, "This Place Called Home,” which is a comprehensive tool for sustainable communities complete with ample curriculum materials and teacher instructions. Look for the order form elsewhere in this issue.)

THE CRISIS AND PROBLEM: One example that we have found interesting to students: The need for additional parking in the downtown area of a town or urban center with land availability limited to the only remaining green space in the community. The task for students is to decide how to resolve the parking problem.

THE GOAL: The goal of the exercise is to find a "win-win” solution to the problem or issue; to find a solution which meets the needs of everyone concerned, and is good for the ecology, the economy, and the community.

THE ROLES: Students can be divided into approximately six different cooperative learning groups (depending on class size). Roles may include but are not limited to, the Chamber of Commerce, the local branch of the Sierra Club or other environmental group, the local tenants association, the city or town council, the city planning commission, the construction company, and any other groups that might be important in your own community. Students should discuss the special interests of their particular group once they are placed in a role.

A MAP: A basic map of the community should also be included, showing the area of concern and all the surrounding buildings, schools, hospitals, streets, etc. (Note: If you have chosen to take on an issue in your own town, it may be possible to have the students make the map themselves from local resource material or, depending on access, the Geographic Information System (GIS) could be used as a resource.)

MAIN QUESTION (EXAMPLE): Should the placement of the newly proposed parking lot be approved or disapproved?



  • Provide students with a map (or help them make it) and discuss important features of the natural and built environment.
  • Have students read materials pertaining to the community setting.
  • Divide students into groups and explain the goal of the exercise. Explain the process they will follow.
  • Make sure that each group of students has evenly divided up tasks to be completed and has chosen representatives to facilitate, to record and to present reports. Help students to formulate policy positions as needed.
  • Assist the council members and planning commissioners in developing indicators to promote a "win-win” solution. Alert them that they will be running the town meeting.
  • Act as time keeper and guide to make sure each step is performed at its proper time.
  • Make sure that students keep a journal of the session(s) so that they can write their evaluation at the end of the simulation.

1. Each group (except for the town/city council and the planning commission) must meet, discuss their special interests, and decide on their course of action. The town/city council and the planning commission serve as the core "judges” who will determine whether or not the goal of the exercise was met by the different groups. Therefore, while the others are developing and negotiating positions, these two groups should meet together and determine criteria or indicators against which they can judge the various positions that will comprise a composite course of action. In other words, they have to ask themselves, how will we know if the composite course of action meets the needs of everyone concerned, and is good for the ecology, the economy, and the community? What would that look like? What do we look for?” Once determined, they should put the indicators in writing and post them before the town meeting is held so that all participants are aware of the criteria against which their positions are being judged.

2. Each group must make a written statement of their agreed upon course of action in a form suitable for presentation.

3. A town meeting must take place where each group has a limited amount of time to present their course of action.

4. Each group should meet to talk over the other group's courses of action and try to determine their underlying interests and possible points of agreement.

5. One or two representatives from each group, including the town/city council and the planning commission, should meet together as a "creative solutions circle” to try to negotiate a "win win” solution; to find a solution which meets the needs of everyone concerned, and is good for the ecology, the economy, and the community. Meanwhile, the remaining group members can continue to discuss among themselves the other group's courses of action and try to find mutual interests and creative solutions.

6. Representatives then return to their own group to report on the "circle's” deliberations, and the group members then determine the implications of those deliberations on their own course of action and interests. Each group then revises their final course of action (keeping in mind the goal of the exercise) and rewrites their position statement if necessary.

7. Presentations of revised courses of action are made by all groups to the town/city council and the planning commission.

  • The council and the planning commission meet with the other members of the "creative solutions circle” in the middle of the room (so that all other students can observe their process) to determine whether the courses of action combined meet the goal of the exercise. They render a decision in writing and present recommendations to the assembled groups for refining the composite courses of action so that they can best meet the goal of the exercise.
  • Groups take a public vote on whether or not to accept the decision and revision recommendations or turn the matter over to the public at large for a vote.


Ask students to consider the following questions based on their experience in the simulation: Do you think the indicators were the right ones? If yes, explain why. If no, what indicators would you have added or replaced? Do you think the process gave everyone a chance to participate in solving the problem/issue? What did you like about the process? How do you think the process could be improved? How would you evaluate the final decision? Now that you have some experience, what would you do differently if given another chance? What other insights do you have about your experience?


Ask students to evaluate the experience in the form of a written statement. Ask them to include and discuss insights and knowledge acquired through the simulation experience.


The timing of this activity will depend on the length of each class period and will also depend on whether you must accomplish other course work while the simulation is being administered. The following time estimate is based on 40-50 minute periods exclusive of other course work: The handing out of materials, presentation of the crisis and problem, the assignment of roles and required action #1 may be accomplished on the first day. Required actions #2-4 may be accomplished on day two. Required action #5 may be accomplished on day three. Required actions #6-7 may be accomplished on the 4th day and the Conclusion and Debriefing may be accomplished on day five.

Adapted from "The Value of Simulations: The Case of Happyvale.” Social Science Record. Fall of 1995 Dr. Jack Zevin, Queens College of the City of New York. Simulation game designed and field tested by Jack and Iris Zevin, Queens College of the City of New York.