Neighborhood? program: a simulation that teaches democratic participation and leadership skills

March 23, 2015

Neighborhood? is a simulation written by staff of the McDonough Center of Marietta College to enhance the leadership theory that is studied in Leadership 101/ 102. Over the course of a weekend, students elect a government for their six-neighborhood town of Rostville and soon discover that a dangerous state facility is to be placed in their midst. How the citizens of each neighborhood and the elected government work out the details of the placement of this facility is the subject of the simulation and its debriefing.

The primary goal of Neighborhood? is to help students understand more clearly the role that individuals play in organizing and promoting the values of community. In the process, students learn how to make themselves heard effectively by becoming engaged in the democratic processes of local government. As they enhance their understanding of the nature of community, students will also begin to discover the importance of acknowledging and working with multiple perspectives.

Furthermore, through preparation, playing the game, and appropriate debriefing, students learn the skills needed for effective participation in a democracy: (1) taking an active role in defining community problems and in framing questions from the community perspective; (2) making difficult decisions by mastering the skills of public deliberation, articulating a sense of the common good, and recognizing a shared sense of purpose and direction; (3) creating effective relationships among constituents to achieve mutual purposes; (4) identifying resources; and (5) learning how to work as a team, identifying goals, and resolving interpersonal conflicts.

In addition to experiencing community involvement, through playing Neighborhood? students are also given the opportunity to examine the role of the Media, both positive and negative, for effective creation of community as well as a tool for serving the needs of special interests.

Neighborhood? simulates a situation in which a proposed social service that could benefit the community as a whole must be weighed against the negative impact on one of the neighborhoods that comprises that community. The premise of Neighborhood? is based on the NIMBY principle (Not In My Back Yard). For a variety of reasons our self-centeredness; our preference for entertainment rather than for useful information; our desire to maintain and improve our status; our reluctance to become involved unless we believe ourselves to be threatened; and our fear that anyone’s gain is potentially our loss we often stay our involvement in the democratic process until we feel our own interests are threatened by the intrusion of something negative in “”our back yard.”” We are more than willing to introduce certain social services or industry into a community as long as they do not affect our own neighborhood. When they do impinge upon our neighborhood, we become motivated to enter the democratic process. Neighborhood? takes advantage of “”NMBY”” behavior to teach the arts of democracy and democratic participation.

At the level of real politics, Neighborhood? allows participants the opportunity to become involved in order to protect their individual interests. On a second level, the simulation allows people to see how the harmony of a community can be destroyed as people pursue their own special interests. On a third level, the simulation allows people to see beyond themselves and recognize how an entire city might come together to resolve conflicts of individual interests. In other words, Neighborhood? teaches the skills of democratic participation and appreciation for other people and the concept of the common good.

McDonough Center for Leadership and Business web site

Marietta College - OH, Ohio
President: Lauren R. Wilson
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