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What does simulation training look like?

What does simulation training look like?

It's nothing fancy.

Like this. Nothing fancy, but very effective.

(Geoff Paine, Isaac Elliot and a workshop participant, mid roleplay).

Behavioural researchers work on understanding what drives particular behaviours, and coming up with interventions to produce better behavioural outcomes. Sometimes, to get better behaviour from others, we need to change our own behaviour; and (most importantly) we need to experience what that feels like.  

That experience is the basis of simulation training (which we offer as a stand alone workshop called Conversations for Impact).

BehaviourWorks Australia recently worked on a project to enable males under 35 with spinal cord injury (SCI) to lead their best life.  The challenge facing those who work in the healthcare sector is that while they have to meet with and deliver content to this cohort, they may not have engaged or connected with the young men living with SCI.  Many have experienced pushback from those they are visiting, who may be still dealing with the massive changes to lifestyle and self-image spinal cord injury can bring.  

“The main thing I took away was a confidence boost, knowing that it seems my peers / colleagues have had similar challenging situations to me”

After reviewing the evidence on help-seeking in young men and conducting stakeholder dialogues and interviews to ‘deep dive’ for insights into engaging young men with their healthcare and lifestyles, our researchers ran co-design workshops to decide which interventions would be most effective.  One of these interventions is immersive communication skills training – or simulation training.

Who needs to do what differently?

This deceptively simple question is at the core of the BehaviourWorks Australia Method for behaviour change.  Identifying the ‘who’, the ‘what’, and the ‘differently’ all take careful and rigorous research, but in this case, the guiding principle of the simulation training was the phrase ‘Connection before content’ – to really try to connect with the person living with SCI before delivering content to them.  When a genuine connection is established, we have a better understanding of what is meaningful to people, who are less likely to present barriers to engagement with their health.

So how to gain these skills in dealing with tricky situations?  Simulation training. 

“I really enjoyed it and think having a session like this earlier in my career would [have been] even more beneficial”.

Real and not real at the same time.

All forms of simulation training seek to recreate some sensory experience of a given situation in order to practice different skills. Pilots spend many hours in flight simulators before taking off in real aircraft, doctors work with actors trained to present different symptoms before diagnosing real patients. In both cases, they practice their skills in situations which are both real and simulated; real enough to test themselves, but in a safe context where mistakes provide valuable learnings, not dire consequences.

In this case, participants were placed in role play situations where they re-created a visit to someone living with SCI, but with a complication thrown in, such as the person with SCI may be angry, emotional, distracted by a device, or have someone else in the room who is undermining the work of the support person. 

The ‘Hot Spot’

In the photo you can see me, Geoff Paine, standing behind Isaac Elliot, a creator, director and talented improvisor who also lives with SCI.  The participant has created a role play where he is having to deal with not just a client with SCI, but their partner who is in total denial about the true extent of the injury itself.  It’s just a room with chairs in it, but the situation is both real and awkward – how does the case worker deal with the client as well as the other person in the room?

“The presenters, Geoff and Isaac, were fantastic. I liked that it was interactive and the pace was great”.

I’ve been facilitating these workshops for decades, and the true value of them lies not just in actually being in the ‘hot spot’ of dealing with a problem, but seeing how others deal with it.  They are structured so that solutions are crowd sourced from the rest of the participants, all of whom have suggestions or insights from their lived experience.  We start the role play to simulate the problem, stop to discuss potential solutions, then we continue with the participant trying out their own or someone else’s suggestion.  It’s incredibly effective to both see and feel a change in your own behaviour. 

Just real enough

Most of us have had to perform some kind of role play at some stage – and yes, we all feel it’s awkward and ‘unreal’.  But when it’s facilitated well, with a group keen to learn and explore solutions, it can provide moments of true revelation and breakthrough.  When people agree to push themselves and each other – just enough – the risks pay off. 

And there are also moments of true delight, as you can see in the photo – Isaac’s bemused smile is because I’m actually playing his wife (as I said, nothing fancy).  

“I think there should be a greater opportunity for reflection and practice, particularly for students and new staff”.

This is just one example of the way simulation training can work. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to be real enough for participants to feel the adrenalin kick in, knowing of course that it can stop at any time.  It prompts a unique set of insights and reflections that may be hard to come by any other way, and its impact is real enough to bring about actual change. 

Find out more about the Conversations for Impact workshop here.

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