Participants in a VPA workshop go through a three-tier program: scoping, stakeholder consultation and action. The scoping stage varies from a quick scan to a desk study. The scoping stage starts with a kick-off meeting. Once participants have a basic idea of things to come they see the first VPA documentary. The documentary is the introduction to a desk study focusing on mastering subject-matter knowledge. Reflective forms guide this desk study. Participants answer reflective questions on the subject(s) they want to study, study strategies, activities and outcomes (whether their questions were answered or not). The facilitators provide feedback on these reflective forms. This reflective journal enhances an active-learning of the students and staff: it allows them to assess the information gained to monitor progress and their own learning activities, as after each step they have to make up their mind before taking a conscious decision about the next step.
During the simulated stakeholder consultation, which is at the core of the VPA, the VPA participants view a selected number of interviews out of the available ones. The selection simulates conditions which are in line with the reality of stakeholder consultation where constraints of time, resources and availability of respondents are influential. Reflective forms guide the process of selection and interviewing: each team has to convince the facilitators about the appropriateness of the selected interviewee, before they are allowed to ‘meet him or her’. After each interview, teams fill in a reflective form articulating their actions and decisions as a basis for the feedback session with facilitators. The feedback sessions of the team and facilitators provide opportunities for a variety of instruction activities. ‘Meeting’ a number of stakeholders allows the participants to learn about the different perspectives of these interviewees and the way they frame their problems. These stakeholder interviews are experienced by VPA participants as a mediated though realistic simulation.
In the action stage participants have to interpret and organize the overwhelming palette of confusing, contrasting, and contradicting information and formulate recommendations for action. This can take various shapes such as scenario development, policy design or elaborated project proposals.