Actor constellation

What is an actor constellation?

An actor constellation is a role-play, in which all scientific and societal actors involved in a project are represented and positioned around the central research question. The distance from an actor to the research question, and to other actors, expresses how relevant (s)he is in the project.
Why should it be applied? Project team members may hold implicit assumptions on the other actors’ relevance for, and their potential contributions to the project. The actor constellation method helps making these assumptions explicit and allows jointly deliberating and deciding on an adequate position.
When should it be applied? The actor constellation exercise should be done early in the project; ideally during problem framing when a team is forming.
Actor constellation – workshop participants (G. Wülser)
Actor constellation – workshop participants (G. Wülser)

How does it work?

"1. The [project leader] writes the overall research question of the project on a label. The [project leader] brainstorms the maximum of ten most important actors (disciplines and stakeholders from civil society, the private and the public sector) for answering the overall research question and notes the names on labels.

2.  For the role-play, the moderator finds for each actor and for the overall research question a participant playing the role and labels them accordingly. If a role is not sufficiently clear to the participant (e.g. ‘the general public’, ‘the decision-makers’) the moderator asks the researcher for clarification.

3.  The [project leader] places the research question in the middle of a room and the actors around the research question according to the rules described above. The researcher explains to the participants why each actor is standing in the specific position and what the actor will provide to answer the overall research question (e.g. information, institutional support). Arrows can be used to describe how the researcher plans to interact with the actors.

4.  Once the actors are placed, they react to the constellation. The moderator asks (a) whether particular actors are missing and (b) whether an actor believes to be in the wrong position, what would be the right position, and why. Through the discussion, the actor constellation changes.
The moderator closes the discussion, for example, by summarising the main changes in the constellation that took place during the discussion."
(Pohl 2014)

How are thought styles bridged?

The actor constellation helps bridging thought styles through making underlying assumptions of the person that positions the actors explicit. The assumptions become known and open for deliberation and discussion.

What’s the outcome?

Usually the outcome of an actor constellation is a different, revised constellation. New actors may come in; some may come closer to each other, become less relevant or disappear. As a consequence, the project team and organisation can be re-defined.

Who participates in what role?

If done in a group, a moderator should guide the actor constellation.

The actor constellation is a role-play, meaning that actors should not play themselves. Both project participants and persons not related to the project may play the roles.

Also an individual person can do an actor constellation. The method then serves to clarify one’s own concept of how scientific and societal actors contribute to answering the research questions.

What do I need to prepare?

Besides having the steps in mind, you need paper labels, pens and space.


Paper cut outs that can be used when conducting this tool (CCES Winter School)
Paper cut outs that can be used when conducting this tool (CCES Winter School)

Learn more

Pohl C 2014. «From complexity to solvability: The praxeology of transdisciplinary research». In Huutoniemi K, Tapio P (eds). Transdisciplinary Sustainability Studies. A Heuristic Approach, pp 103-118. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

After exploring the actor constellation in the CCES Winterschool "Science meets Practice", PhD students designed paper props that can be used to reflect on who to involve in your project

Profile provided by

Christian Pohl