Discussion-based Exercises - Types, Goals, and Conduct

The four types include seminars, workshops, tabletop exercises (TTX's), and games. A facilitator or a presenter usually leads the discussions in these exercises, helping to keep participants on track and ensuring that exercise objectives are met.

These types of exercises help to familiarize participants with current plans, policies, agreements, and procedures and are used to develop new ones.

Type of ExerciseParticipant GoalsConduct CharacteristicsExercise Outcomes

Seminar - Seminars orient participants to or provide an overview into strategies, plans, policies, or procedures. Seminars can be valuable when an entity is developing new plans or making changes to existing plans or procedures.

  • Orient participants to new or existing plans, policies, or procedures
  • Research or assess interagency capabilities or inter-jurisdictional operations
  • Construct a common framework of understanding
  • Causal atmosphere
  • Minimal time constraints
  • Lecture-based
Workshop - Workshops are more structured than seminars. Participant attendance and collaboration from relevant stakeholders is essential to obtain consensus and produce effective plans, procedures, and agreements.
  • Develop a written product as a group, in coordinated activities
  • Obtain consensus
  • Collect or share information


  • Broad attendance by relevant stakeholders
  • Conducted based on clear objectives/goals
  • More participant discussion than lecture-based seminar
  • Frequently uses break-out sessions to explore parts of an issue with similar groups
  • Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs)
  • Mutual Aid Agreements
  • Standard Operations Procedures (SOPs)

Tabletop Exercise (TTX) - Tabletop exercises facilitate conceptual understanding, identify strengths, and areas for improvements, and/or achieving changes in perceptions. Participants are encouraged to problem-solve together through in-depth discussion. An effective TTX comes from active participants and their assessment of recommended revisions to current plans, policies, and procedures. It is important to have a facilitator that will keep the participants focused on the exercise objectives.

  • Enhance general awareness
  • Enhance roles and responsibility understanding
  • Validate plans and procedures
  • Rehearse concepts and/or assess types of systems in a defined incident
  • Requires an experienced facilitator
  • In-depth discussion
  • Low stress, problem-solving environment
Game - A simulation of operations that often involves two or more teams, usually in a competitive environment, using rules, data, and procedures designed to depict an actual or hypothetical situation. Identifying critical decision-making points is a major factor in the success of games.
  • Explore decision-making processes and consequences
  • Conduct "what-if" analyses of existing plans
  • Evaluate existing and potential strategies 
  • No actual resources used
  • Often involves two or more teams
  • Includes models and simulations on increasing complexity as the game progresses
  • May include pre-scripted messages