Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reflective Practice in Facilitation

To create opportunities for greater professional development and personal growth, facilitators can consider including reflective practice in their facilitative processes.

According to Bolton (2010), to generate developmental insights, one needs to reflectively and reflexively examine his facilitative practice by ‘paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform' him of his faciltative actions.

Instead of formal education or training, the facilitator acquires and enlarges his knowledge, skills, emotional and experience bases in facilitation by staying in action – that is by constantly and consistently engaging in creating, developing and conducting facilitative conversations, and by reflecting on their execution and outcomes, before, during and after these events.

Schon (1983) stated that reflective practice is ‘the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning’.

Definitions of Reflection

Reflective thinking involves the consideration of ‘personal achievements and failures, and asks what worked, what didn’t, and what needs improvement’ (Given, 2002). It asks the facilitator to think about his own thinking.

Dewey (1933) was the person to bring the term 'reflective practice' to the public discourse. He described reflective thought as an 'active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends'.

Hatton & Smith (1995) have identified four essential issues concerning reflection:

·      Our thoughts should be systematically extended by examining our actions some time after they have taken place,

·    We need to direct our reflective practices towards finding solutions that address specific problems,

·  We should frame and reframe complex or ambiguous problems, test out various interpretations, and then modify our actions consequence to these analysis, and

·      We should consciously account for the wider historic, socio-cultural, and political values or beliefs while framing practical problems to arrive at solutions.

This is the reason Habermas (1971) suggested that the ‘power of reason is grounded in the process of reflection’.

Many learning theorists have recognised the contributions of Dewey and Habermas, and continued to study and analysis the topic to further provide clarification on reflection. Van Manen (1977), Schön (1983, 1990), Boud et al. (1985), Mezirow (1990), and Brookfield (1995) have concluded that the practice of reflection is an important tool in the learning process.

Applying Reflection

Schon (1983) indicated that there are three kinds of reflective actions:

·  Reflection-in-action, which requires us to look at what is happening during the event

·         Reflection-on-action, which requires us to look back after the event has ended, and

·   Reflection-for-action, which is reflecting for the purpose of planning the next action.

Let's explore these in greater detail.


Greenwood (1993) has further clarified this reflection as ‘thinking about what one is doing whilst one is doing it’.

Usually, the facilitator conducts this type of reflection when he is surprised, confused or puzzled by his audience's responses - where the expected outcome is outside of his knowing-in-action (which forms the basis of his assumptions), whilst he is executing his course of action. It requires him to ‘think on his feet’, and to draw on his knowledge, experience and emotional bases to build new understandings and to inform him of his follow-ups – to continue, modify or stop the activity, as the event unfolds. Reflection-in-action allows the facilitator to redesign and re-orientate his plans and actions on the fly, and is a skill commonly associated with very experienced reflective practitioners.


According to Fitzgerald (1994), reflection-on-action is ‘the retrospective contemplation of practice undertaken in order to uncover the knowledge used in practical situations, by analysing and interpreting the information recalled’.

This is the traditions of reflective practice - reflecting after the fact by bringing to mind the processes that were deployed, the outcomes they had created, and the drivers behind these outcomes.

Boyd & Fales (1983) also suggested that reflection-on-action is the ‘process of creating and clarifying the meanings of experiences in terms of the self in relation to both self and world. The outcome of this process is changed conceptual perspectives’.

Here, they have alluded to the importance reflection-on-action has on self-development. Reflection is posited as the mechanism for challenging our knowledge, experience and emotional bases so that we do not just see more (assimilative learning) but also see differently (accommodative and transformational learning). Reflection-on-action promotes future innovations and change.

Atkins and Murphy (1994) have went a step further to suggest that the real differences between actions happen when we stay committed to our actions. By staying in action, we give ourselves the raw material to conduct reflections and to growth our facilitative practices.


Schon (1983) defined reflection-for-action as the critical framing and reframing of ideas with the intent of developing an action. This is the desired outcome arising from applying the first two kinds of reflection. It engages one in reflection to guide his future actions.

However, it is problematic and incomplete to totally rely on these three kinds of reflection for development and growth. They ignore the prior knowledge, experience and emotional bases of the facilitator, and they do not recognise his abilities, when well informed, is capable of contextualising his plans and course of action before the new event. These definitions make no mention about the importance of reflection-before-action.


Nepo (2011) stated that we can ‘take the time to reflect on the methods of our art, before we even begin the art’. This acknowledges the importance of reflection in preparation for professional action. This enables the facilitator to identify relevant theories and underpinning knowledge, past experiences and emotions, and skills and resources that may be helpful in carrying out the planned action.            

Depths of Reflection

Argyris and Schön (1978) have proposed several frameworks that allow us to reflect at various depths. 

Sticking to the Norms Single-Loop Learning

In single-loop learning, an entity adjusts its behaviours to narrow the gaps between expected and actual outcomes. Here, the focus is determining the gaps and reducing the discrepancies. The entity introduces rigid strategies, policies and procedures, and spends resources detecting and correcting deviations from their norms. Organisations operating in this realm tend to correct an action to solve or avoid a mistake. 

Breaking the Norms Double-Loop Learning

In double-loop learning, the entity questions the values, assumptions and policies that drive their reactions to a given gap.  They ask whether the 'norms' are keeping with time and thereby correcting the underlying causes of a problematic action. This kind of learning involves more than just 'thinking outside the box'. It is learning about the single-loop learning. This learning helps the entity understand the reasons of a working solution in solving a problem or achieving a goal. There is learning even when things fall into place. Double-loop learning is essential for organisations facing rapid changes.

Double-loop learning requires the skills of self-awareness and self-management, and the willingness to candidly inquire into the reasons behind an event, without becoming defensive, blaming, reasonable, and politically correct or any other autonomous or unconscious patterns of behaviour that may block honest feedback, inquiry and learning. In other word, for double-loop learning to work, we must stay responsible to ourselves.

Learning About Knowing Triple-Loop Learning

Triple-loop learning involves 'learning how to know'. Not only do we reflect on the 'norms' and whether they should be changed, we also reflect on how we learn to become aware of these 'norms'.  This form of learning helps us understand more about ourselves and others regarding our and their beliefs and perceptions.  Triple-loop learning can be explained as double-loop learning about itself.

Models of Reflection

There are several models which we could use to guide our reflective practice in facilitation. These are:

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

The Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988) describes a process of conducting a structured analysis of a given event through the use questions.

This reflection model mirrors the stages of the Kolb’s Experiential Cycle (1984), and are presented in the following stages:

·         Stage 1: Event Description

Describe, in detail, the event that we are reflecting on. The questions we may use to facilitate our reflection in this stage include:

  • Where was I?
  • Who else was there?
  • Why was I there?
  • What was I doing?
  • What were other people doing?
  • What was the context of the event?
  • What happened?
  • What was my part in this?
  • What parts did the other people play?
  • What was the result? 
·         Stage 2: Feelings Identification

In the stage, we recall the inner thoughts or conversations that we carried out from the time the situation had happened.

We may use these questions to explore the drivers that make the event sticks in our minds:

  • How was I feeling when the event started?
  • What was I thinking about at the time?
  • How did it make me feel? How did other people make me feel?
  • How did I feel about the outcome of the event? What do I think about it now? 
·         Stage 3: Event Evaluation

Here, we try to evaluate and make a judgement about what has happened. We consider what was good about the experience and what was bad or has not went well.

·         Stage 4: Analysis

In Stage 4, we break the event down into its component parts so they can each be explored separately.

We may explore the outputs of the last stage, and ask:

  • What went well?
  • What did we do well?
  • What did others do well? What went wrong or did not turn out how it should have done?
  • In what way did we or others contribute to this? 
·         Stage 5: Conclusion

In this stage, we ask what we could have done differently. This calls for a detailed analysis of the knowing we have gathered from the previous stages, and applies an honest exploration of issues from different angles to develop insights into our and others' behaviors that may have contributed to the outcome of the event.

·         Stage 6: Action Plan 

In the final stage, we think about what we should do - to act differently or to do the same, when we encounter the event again. Basically, now, we plan what we would do so that we know what to do when it happens again.

John’s Structured Reflection Model

John’s model of Structured Reflection (2006), which is guided by Carper's (1978) Patterns of Knowing, is an analyse of the dialogues between the reflective practitioner and his or her supervisor (guide), who works with him and her throughout his or her learning experience.

The model contains the original Casper's patterns of:

·         Aesthetics, which is a dialogue of knowing the art of what we do

·         Personal, which is a dialogue of knowing about ourselves

·         Ethics, which is a dialogue of knowing the moral principles that guide our actions

·         Empiric, which is a dialogue of knowing the science of what we do

To strengthen his model, John also has also added:

·         Reflexivity, which is a dialogue of knowing how the current experience connects with previous ones

Borton’s Three Stem-Questions Model

Borton’s (1970) 3 Stem-Questions of 'What?', 'So What?' and 'Now What?' were first developed by Driscoll. Driscoll (1994) has added stem-questions to the stages of a typical experiential learning cycle to trigger reflection throughout the learning.

These stem-questions help the facilitator analysis the event:

·         What…

  • … is the purpose of returning to this situation?
  • … happened?
  • … did other people do who were involved in this?
  • … did I see/do?
  • … was my reaction to it? 
·         So what…

  • … did I feel at the time of the event?
  • … are my feelings now, after the event? Is it any different from what I experienced at the time?
  • … were the effects of what I did (or did not do)?
  • … positive aspects now emerge for me?
  • … have I noticed about my behaviour by taking a more measured look at it?
  • … observations does any person helping me to reflect on my practice make of the way I acted at the time?
  • … is the purpose of returning to this situation? 
·         Now what…

  • …are the implications for me and others in facilitative practice based on what I have described and analysed?
  • …difference does it make if I choose to do nothing?
  • …is the main learning that I can take from reflecting on my practice in this way?
  • …help do I need to get to 'act' on the results of my reflections?
  • …aspect should be tackled first?
  • …additional information do I need to get when I face a similar situation again?
  • …modifications do I need to make to my practice if a similar situation arises again?
  • …should I do to keep noticing that I am different in the practice? 
Enhancing Your Level of Reflective Practice in Facilitation

Facilitators should strive to reach deeper levels of learning across all types of reflective action.

Here, the ThinkInnovation's Deep Reflective Action Map (DRAM)TM can provide facilitators insights into their current level of reflective practice across all dimensions of their reflective actions, which will inform them on the actions they could take to build mastery into their facilitative practices.

Documenting Our Reflections

By recording the reflective actions, and our thoughts and feelings we have about them, we can:

·     Think about our own thinking to give us greater clarity over the topic of our reflection

·    Be informed of the changes we want for ourselves to give meaning to our reflective practices

·  Track, over time, our progression in order to trend our professional development and personal growth

There are a few ways to document our reflection. These include:

Critical Incident File

This is a log-book used for developing our understanding of the critical events and issues arising during the course of the facilitation. 

The file may contain notes on the events, actions or episodes as having happened and which we may experience 

Action Research Journal

This is an effective way to identify starting points for improving practice. It can be used to:  

·         Follow interests and record situations

·         Face the problems and accept challenges by:
·         Clarifying the situations, aims and outcomes

·         Overcome difficulties by:
·         Finding solutions 
·         Implementing proven ideas
·         Critiquing them
·         Modifying common techniques
·         Making improvements
·         Changing routines
·         Inventing variations
·         Replicating successes and assuring quality outcomes

Planning for Change

Change is an important aspect of the reflective process. You may consider:

·         Keeping the outcomes realistic

·         Working with evidence that informs on the success of the change

·         Use critical friends to help you find patterns that limits your mental models

·         Using ideas that produce quick-wins

Reflective practice, whether a formal or informal process, can help us become better facilitators. Although the professional development may be slow process, it offers real satisfactions in elevating facilitation into the art of promoting engagement and understanding.

This article was written by Anthony Mok on Aug 2012.
Copyright 2012. Anthony Mok. All Rights Reserved.


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