Reflective Practice

  • Objective: To think critically as a group about how a project is progressing, or another priority issue, and brainstorm steps to take that may be necessary to improve impact or catalyze positive change.
  • Materials/Preparation: Flipchart paper, markers, tape.
  • Participants: CARE staff and partners. The Social Analysis and Action Manual recommends 5-20 participants for this exercise.


Development of Questions

Beginning this work, participants and a team of key stakeholders develop questions to explore what seems to be occurring within a project, initiative or program. Some basic questions to help start the process may include:


From Reflective Practice Discussion
(T Barton, 2007, in Ideas and Action)

From SII Reflective Practice Documentation
(M Drinkwater, 2004)

  • What are we intending to accomplish?
  • What changes are we trying to promote through our processes and actions?
  • According to our observations and the data that we are collecting in the course of our work, what is actually happening? How are the processes unfolding?
  • What are the outcomes? Are they planned or unplanned?
  • What has changed in our operating environment since we began?
  • What do we know now that we did not understand before?
  • What have been your major achievements as a project/ program in terms of the impacts that you’ve had? How do you know this? (i.e. what kinds of information do you have relating to these achievements.
  • What have been your major failures (things that really have not worked out)?
  • What are the major lessons that you have learned
    • How have you learned these (i.e. what have been your learning mechanisms)?
    • How have you used these lessons?
    • What challenges constraints have you faced with respect to learning?
  • What are your key learning challenges for the future?

Interviews and Focus Group Discussions

Based on the questions developed, the team identifies who would be in a position to provide answers to the question, and work together to gather data in response to each area of inquiry. Data may be collected with a range of people to provide diverse perspectives through observation, key informant interviews and/or focus group discussions.

Stakeholder Worship

Once data is gathered, the team then holds a stakeholder workshop with 20 or less people to mutually explore and learn.

For this meeting, it is essential to ensure stakeholders are on an even playing field and that the meeting takes place in an environment of openness and learning. Within the meeting, one member of the group should taken on the role of reporter and ethnographer to record both major conclusions as well as observe the richness, points of debate, behaviors, and other aspects of the process.

In the workshop, stakeholders:

  • Discuss and process key findings and their implications,
  • Agree upon the kind of changes they would like to see, and
  • Identify potential starting points to achieve some of these changes.

Some questions in this process may include:

  • In our assessment of processes and immediate outcomes, what have we learned?
  • Why are things happening in the manner that we’ve observed?
  • What is supporting us in achieving our intended outcomes?
  • What is hindering us from achieving our intended outcomes?
  • Given these changes, observations and learning, what modifications do we suggest in intentions and strategies (e.g., outputs and activities)?
  • What are the specific, actionable recommendations1 that the majority of stakeholders agree on?
  • Major conclusions, observations and strategy revisions should then be synthesized and documented. The report should generally touch upon:
  • Synthesized answers to initial questions posed: What were we intending vs. what is actually happening
  • Areas of agreement and areas of disagreement among meeting participants
  • Processes and actions that seem to be going well
  • Changes in operating environment and/or new understanding of issues, occurrences or dynamics in operating environment
  • Key lessons learned in relation to the questions posed
  • The reasons behind the current situation – i.e., supporting and hindering factors
  • Proposed modifications in intervention strategies and processes supported through the project
  • Specific, actionable recommendations

To ensure that the records are accurate, the reporter should review key outputs with participants at the end of the stakeholder meeting. To ensure follow-up and action around the report, the report should circulate the document within the first week following the meeting.

Variation: Child-to-Child Approach

The Child-to-Child Initiative outlines a number of steps that mirror reflective practice methodology with children to identify and prioritize key issues, analyze them and develop plans for action.

  • Materials/Preparation: The Child-to-Child Practical Guide (CtC Guide) recommend 3-5 facilitators for 30 children
  • Participants: About 30 children, aged 9-13

This approach outlines six distinct steps

STEP 1: Group Work

To begin, the initiative uses cooperative games that help to break the ice, build trust among participants and set an environment that offers a safe space to enable participation.

STEP 2: Our ideas

This next step involves a reflection and brainstorm of key issues within the community.

  • The CtC Guide outlines one approach, which asks children to sit with their heads down and eyes closed, and visualize: ".... Imagine that you are about to go to sleep. Fold your arms, put your head on the table and close your eyes. As you lie there you are thinking back over your day - about your home, your school, your community. What are some of the problems that you think, ‘if only we could change that, this would be a better, happier and healthier place to live?'"
  • Taking a few minutes for reflection, the facilitator then asks participants either to write an issue - one on each idea card, or to openly discuss what issues came to mind.

STEP 3: Choose an Issue

The next step would be to narrow the identified issues into the most important issue. The facilitator first leads a discussion on the listed issues. This may involve identifying with participants where issues are related, and narrowing down key issues. Following discussion, participants rank the priority issue. A number of methods exist for ranking priority issues, as described on the Ranking Tools page.

STEP 4: Find Out More

To analyze the issue at greater depth, the facilitator then guides a discussion on:

  • What do we already know about this topic?
  • What more do we need to know?
  • Who can we ask and/or where can we get the information?
  • So what are we going to do to get this information

These questions help to clarify existing information and identify gaps, as well as ways to answer them. Following this, facilitators should support participants in setting up appointments and carrying out follow-up interviews and discussions with key stakeholders identified.

STEP 5: Plan and Take Action

In a workshop, participants come together from their interviews and analyze their key findings as well as explore what next steps can be taken. Questions to guide this process may include:

  • What is the particular problem that we want to do something about?
  • What message do we want to give people? / What action do we want to take?
  • Who do we want to tell / help?
  • How do we want to tell them / help them?
  • What do we need to do it?
  • When do we want to have this done by?

Based on these discussions, participants can make a plan of action. In CtC's work, this has involved developing posters, poems, writing to elected representatives, making leaflets and presenting raps / plays on the issue.

STEP 6: Think it Over

Following analysis and action, the final step is to reflect over the entire process, evaluate the experience and extract lessons learnt. Questions may include:

  • What did you learn?
  • Did you have fun? Why / why not?
  • Would you take part in this process again? Yes / no and why?
  • Do you think you made a difference? How?
  • What do you think could be done differently another time?
  • What worked well?
  • What skills have you learnt? What have you got better at?



  • CARE (2007). Ideas and Action: Addressing the Social Factors that Influence Sexual and Reproductive Health.
  • M Drinkwater (2004). Reflective Practice. CARE.
  • M Drinkwater, A Singh, G Hora (2004). Change from the Heart: Unlocking the Potential – Report on the Chhattisgarh Reflective Practice Exercise Summary. CARE.
  • R Caldwell (2002). Project Design Handbook. CARE.
  • S Gibbs, G Mann and N Mathers (2002). Child to Child a Practical Guide: Empowering Children as Active Citizens. Southwark: Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Action Zone.
  • P Whiffen (2000). Techniques for Capturing Learning in Tearfund. Tearfund: London.
  • P Senge, et al (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. Currency Books, Doubleday: New York, NY.