On meanings of “reflection”

As I seek ideas for evaluating the effect of the workshop on reflective practice, I am finding that reflection or reflective practice is often discussed in close relation to problem-solving (especially analysis of problems that managers face).  I am more interested in “the creation of meaning from past or current events that serves as a guide for future behavior.” In that frame, “[r]eflection is the process of stepping back from an experience to ponder, carefully and persistently, its meaning to the self…”

These quotes are from a much-cited article of Daudelin (1996), who nevertheless goes on to emphasize problem-solving, not simply meaning-making. I have suggested the term “refractive practice” to highlight the desired sense of reflection distinct from problem-solving (Taylor 2012), but this post explores different senses of reflection rather than making use of the neologism.


Increasing degree of stepping aside —->
    In action(real time) On action(afterwards) Creative habit
Decreasing degree of concern with governing actions of others Manager addresses problem      
Facilitator intervenes in process
Person collaborating with others
Person taking their own work seriously

By “creative habits,” I am thinking about practices that are not directed at some specific problem or product, yet prepare the grounds for creative responses, such as: Making a habit of taking stock, e.g., through plus-delta evaluations; and Daily writing (see Taylor 2012 for more examples).

Daudelin (1996) focuses on the cell in the top center and investigates whether some management problem is addressed better by those who work individually, in small groups, or with a coach.

Why do I want to emphasize less-focussed reflection (i.e., right hand column) instead of identifying and solving problems in a field that might warrant practitioners moving in a new direction?  Answer: My current premises are that a) less-focussed reflection, once it becomes a habit, can prepare the ground for insights about how to proceed (as the habit of meditation does), and, b) the problem focus often squelches the positive, opening-up experience of reflection that leads a person to make a habit of reflective practice.

In general, I am more interested promoting time spent in the cells to the right and the bottom on the premise that it makes for fewer problems for manager or facilitator to address because it makes for people having a greater procilivity to initiate appropriate new directions.  Thus, managers need to manage less and facilitators and people collaborating get to work with people better prepared to collaborate.  And people taking their work seriously get less snagged or tangled when they have to work with difficult managers and co-workers.

Question: How can I show such connections?

Daudelin, M. W. (1996). “Learning from experience through reflection.” Organizational Dynamics 24(3): 36-49.
Taylor, P. J. (2012). “From reflective to redirective to refractive practice.” Retrieved 9 June 2104, from http://wp.me/p1gwfa-sr.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

3 Responses to On meanings of “reflection”

  1. “In general, I am more interested promoting time spent in the cells to the right and the bottom” in part because I want others to puzzle their way forward like I like to do, where “tying together all the stories…[is] more like opening up, or maybe discovering things I’ve forgotten” (from Vivian Paley’s The Girl with the Brown Crayon, see http://wp.me/p1gwfa-y5). There is a conundrum here–As I say in that post, “I am aware that this [puzzling through things] reduces the social ties that keep many people from questioning what is taken as given.”

    • Moreover, this speaks to the issue of the previous post: How to evaluate the effect of a reflective-practice promoting workshop? The kind of reflection practiced at the top and left can have measurable results (in problems resolved, profits made by the firm, etc.), but it might not reduce, over the longer term, the number of problems that arise. The kind of reflection practiced at the bottom and right, I conjecture, reduces the number of problems over the longer term, but cause-and-effect is hard to show. In short, evaluation is more difficult. Or perhaps it is a matter of having the influence to carry out the study, with a control, for long enough to show, e.g., profits made by the firm or evaluations of teachers in the academic unit that practice less-focused reflection…

      • I have to admit, however, that part of my emphasis on the value of unfocussed reflection is because I teach adult students with a wide range of interests and design workshops for a wide range of researchers. In these endeavors I am not keeping my eye on the prize of solving or resolving some specific problem, or teaching others to do that. In one sense that is a limitation for the world is full or problems that warrant sustained engagement. In another sense it is unavoidable for me because I feel driven to dig down until pieces fit together and in almost every field I venture into I find gaps or holes or contradictions in the conventional picture. Indeed, this exploration of reflection (and ditto for curiosity and creativity) has led me to see that most discussion of these terms presumes the individual as the prime mover, including the manager of other people. This individual-centered view cramps our exploration of creativity in process–in complex, distributed complexity– as described in the quote repeated in the next post, http://wp.me/p1gwfa-C4 (which comes from http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yW).

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