Network Development: Reflection is Key

November 21, 2014 2 Comments

Photo by Neal Fowler

It probably goes without saying that learning requires reflection. This holds true for individuals and groups, and yet what I find is that many collaborative efforts can fail to build adequate reflection time into their work. Often it seems that reflection can be cast aside in favor of “getting stuff done” and because, “There is so much to do!” And ironically, what can ensue is an overall and ongoing sense of impatience and frustration that “we aren’t doing anything or enough.” Experience shows that when people in networks and collaborative change work do pause to reflect, there is much value to be gained.

The other day I worked with the core team of a regional network focused on food system change, and we took time to reflect on what the past couple of years of work have yielded at individual, collective and systemic levels. People offered up their own reflections, as well as those garnered from informal interviews with others in the network. The result was eye-opening, affirming and provided a collective boost. What we agreed is that considerable and important development has occurred over time, including:

  • A greater sense of connection and commitment to the work of the collective and to one another
  • A greater willingness and ability to have difficult conversations (including racial injustice, race-class tensions, urban and rural marginalization)
  • Evolving shared and diverse leadership
  • A growing understanding that, despite our differences, we are in this together and need one another
  • A growing collective capacity to see more of the system and to hold its complexity

This is not to say that people felt like the work is done/sufficient or were overly self-congratulatory. From where I sat and what I saw and heard, there was something powerful about both acknowledging and claiming the development that has occurred that in turn helped bring the group to another level of trust, commitment and aspiration.

I often liken what happens in many collective efforts to my own experiences of being a parent. Going through the various stages of my children’s development, it can be tempting to simply “move on,” and yet when I stop and reflect (sometimes with my daughters) on how they have grown and are growing, it can make me much more appreciative, patient and present as a father. And I can note how I have grown as well and would like to continue to do so.

For what it’s worth, I will offer that I default less and less to meeting-end “evaluations” during network convenings (What did you like? What didn’t you like? What could be done better?) in favor of more developmentally-focused inquiry and facilitation that invites people to pay attention to, claim and build on their learning:

  • What are you taking with you from today’s conversations?
  • Where are you now that you weren’t when we started this gathering?
  • How do you think you/we have grown today? Why does this matter?

Curious to hear your reflections on this post.


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