What? So What? and Now What? – your reflective practice guide

One of the defining characteristics of a profession is that its members commit to reflect on their practice in order to improve it for the benefit of those they serve. This applies to policy and governance professionals as much as to members of any other profession.

Various models and frameworks have been developed for different professions over many years*, with most offering prompts to aid personal reflection on a professional’s practice. (I have often recommended such models in mentoring emerging leaders across a wide range of not-for-profit roles and settings).

Use of the same principles and focusing questions can equally be beneficial for boards, whether it be during strategic/risk deliberations, or considering governance of organisational culture.  Reflective practice can also enhance management, and the promotion of a commitment to continuous improvement by staff, when attention is paid to the rationale and impact of policies, protocols, and directions.

The model below is adapted from Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.  This model was originally framed around health practice, but I have adapted it a little so that it could be applied to any professional or leadership setting.

When aligned with the Ladder of Inference~ (developed by Prof Chris Argyris of Harvard, author of Teaching Smart People How to Learn), we see how reflective practice can occur in action as well as on action.  This model also helps us to understand why two people looking at the same evidence draw (or jump to) different conclusions. 

Insights from these models help us to:

  • Become more aware of our own reasoning;
  • Research others’ thought processes, by actively asking them about it;
  • Make clear to others how our own reasoning process works, so they can better understand our motives.

For great ideas on how to use some of these concepts to improve your thinking and communications, I highly recommend The So What Strategy by Davina Stanley and Gerard Castles, subtitled ‘Introducing classic storylines that answer one of the most uncomfortable questions in business today’.

Postscript 2022

Since publishing this article in 2019, it has been one of the most frequently read posts on this blog. The three main questions (What? So What? and Now What?) have now been augmented by the addition of ‘What if?’. Distinctions between reflective and reflexive practice have also been drawn in another post, linked below.

*See also


~See also