What is reflective practice?
Reflective practice has been described as the process of ‘learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and/or practice’, often by examining everyday assumptions (Finlay, 2008). It helps us develop personally and professionally and creates an organisational culture where accountability, innovation and compassionate care can thrive.
Why is it important?
Reflective Practice is an essential part of developing new skills and cementing learning. At a fundamental level it develops an individual’s capacity to respond to challenges, make timely decisions, manage emotions, conduct productive relationships and cope with stress (CIPD, undated). Habitual and systematic reflection develops:
– insight and foresight
– emotional intelligence and regulation
– planning, decision making and critical thinking
– compassion and empathy
– resilience and coping strategies
How do we facilitate reflective practice?
Creating a culture of reflective practice involves investment and effort throughout the organisation. Reflective practice needs to be prioritised despite the pressures and demands of the workload. Oelofsen (2012) outlined the following prerequisites for effective reflective practice in organisations.
- Reflection should be part of the organisation’s culture
For reflective practice to make a difference, organisations need to instil a culture of reflection and this needs to be modelled at all levels within the organisation. Staff are more likely to prioritise reflective practice if they see their managers do so. This will ensure that a thoughtful, reflective approach to service delivery is valued for its contribution to good thinking, good decision making, and excellence in quality of care throughout the organisation. Investment in staff and reflective practice aligns with a range of organisational development issues, such as ethics, engagement, empowerment, well-being and sustainability.
- Opportunities for reflection should be created outside governance and supervision processes
In order to increase investment and to encourage honest, self-evaluative reflection, it is important that staff have an opportunity to reflect outside of supervision or case management. One of the main reasons for this, is to avoid the inherent power balances evident in these relationships and perhaps underlying conflicts (for example, an individual’s relationship with their manager may be the subject of the reflection). Bringing in an external practitioner to facilitate reflective practice also enables everyday assumptions to be explored and challenged. Every organisation has its own culture and atmosphere that shapes working practice. An internal facilitator is not part of these everyday working norms and can offer a different perspective that encourages staff to question their assumptions and examine implicit aspects of the organisational culture. This permits staff to critically evaluate themselves, their organisation and their practices and encourages them to be invested in generating solutions and innovative approaches to the problems they face.
- Reflective work needs facilitation within a context of systems thinking
Effective reflection in organisations tends to be possible when the process is formalised and facilitated in some way, perhaps through facilitated group work. The process should also contain feedback loops so that the outcomes of reflective sessions can be considered for further action within broader systems where relevant.
- The reflective capacity of participating staff need to be developed
The skills involved in effective reflective practice (critical thinking, emotional intelligence, inquisitiveness and self-awareness) are all qualities we can enhance and develop through practice. In a time of cost saving and budgetary restraints, staff training budgets can often be restricted. While this can alleviate pressure in the short term; the long term impact on staff morale can end up costing organisations more. Staff who do not feel valued, supported and invested in are less happy and productive at work. A culture of reflective practice helps alleviate and confront underlying causes of high sickness and attrition rates. It provides a space for staff to acknowledge problems early and consider what they need to overcome any difficulties they are experiencing before they become entrenched and established.
Ultimately, the potential benefits of reflective practice can be transformative for an organisation. Sessions encourage better decision making, better and more compassionate care, increased staff wellbeing and engagement, and empathic, reasoned responses to the complexities of client care.