Big Picture Reviewing
seeing the wood as well as the trees
by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
Although reviewing sometimes needs to be about narrowing down,
separating out, and examining the detail, reviewing can also be used
for 'big picture' learning in which boundaries are blurred, bridges are
built, strands are woven together and the whole is more real than the
parts - because reviewing is about the wood as well as the trees.
The 'big picture' reviewing techniques described in this article:
- TIME LINE: seeing time by walking through it
- THE OUTSIDER: seeing the group through the eyes of an outsider
- TURNTABLE: seeing issues from unfamiliar perspectives
- AS IF: experiencing different perspectives
- METAPHOR MAP: a fresh perspective on past and future
How much do you 'zoom in' and how much do you 'zoom out' when you
are reviewing? Think of reviewing as providing different lenses through
which to 're-view' what happened. When participants look at an event
through different lenses they notice things that were not apparent at
the time. Sometimes you may want to bring out details that were
overlooked. At other times you will want people to step back, zoom out
and see the big picture. Big picture reviews are not just for senior
executives. Learners of any age, whatever the size of their world or
their responsibilities, can benefit from seeing a bigger picture.
TIME LINE: seeing time by walking through it
Brae is an ancient settlement on the island of Orkney that was buried
by sand until 1850 when fierce winds swept the sands away to reveal
this five thousand year old village. As you walk from the visitor
centre to the settlement you are travelling along a time line. You
encounter marker posts along the way that each name well known
historical periods or events such as the building of the Pyramids. By
the time you arrive at the settlement you are beginning to appreciate
just how far back you have travelled in time. This simple idea - a time
walk - helps people to experience a sense of scale - in this case a
When you want people to have a better appreciation of how time
was spent, have them walk along a time line. Ideally you (or observers)
have kept an accurate time sheet that provides times of key turning
points or significant quotes, or how long a group spent on a particular
stage of a task. With this information you can construct a time line
with marker posts on any scale you like. For maximum impact make it a
THE OUTSIDER: seeing the group through the eyes of an outsider
Crocodile Dundee moves from life in the Australian outback to New York
City, he finds the habits of New Yorkers as strange as they find him.
He finds them unfriendly because they do not respond when he cheerfully
greets them in a busy street.
- What would this group look like to x if x walked in right now?
- What would x say if she or he could see you right now?
The Outsider 'x' can be any real or fictitious character well
known to the people you are working with. It can be a randomly chosen
perspective - just to get people stepping outside of their current
perspective, or it can be a deliberately chosen character to draw out a
particular perspective. Examples: best friend, boss, teacher, potential
employer, competitor, sponsor, customer, a participant in 5 year's
time, a Martian, a 5 year old child, a reporter from a particular
Alternatively, participants can choose the outsider they would like to pay them an imaginary visit.
- Is there anyone you know who just wouldn't believe you if you told them what you have just achieved?
- Who would you like to have been here to have witnessed what you have just done?
To take this further (and make it more active) participants can
take it in turns to be the outsider by walking in and beginning a
conversation with the group (or individual) in the role of the
outsider. And to take this even further (and make it more real)
introduce a real outsider!
Such an exercise can change people's attitude towards a
programme because they tend to appreciate more about its potential
value. The outsider exercise (like most other big picture exercises)
also sows the seeds for the transfer of learning - especially if the
outsider (real or imagined) comes from the world in which participants
will be applying their learning.
Variations of 'The Outsider'
- Missing Person: create an imaginary outsider who would be a welcome member of the group.
- Missing Facilitator: create a facilitator who would enable you all to get most value from this event.
- Missing Manager: create a job description for the team manager who would get the best out of your team.
- Invisible Workmate: create an ideal colleague to support, help, inspire and to make your work more fun and effective.
TURNTABLE: seeing issues from unfamiliar perspectives
may already know of this as a version of 'Revolver'. Revolver began
life as a kind of 'musical chairs' format for making debates more
balanced (with participants spending equal time on each side of the
debate). But as there are often more than two sides to a debate,
Revolver has evolved into 'Turntable' which allows for more than two
positions, encourages lateral thinking and builds up a bigger picture
of the subject being discussed. (I have never used music with this
method - just the idea of moving round in a circle.)
For Turntable let's assume a convenient group size of 12.
Divide the group circle into four separate sections, with spaces
between each arc. You now need four basic perspectives on the review
topic that you want to discuss. The perspectives might be
'off-the-shelf' perspectives such as the SWOT model: Strengths,
Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. Or the perspectives might be
perspectives that you think the group may not be paying enough
attention to: Customers, Creative Thinking, Time Constraints, Past
Success. If you struggle to find a good fourth perspective, make it a
three way discussion or use the fourth position for 'any questions' or
Once you have established the 3 or 4 basic positions, you now
facilitate a discussion in which all the normal rules or principles of
good discussion apply, except that when people are seated in a
particular position they may only contribute comments that belong to
that position. To help get the discussion going give small groups a
little preparation time to think of the points they could make from
their starting position.
Every minute or so during the whole group discussion, the
facilitator gives a signal (e.g. by standing up) and everyone moves
round one seat to the left. If appropriate, the facilitator also joins
in as a participant.
After about 15 minutes, everyone is back in their original
seat having spent around 3 or 4 minutes experiencing each of the four
positions. They now have a bigger picture, especially if they have
found themselves speaking up from an unfamiliar perspective.
AS IF: experiencing different perspectives
the east end of Loch Tay, is the Scottish Crannog Centre. The main
focus of interest is the Crannog itself - a reconstructed thatched
dwelling standing on stilts in the water and connected to the shore by
a long wooden bridge. Inside the Crannog it was like being in a huge
tepee. The guide sat us around the central fireplace and spoke to us as
if we ourselves were the extended family that used to live in the
Crannog two and a half thousand years ago. We started to think, feel
and even talk as if we were that family. The guide took us into the
past by bringing the past into the present and then helping us to see,
think and feel what life in the Crannog was like. The guide put us in
the picture by treating us as if we were the people who used to live
there 2,500 years ago. We then had the chance to handle and use their
tools for making fire, shaping stones and making flour. Through these
experiences we were beginning to appreciate something about what life
was like in a Crannog.
You can bring the recent past alive using similar principles.
Give your group an opportunity to experience something of what it is
like to be in another group or culture (one which they need to
understand better). Visit (or create) the place where these other
people meet or live, or simply speak to them as if they are these other
people. By experiencing something of what it is like to be in another
group they get a fresh perspective and a bigger picture.
You can also bring the future alive by speaking to the group
as if they are already in the future. Perhaps (in this imaginary
future) they have overcome a challenge or have become better team
players or perhaps the future scenario is a warning that they have
continued to make the same mistakes or have ignored safety guidelines?
The more interactive these imaginary worlds become, the more
they help people reflect deeply on what it is like in another group or
in another time. But even simply speaking to a group 'as if' they are
in a different reality can transport them into an imaginary perspective
from which they 'see' a bigger picture - and learn from the experience
of visiting the 'as if' world that you have created with them.
METAPHOR MAP: a fresh perspective on past and future
create metaphor maps that represent the kind of places they visit,
avoid or seek in their working day. Places might include: Sea of
Possibilities, Safe Haven, Mountains of Work, Pool of Relaxation,
Stretch Zone, Swampland, Play Area, Road to Nowhere, Stream of Ideas,
Point of No Return, Terra Incognita, Short Cut, Black Hole, Site of
Antiquity, Stadium of Light, Great Wall, Greener Grass, Fountain of
Knowledge, Bridge Under Construction ... To use the map as a reviewing
tool, participants tell their story while tracing their journey across
their map with a finger.
The listener prompts as necessary to help the person tell
their story using the map (e.g. Did you visit any of these places?
Where did you spend most time? Can you trace the journey you took? Do
you need to create new places on the map?). After the story is told (or
during its telling) the listener asks questions that help the story-
teller to consider alternative or preferred routes on the map, and how
they could make this happen. Metaphor Map is a tool that can be readily
used at all stages of the Active Reviewing Cycle.
THE REALLY BIG PICTURE
All reviewing could be seen as 'big
picture' reviewing because 're- viewing' means looking again - it
involves re-viewing experience from a different perspective. There is
always more than meets the eye. There are always fresh perspectives to
explore. In this sense, reviewing always builds a bigger picture. But
there is a difference between 'zooming in' on experience and 'zooming
out' from it. If reviewing is experienced as nit-picking, clinical,
biased, petty or uncaring, the chances are that the facilitator is
doing too much 'zooming in' and not enough 'zooming out'. There are
times when it is valuable to zoom in on the detail. But if learners
cannot see the wood for the trees, it is a sign that you need to use a
'big picture' approach that helps learners to step outside of their
recent experiences and see them from a bigger perspective. You now have
at least five ways of achieving this: time line, the outsider,
turntable, as if, and metaphor map.