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Big Picture Reviewing

Active Reviewing Tips 7.2   Big Picture Reviewing
  1. EDITOR: Experience Matters
  2. TIPS ARTICLE: Big Picture Reviewing
  3. TIPPLES: AAR ... After Action Review
  4. THE BEST BOOKS for Active Learning
  5. OPEN WORKSHOPS: UK and Netherlands
  6. WHAT'S NEW at http://reviewing.co.uk
  7. QUOTE: The Idea of Experience
  8. EXTRA: The Friday Alternative
  9. EMAIL: Are you waiting for a reply?

Most items in this issue link to the 'big picture' theme. 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.

~ 1 ~ EDITOR: Experience Matters

Experience-based learning brings learning to life and life to learning. In experience-based learning (at its best) experience takes centre stage.

Imagine a five course meal of experience-based learning. Experience is not just the appetiser at the start or the chocolate at the end. Experience is the main course. If experience gets pushed out from the centre and is used only as a starting point or as an illustration, such learning does not really qualify as 'experience-based'. Without experience at the centre, learning becomes less lively, less real, less authentic, less relevant. A quick snack of experience does not qualify as a nourishing meal.

Now, you may be accustomed to thinking of experience-based learning as a cycle in which experience is just the starting point. The experience is then switched off when review time arrives so that it can be processed or analysed in various ways until it is time for another experience - and time to switch on to experiencing again. This clean separation between experience and learning may work well on occasion, but it does keep experience at a distance. And the safer the distance, the more marginalised experience becomes as it drifts off-centre and is less available for learning.

And if your reviewing system only values the bits of experience that are readily extracted and converted into identifiable learning, what do you do with the leftovers? Are the leftover experiences quietly forgotten and discarded on the spoil heap of wasted, unusable experience? Not if 'experience matters'.

When paying attention to experience we are also paying attention to the 'experiencer'. In many situations 'experience matters' equals 'people matter'. How you regard or treat an experience is probably much the same as how you regard the person (or people) whose experiences are the focus of attention and the base for learning.

The 'active' in 'Active Reviewing' means keeping the experience alive during the review and paying attention to the experience of the review itself. Which means paying attention to people and what they have been experiencing and what they are now experiencing. Active Reviewing is a respectful approach that pays attention to what people experience while also paying attention to what they are learning.

Experience, reflection and learning cannot be tidily separated into neat compartments. It can be a challenge to keep them all working in combination. But, in my view, experience-based learning is about getting all these strands working together at the same time - so that experience, reflection and learning are always on stage. This means that experience is always in the picture. So are reflection and learning.

~ 2 ~ TIPS ARTICLE: Big Picture Reviewing   [Easy to print version]

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.

This article describes some 'big picture' reviewing techniques.

~ 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

~ TIME LINE: seeing time by walking through it

Skara 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 time-scale.

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 big scale.

~ THE OUTSIDER: seeing the group through the eyes of an outsider

When 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 newspaper.

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

You 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 for 'listening'.

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.

More about Turntable (Revolver) discussions

Revolver: a revolving discussion

Revolver: when people sit still and the rope does the revolving.

~ AS IF: experiencing different perspectives

At 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

Participants 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.

There are many other ways in which visual reviewing techniques can be used to create big pictures. Also see:


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 their 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.

[Easy to print version of the above article]

~ 3 ~ TIPPLES: AAR ... After Action Review

Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell in 'Learning to Fly' (2001:78):

''AARs are a simple way for individuals and teams to learn immediately, from both successes and failures ... the format is very simple and quick ... In an open and honest meeting, usually no longer than twenty minutes, each participant in the event answers four simple questions:

1) What was supposed to happen?
2) What actually happened?
3) Why were there differences?
4) What did we learn?

... Our experience was that the simplicity of the process and the low time requirements were key to its acceptance.''

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is sound advice for transfer within the workplace, but maybe there is an important difference between regular quick reviews in the workplace and the more demanding kinds of reviewing that maximise learning within a training programme?

This question is considered in my comparative review of these two books about knowledge management:
Learning to Fly vs. Common Knowledge


Now that THE ACTIVE LEARNING BOOKSHOP has over 500 titles some of the best books are getting lost in the crowd, so I have created a new page that highlights and introduces 2 or 3 of my favourite books on each of these active learning topics:

  • Starting Points
  • Facilitation - theory and practice
  • Accelerated Learning
  • Experiential Learning
  • Group Facilitation
  • Optimism
  • Reviewing as Everyday Practice
  • Visual Reviewing
  • Games and Activities
  • Facilitation - advanced skills
  • Learning Outdoors
The list ends with a new (selective) index to the Active Reviewing Guide - which will one day be a book to flick through as well as a web site to click through.

Here is my review of one of the books that I recommend as a 'Starting Point':

by Paul Tosey and Josie Gregory

Confused about all the jargon in personal development? Or wanting a quick guide to the maze of theories? Keep this dictionary on your desk (or search inside it at amazon.com).

Synopsis: A guide to 500 terms commonly used in various fields concerned with personal development, including counselling and psychotherapy, organisational consultancy and management training, adult education, professional development, and group leadership.

Review: This dictionary provides instant access to the collective wisdom of the Human Potential Research Group at the University of Surrey and draws on concepts used in their Change Agent Skills and Strategies MSc course. Their values are holistic and humanistic and reflect the views of their Founder, John Heron.

It is more than a dictionary. It is usually clear about which concepts are well substantiated and which are not. For example, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is put in its place (speculative); they pour cold water on Firewalking (mistaking momentary euphoria for lasting confidence); and they describe left-brain/right-brain distinctions as lacking scientific truth but nonetheless providing a useful metaphor.

The absence of diagrams is a serious handicap: the resizeable panes of a Johari Window and the relationships between job size and capability in a Flow Channel, and the appearance of a Mind Map are difficult to convey in text alone. Only a few extra pages would be needed to allow you to search this dictionary by author as well as by concept. Despite these frustrations it is still excellent value as an authoritative time-saver.

Reviewed by Roger Greenaway


These are the latest best-selling books from THE ACTIVE LEARNING BOOKSHOP

• Team-Building Activities for Every Group
• The Big Book of Team Building Games
• The Big Book of Humorous Training Games
• The Big Book of Icebreakers
• The Complete Facilitator's Handbook
• The Big Book of Business Games
• Indoor/Outdoor Team Building Games for Trainers
• Team Games for Trainers
• Beyond Adventure
• Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning
• Reflection in Learning and Professional Development
• 104 Activities That Build ...
• The Power of Experiential Learning
• Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination
• The Adventure Alternative
• Gold Nuggets: Readings for Experiential Education
• Outdoor Play in the Early Years
• The Big Book of Motivation Games
• Tales for Trainers
• The Accelerated Learning Handbook

For reviews of each book and details of their progress up and down the chart, see:
Recommendations or Reviews (any length) are always welcome.


Don't Just Do it - Actively Review it!
and Designing a Development Review
Thursday 26th August 2004
at the business and learning conference centre, Halbeath,
Dunfermline for the Scottish Leadership Foundation's Development
Forum in the Talent Management Series
Description and Registration Form

Reviewing Skills for Experiential Trainers
Friday 24th - Saturday 25th September 2004
in the Netherlands (conducted in English)
This is Roger's fourth open workshop in the Netherlands.

Reviewing Skills and Tools for Trainers
Wednesday 20th - Thursday 21st October, 2004
at Log Heights, Ripley Castle, North Yorkshire
Extend and refresh your facilitation techniques in this critical area
of practice: helping people to get full value from their learning

Log Heights has since evolved into
- same castle, same Shirley, more twist

~ 6 ~ WHAT'S NEW at http://reviewing.co.uk

Reviewing and Re-enacting Ropes Course Experiences

Leadership Training: 10 tips for programme design

Miriam Webb's Definitive Critique of Experiential Learning Theory

BOOK REVIEWS: Knowledge Management
Learning to Fly vs. Common Knowledge

BOOK REVIEWS: Experience-Based Training
Experience AI vs. Outdoor Management Development

~ 7 ~ QUOTE: The Idea of Experience

''In our view, the idea of experience has within it judgement, thought and connectedness with other experience - it is not isolated sensing. Even in its most elementary form, it involves perception and implies consciousness; it always comes with meaning ... This suggests that experience is a meaningful encounter. It is not just an observation, a passive undergoing of something, but an active engagement with the environment, of which the learner is an important part''

Boud D, Cohen R, Walker D (Eds) Using Experience for Learning (1993: 8-16) quoted in The Dictionary of Personal Development (reviewed in ~ 4 ~ above)

~ 8 ~ EXTRA: The Friday Alternative

'The Friday Alternative' is a free fortnightly virtual magazine column which takes a sideways look at the world of business and management. Phil Lowe's refreshingly squint view of fads and fashions in the business (and everyday) world has kept me entertained (and made me a little wiser) for 15 issues.

~ 9 ~ EMAIL: Are you waiting for a reply?

Earlier this month (July) all my incoming emails were accidentally deleted for a few days. If you happened to write to me at the time (or any other time) and are still waiting for a reply, please get in touch again. My contact details are below.

Did you enjoy this issues about Big Picture Reviewing? Do you have feedback, comments or ideas you wish to add?

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