INDEX to - resources for dynamic learning
 How to find your way around

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
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.

Variations of Turntable/Revolver
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.

Other ways of using pictures in reviewing
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.

Copyright Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training, 2004
First published in Active Reviewing Tips 7.2 and then at
Enquiries about this article or Roger's consultancy services:

Article Index | Reviewing and Reflection (books and reviews)

 INDEX to - resources for dynamic learning
 How to find your way around

Copyright Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training, who promotes ACTIVE LEARNING via