Reflections on Reflecting

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 5th, 2008 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary



I don’t know whether it is because I have spent so much of my life in academia or because I am Jewish, and later in life decided to use Yom Kippur as a day to fast and reflect, but September is the start of new years for me.  Not the time when you sing Auld Lang Syne and party.  But the time when you reflect upon the past year and on what worked, what didn’t, what you want to change and what you want to toss. 

It is the time to think forward, and  project for the coming year as to what you want a year from now.  What do you want to be reflecting upon throughout the year and looking back upon this time next year. Reflection is something that nonprofits—the individuals within and the organizations as wholes—don’t do well.  It seems as if reflection is relegated to an annual (if the organization and its individuals are lucky) strategic planning session, used either to initiate the planning process or to monitor an existing plan.  (And so now, my true confession:  this is one of the reasons why I have come to dislike strategic planning and have stopped consulting on strategic planning:  it is an excuse not to be reflective and strategic the rest of the year.) 

But reflection should not be a time-specific thing, put into a box and let out once a year.  Reflection needs to be on-going, adjusting to what is going on.   And reflection needs to take place at the organizational, programmatic and individual staff member level.  It doesn’t need to be cumbersome and involved, as strategic planning is.  Everyone doesn’t need to know it is happening, but communicating it (which is where I fall short) does need to happen.  It just needs to happen that we all regularly sit back, stop the grind, and think about it all—the big and the little—and is it all doing its best.  

Without reflection we are leaving the future to chance.    

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