In 2014 I had the opportunity to work with Plan International on a participatory gender self assessment. The assessment involved finding out what the organisation was thinking about its own gender policy. How was Plan’s vision for gender equality shaping its work and what did this vision mean for the organisation’s own culture and everday practice? The organisation used a number of research methods to find out. These included an extensive document review, a staff survey, focus groups, key informant interviews and participant observation. The process was led by a team made up of staff from different departments within the organisation. The makeup of the team reflected the organisation’s concern that its gender policy was a matter for all staff and not something discrete and boxed into a programme brief. The gender leadership team was therefore made up of women and men from IT, communications, finance and legal as well as policy, advocacy and programmes.
My job was to work with the gender team and support them in uncovering what the organisation was thinking and doing about putting its own gender policy into practice. In addition to the research methods mentioned above I introduced the gender leadership team to Free Writing and the Personal Learning Journal.
In my two previous blogs – 14th May 2013 and 20th March 2013 – I wrote about the significance of ‘free writing’ and the ‘Personal Learning Journal’ as tools for reflective practice, organisational learning and change.
- Free writing refers to a way of writing that allows thoughts and feelings to flow onto the page. The basic rule is not to read over and edit as you write but to write continuously, producing a ‘stream of consciousness’. Letting the pen flow aross the page allows your first thoughts to be captured on the page. For free writing to work there should be no censoring or checking for grammar and content. Free writing is helped by using an opening sentence to get you going. For example, “ When I woke up this morning I …..”
- The Personal Learning Journal is a tool for reflective practice and involves writing on a regular basis, for example once a week or once a month for a period of time. The writing is guided by questions to help you focus and yet it can still be difficult to get going! In my practice what I have learnt is that doing a free writing exercise helps to bring about the focus for the considered reflective weekly journal entry.
In my experience of running the Personal Learning Journal process with the Plan gender team, we discovered the importance of a helping hand from the outset.
Responding to the question raised by the Plan gender team, “ What should we be reflecting on?” we decided that it would be helpful if I sent out an idea for reflection each week. The focus for the prompt sentence came out of the findings and observations of the participatory gender assessment.
Examples of prompt sentences:
“ I have been thinking about the gender assessment and thinking about how I am going to introduce this to my colleagues and this has made me feel ….”
“ Something happened this week that really made me think how gender norms play out in this organisation and I ….”
“ In my area of work I think that gender analysis is …”
“ A male colleague expresses his surprise that men are in the gender team and this got me thinking because I …”
Such sentences were used to help members of the gender team get started on their weekly journal entries. The idea was to run with the prompt sentence as a free writing exercise and then move into a more reflective piece of writing.
Prompt sentences a help for team sharing
After six weeks the gender team looked over their Journal entries and drew out themes for sharing with each other. What we found was that because the prompt sentences had given a weekly focus for reflection, the Journals had generated different perpsectives on the same topic. This finding led to new organisational insights and nuanced understanding.
The gender team found the Personal Learning Journal methodology helpful and found the prompt sentences useful:
“ Many thanks for feeding me the sentences each week – without these we would not have mangaed … the intention was there but doing it is another matter”
“ Once a week is good, it makes me consciously think”
The prompt sentence was important for three reasons:
- It gave direction for reflection linked to emerging findings in the research
- Receiving a weekly prompt sentence kept the Personal Learning Journal process going
- Sending out the weekly email with the prompt sentence provided me with the opportunity to keep in regular contact with the team and to offer support and guidance.
What do you think about the “prompt” sentence – is this adaptation to the Personal Learning Journal methodology something you can imagine doing in your own research practice and organisation? What do you see are the advantages and disadvantages? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences and engaging with you in conversation.