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Reflexive Practice Model

This tool is part of the NPC Systems Practice Toolkit.

The Reflexive Practice Model, originally developed by Prof. Ray Ison for the Open University’s Systems Thinking in Practice MSc programme, is designed to help individuals embed ongoing learning in their daily practice. (1)

While ‘reflective’ is a retrospective act­, involving looking back on something­, ‘reflexive’ brings reflective into the present moment as a continual process. This model reinforces the principle that our ability to affect change in a system is strongly influenced by our awareness of self and situation, and how the two interact. It emphasises that we bring a combination of our process and our person to situations. These are separated in the two areas of the graphic shown as ‘M‘­– methodologies (the process), and ‘F’­– frameworks (our attitudes, perspectives, experiences).


The key components in the diagram are:

  • P = Practitioner: the individual.
  • S = Situation: the thing you’re interacting with.
  • M = Methodologies. These are the processes, activities, and interventions that are driving your interaction. This might be a project plan, some research, a partner meeting, a monitoring or funding process, etc. They are illustrated with icons such as graphs, a PC, a clipboard.
  • F = Frameworks. These are your beliefs, perspectives, judgements, mental models­– everything that makes up you and determines how you interact with a situation.

Insights of the model

The model contains some vital insights for those wanting to affect change in complex systems, in which situations are dynamic and unpredictable:

1.    Your ‘what’ drives interactions, but your ‘how’ drives outcomes.

We generally enter a situation focusing on our ‘methodologies’ (M)– what we are doing– but we are less aware of our personal ‘frameworks’ (F) – our worldview, judgments, biases and mindsets. Yet whilst M will likely be driving and providing the motive for an interaction, how it unfolds will largely be determined by F. Our ability to be successful in what we want to achieve in a situation will be determined by the appropriateness of our tools (M), but also the skill and care with which we use them (F).

2. Move from ‘reflective’ to ‘reflexive’ to make learning a continuous activity.

The diagram shows two processes of reflection. The large thought bubble shows the person retrospectively reflecting on their interaction with a situation. The ‘continuous cycle’ symbol in the person’s head shows how she is also reflecting in the moment. This represents two levels of reflection– retrospective and present. This is known as reflexivity. To be optimally effective in a dynamic complex system, it is not enough just to reflect after the fact, for example in a learning session. We need to also bring reflective awareness into the present moment, so we can adjust our actions in response to the situation. This will allow us to influence the situation more effectively.

3. Increasing self-awareness increases self-control.

The model emphasises that we are not just affecting situations, but are also affected by them, in a continual cycle of action, reaction, and response. The more conscious we can be of how we are acting and reacting, the more effective we can be in the situation. This is illustrated with the image of the person observing herself interacting with the situation.

In this sense, reflexivity is similar to the skills of detached awareness within mindfulness or meditation practice. Developing such practices allow us to not be completely subject to a situation, but to be more in control of our actions. For example, if a process isn’t unfolding as we would have wanted, we are more likely to become frustrated with a situation (or the people in a situation) without that detached awareness. This will likely produce a negative response in return, thereby further reducing the possibility of a positive outcome. Observing our reaction opens up a space in which we can step away from it, and therefore be less controlled by it.

Practicing Reflexive Practice

It is of course extremely difficult to always have in-the-moment awareness of how and why we are acting and reacting within situations. This is an aspirational model: something we can practice.

Reflecting back on our performance within previous situations will help to slowly develop this awareness. The exercise below helps you apply the model to a past situation and suggests questions to ask yourself.

There is a blank table on the final page of this guide, downloadable from our resources section, which you can print and use for this exercise.  You may find it helpful to refer to the Reflexive Practice graphic as you work through the exercise.


  • Think of a situation you have been in recently which didn’t unfold as you had hoped. Perhaps there was a response from the situation that you weren’t anticipating. Perhaps there was conflict or frustration.
  • What were the M – methodologies – (the processes, transactions) that were driving the interaction? For example, a project planning meeting, a review session, a partner engagement.
  • Then jot down some of your F – frameworks – that you were bringing to the situation. You might find it helpful to think about relevant past experiences, any assumptions, beliefs, biases, perspectives, prejudices, or values that may have been affecting how you acted and reacted. How do you think your F interacted with the M and affected how you carried out the ‘process’ part of the interaction?
  • How did the situation (or the people in it) – react to what you were bringing? How did you then respond to that reaction? What was the outcome? How do you think your F influenced this sequence of reactions? How did it help or hinder your ‘performance’ within that situation, and the outcomes you achieved?
  • Lastly, how aware were you of these dynamics playing out? How conscious were you of how and why you were acting and reacting as you did? How might you increase your in-the-moment awareness for future situations?

Group situations: a collision of frameworks, actions and reactions

To add further complexity, the situation you are interacting with will, at some time, involve various people. While this tool is designed to help develop our own individual learning practice, it is also important to remember that everyone else in a situation will also be bringing their own internal frameworks.

They will also be having internal reactions (based on their own Fs!) and then externally responding to the situation. In group situations we are all constantly interpreting, reacting and responding to each other according to our own internal frameworks. It can be helpful to be mindful of this complexity of colliding frameworks and responses when interacting with these situations.

Further reading


  1. Ison, RL (2017) Systems Practice: How to Act in Situations of Uncertainty and Complexity in a Climate-Change World. 2nd Edition Springer, London and The Open University.

Blank Reflexive Practice Model templates to download

Systems Practice Toolkit

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