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Using reflective practice as amanagement development tool in aVictorian Health ServiceCarlene Boucher aa RMIT University , AustraliaPublished online: 04 May 2007.
To cite this article: Carlene Boucher (2007) Using reflective practice as a managementdevelopment tool in a Victorian Health Service, Reflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary Perspectives, 8:2, 227-240, DOI: 10.1080/14623940701289246
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Reflective PracticeVol. 8, No. 2, May 2007, pp. 227240
ISSN 1462-3943 (print)/ISSN 1470-1103 (online)/07/02022714 2007 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14623940701289246
Using reflective practice as a management development tool in a Victorian Health ServiceCarlene Boucher*RMIT University, AustraliaTaylor and FrancisCREP_A_228828.sgm10.1080/14623940701289246Reflective Practice1462-3943 (print)/1470-1103 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis82000000May 2007CarleneBouchercarlene.email@example.com
This paper reports on a research project undertaken at Northern Health Service in Melbourne,Australia to explore how reflective practice groups could be used to help managers developimproved management skills. Reflective practice is an approach to management and organizationdevelopment that integrates, or links, thought and action with reflection. The six reflective prac-tice groups met regularly for six months and were assisted by an external facilitator. An evalua-tion of the impact of the meetings was undertaken via a series of focus groups and interviews.The findings of this evaluation suggest that there is a place for reflective practice groups as a wayof developing managers in health service organizations (particularly their people managementskills) and that those in organizations responsible for management development should considerincluding reflective practice activities as part of a strategic and systematic management develop-ment strategy.
This is an account of a research project that took place at Northern Health Servicein Melbourne, Australia for seven months in 2003 2004. Established in July 2000,Northern Health Service provides a wide range of quality health care services to theexpanding communities in Melbournes northern suburbs. The Health Service iscurrently located on four sites and provides a unique mix of services includingmedical, surgical, emergency, intensive and coronary care, pediatrics, womens andmaternal health, mental health, aged care, palliative care, and rehabilitationprograms. These are provided through inpatient, ambulatory and community-basedprograms. It serves an economically and ethnically diverse population including
*School of Management, RMIT University, Level 16, 239 Bourke St, Melbourne 3001 VIC,Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
228 C. Boucher
many people who, in the past, have had limited access to appropriate healthcareservices.
The project was undertaken by six staff from RMIT University in conjunction withtwo members of the Human Resource Management Department at Northern HealthService.
The purpose of the research project was twofold. First, it aimed to make acontribution to the skill development of a group of managers at Northern HealthService. Second, it aimed to produce data that could be used to develop a modelfor using reflective practice approaches in the health industry. This paperdescribes how the groups were conducted and the sorts of matters that werediscussed by participants. It also reports the findings of an evaluation of theproject.
The project came about as the result of previous collaboration between staff fromRMIT University and Northern Health Service. This previous work had also involvedthe use of reflective practice groups as a means of helping staff to develop their skills.We believed that this approach was useful and so wanted to engage in a more formalresearch project to examine the effectiveness of reflective practice as a managementdevelopment tool. For Northern Health Service an added benefit was the expectationthat the managers taking part in the project would develop improved managementskills.
The nature of reflective practice
The concept of reflective practice has its origins in the belief that in the context ofprofessional practice, problems and other complex issues are best dealt with by peoplewho can flexibly and intuitively draw on their knowledge of practice (or their informaltheory), rather than apply rules drawn from formal theory (Foley, 2000, p. 51).
For the purposes of this project, reflective practice has been defined as a processof disengaging from or stepping back from an experience and taking time to deliber-ately and carefully review it, think about it and construct meaning from it (Doyle &Young, 2000, p. 18). Reflective practice can be used as a management and organiza-tion development tool to integrate or link thought and action with reflection. It is alearning technique that has been used in the health field for a number of years withclinicians (Johns, 1998; Duggan, 2005) and more recently with managers (Gardner& Boucher, 2000; Greenall, 2004).
When used to develop the capacities of managers, it involves helping people tothink about and critically analyse their actions with the goal of improving theirmanagement practices. Vince (2002) suggests that reflective practice in organizationsshould contribute to the questioning of the assumptions that underpin how the orga-nization works. Engaging in reflective practice requires an individual to assume theperspective of an external observer in order to identify the assumptions and feelingsunderlying their practice, identify how these assumptions and feelings impact upontheir practice and determine if they need to change in some way to become moreeffective as a manager (Cherry, 2000).
Reflective practice as a management tool 229
The reflective practice approach adopted for this study
The term reflective practice is used in the literature to describe a range of group andindividual activities. In most cases these activities share a number of features:
Description and examination of ones actions, assumptions and their conse-quences in a critical way (Foley, 2000).
Theorizing about those actions and assumptions, thus creating explanations aboutwhy things happened in a particular way (theorizing) (Lashley, 1999).
Making a judgement about the appropriateness of ones action and making adecision to try to behave the same/differentially next time or in similar situations inthe future (Barnett, 1995).
Making broader links to learn about other aspects of ones assumptions andbehaviour (Horup, 2004).
Reflective practice activities may also include practicing changed behaviour,resulting in a process similar to an action learning cycle (Yeo, 2006). In this project,participants were encouraged to close the loop by practicing new behaviours butopportunities to do this did not always eventuate.
The literature suggests that learning that occurs during reflective practice activitiescan occur at the individual, group and organizational level (Horup, 2004). The mainfocus in this study was individual learning but the findings suggest that a significantamount of the learning that occurred was located at the group level. This learning wasnot about how the group operated, but rather collective learning that emerged fromthe interactions of group memb