Reflexive process description


Use for

Keeping records of crucial moments and changes; reviewing progress and securing input for further action.


The normative principle behind the reflexive process description method is the ambition for system innovation. The method is based on theoretical insights about system innovation (see also, 'About Transitions') and is linked to the method of the indicator sets.

What do you do?

You make a record of the innovation process, at intervals and at the end of the project. To start with, you distinguish important episodes using the materials you have collected, looking for changes in the project team or in the network of participants in the project due to external or internal influences. The next step is to describe the episodes in terms of process conditions or effects. You analyse the changes over one of more episodes in terms of the selected indicators. This description can be detailed or take the form of a table with a concise presentation of the changes. In the description you assess what has been successful or otherwise, according to the theory. Is the network sufficiently homogeneous, for example? Is system learning taking place as well as second-order learning?

The final step is to discuss the process description with the members of the project team and any other participants. This discussion and reflection are important because the participants share their different perspectives. Central questions are whether the participants recognise the episodes and analyses and what they imply for how the project should proceed. The group can decide whether others could learn from the description or whether it could be used for the accounting to clients.

Related methods The reflexive process description resembles a Learning History to some extent. But while a Learning History is based on the perspective of the participants, the reflexive process description method is based on theory and pre-determined indicators. In other words, the reflexive process description turns the format of the Learning History on its head. Because of the theoretical point of departure, the reflexive process monitor (who is well acquainted with the theoretical framework) usually writes the description.


  • A good understanding of the indicators
  • Sufficient time: producing a detailed process description is labour intensive; one solution could be to produce a brief description using tables.

More information

Mierlo, B. van et al. (2010). Reflexive monitoring in action. A guide for monitoring system innovation projects. Boxpress: Oisterwijk.

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