“If there is one thing you take away from today’s session, let it be this – sense-making and critical reflection are pivotal practices required to build and cultivate inclusive leadership.” – Chanel Grenaway
I believe that I say this statement (or a version of the statement) in every Equity Centred Leadership learning series that I deliver. I know it lands for some participants and I imagine it needs repeating or additional unpacking for others.
Sense-making and reflective practice is the process by which people give meaning to our individual and/or collective experiences. It is defined as the ongoing action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new learnings, developments, and experiences. Sense-making is also the intersection between learning/unlearning and action. Taking time to examine your own power, privilege, and unexamined biases can help to inform and map out individual and collective practice changes aimed at creating greater inclusion and equity.
A recurring and logical next step question that often emerges from a discussion about sense-making is, what does this mean operationally? How can I apply critical reflection and sense-making to my day-to-day work? Let me offer a personal example:
The other day while tidying up my office I noticed a handful of post-its notes that I created a few months ago when I was thinking about the key elements of inclusive leadership and what it means to be an equity centred organization. I paused, re-read the post-its, and then took several minutes to reflect and ruminate on one particular post-it that read: Help everyone around the table to do their best thinking. I asked myself: How do I facilitate individuals and groups to do their best thinking? What works and how might I improve? I came up with the following insights:
How do I facilitate individuals and groups to do their best thinking?
What’s working (based on participant feedback)
Creating an environment that exacts trust, respect, empathy, non-judgment, and learning
Creating an inviting space for the diversity of experiences and backgrounds in the room through the music, inclusive language, and discussion approaches
Helping people to engage and participate in ways that work for them
What’s missing (based on promising practices)
Co-designing sessions with participants
Planning and delivering sessions that offer more reflection time, thinking time, and breathing space during learning sessions
Asking for feedback related to the experience of the session
What’s Next (actions that I will prioritize now)
Where possible I will co-design discussion and engagement methods with participants in advance of sessions
I will be more realistic when planning agendas and push back when I see too many items on an agenda (focus on the quality of the discussion and the experience versus the quantity of items we can check off our list)
This is a simple example of reflection and sense-making, and I hope it sheds light on how you might build this anti-racism practice into your personal and professional life.
“Critical reflective practice has us look at ourselves, rather than gathering knowledge about “The Other” and makes visible the surrounding power relations that inform what and how we see – and not see, as well as our influence and experience of intersubjectivity – and has us focus on action plans for practice improvement.”
What aspect of sense-making or critical reflection are you currently ruminating on? Need a sounding board to help you move from theory to practice? Happy to connect!
 Fook, J. (Ed.). (2021). Practicing Critical Reflection in Social Care Organisations (1st ed.). Routledge, page 57.