1st Workshop of the European Network for Reflect Action

Zerain, Euskal Herria (the Basque country)
23rd - 26th September 2002

You can also read a text version of this report.


Anne and IsaacSeven Reflect-Action participants from three countries met in Zerain to share and deepen their understanding of their work and to discuss setting up a European network. We developed an agenda together and took turns to facilitate. The schedule that emerged was:

Day 1

Ice breaker game, animal mating. Participants were given an animal, asked to close their eyes and make the sound for that animal, and using sound, to find another animal like themselves in the room.

Individual rivers of life based on the question - "what brought you to Zerain?" Sharing and questions.

From the rivers, each participant drew out key issues they wanted to work on in the workshop.

Group spider diagram to link and prioritise key issues - managing power and working with subjectivity became the group agenda, particularly how to raise real and difficult issues without destroying relationships. We reserved the last day for thinking about the network.

Day 2


Game where participants took turns to model a still scene using other group members, and everyone had to guess who in the scene was most powerful. We moved from imagined to real situations. Big discussion about how we used the exercise and the wider use of power, for example use of writing to exclude and distort the experience of less powerful groups who had oral traditions.

Individual drawings of a situation in which participants had experienced a change in power relations towards greater equality - people drew the situation before and after the shift. Sharing and discussion.


Lunch with Maite to learn about her community work. She works with Elhuyar, an organisation promoting use of Basque in everyday life.

Visit to the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Day 3

Another power scene, as in day 2, based on real experience, introduced by a participant spontaneously to open up an issue further.

Group choice of two power relation shifts presented in day 2 to explore in more depth, using a road map graphic to record how and why the situation had changed. We split into two language groups for this, one Basque and one English. Sharing and discussion.

Introduction of fluxogram graphic developed in a workshop in Belgian to analyse the function and impact of different activities. This depended on the idea that the most lasting change is produced when people alter their ethical frame of reference and their feelings and personal view of reality. Discussion including safety and risk, what subjectivity is, the role of facilitators.

Use of the fluxogram to analyse activities in the workshop.

Day 4

Line game - arranging yourselves as a group without falling off a narrow line marked on the floor. Raised an interesting discussion of personal space. Is not touching part of our oppression, which we should therefore challenge? What about invasion of space?

Individual drawing of a plant, animal and colour that in some way symbolised Reflect-Action to you, then sharing with the group. This revealed some things about the personalities of the people concerned, as well as the Reflect-Action process.

Mapping Reflect-Action and closely related work in Europe and North America.

Card sort using a circle diagram to investigate what we had got out of this workshop, and using this to think what we wanted from a European network.

Practical discussion of what next and action.

A brief evaluation of different aspects of the workshop using very happy, medium happy, neutral, sad and very sad faces.

Farewell meal at Nico's house - yum!

Each day we also had a delicious and leisurely lunch in a different village to see more of this very beautiful part of the world.


the groupFrom Euskal Herria (the Basque Country):
Olatz Estensoro
Maite Zipitria Agirrezabala
Nicola Foroni
From Belgium:
Anne Loontjens
From Britain:
Carol Jones
Pippa Bobbett
Alison Norris
Isaac Norwood (aged 5½ months)


Our shared agenda was built around a spider diagram in which we grouped individuals' different key issues. We chose to focus on two clusters of issues, basing this decision on the number of different people sharing similar concerns and the number of connections linking to a particular cluster.

(1) Management of power/Manjeo del poder cluster

Promoting ownership of the process for all people involved in an organisation.

How to base the work on people's own knowledge to produce something held in common.

¿Como podemos sacar partido de la sariduria de la gente en los grupos? Con objecto de lourar un resultado "en comun", desde lo individual.

Related but also distinct: When those holding power say yes, create false expectations and then block a change in practice.

Quien tiene poder dice si → falsas expectativas → barrera del poder → bloqueo → cansacio → como conseguir o semosen al principio; hay o prevenir de antemano.

(2) Subjectivity cluster

Management of subjectivity/identity

Manejo de la subjectividad/identitad

How can Reflect Action deal with subjective and objective approaches to communication and participation?

If you bring yourself into the process (i.e. not being in role as "professional") is personal hurt inevitable? How do you avoid the destruction of relationships and self?

How do you challenge oppressive relationships in a group without destroying the group?

Conflict management Intereses contrapuestos → llegarla situacion al extremo → la bomba explota → se rompetoda relacion → como conseguir juntar, asume lo que hay, y buscar una salida (si alqumos mo quieren).

European network cluster (This was the starting point for our work on the final day)

Anne and Isaac"If we have relative power how do we use it usefully" - what is the useful role of Europeans in the international Reflect Action circle?

Who are we? i.e. European Reflect-Action practitioners? Does the question matter? Why?

What is special about Reflect Action? How do we manage the contradictions?

Start creating a European network - why? For who? For doing what? How?

Real network - CIRAC 3 Brazil, CIRAC 4 en 2003, Asia, EU real? Rol de Actionaid?

Other clusters of issues and single issues, not chosen as a focus:

¿Que se puede hacer con un grupo que constantemente este dando vueltas a lo mismo? ¿Como sagar en claro las ideas?

A cluster of questions about Reflect-Action

Reflect Action como un proceso sistemico
Relfect Action as a systemic process

Intercambio de experiencies, visites, tecnicas, historias
Sharing of experiences, visits, tools, stories

Why was Reflect Action not acceptable in its Actionaid form?

Feminism, why and how didi it need to change to be accepted in Latin America?

The relationship between theory and practice - how is this expressed in Latin America?

Some terms defined

This not only means sharing individual graphics and experiences of activities with the whole group, it also means greating a group culture, in the same way as you speak of socialising a child.
A person's emotional life and their point of view, as shaped by their experiences and assumptions.

A new tool for analysis - the fluxogram
(also known as the Belgian graphic, chocolate essential!)

             -         ---        ---         ---       ---
Perspectives  |       |   |      |   |       |   |     |   |
of             >       ---        ---         ---       ---   
power         |
Activities     > e.g. Animal     Rivers      Spider     Power
              |       game                   web        Sculptures

             -       ------       ------       ----       ------        -----
              |    |how to  |   |us as   |   |our   |   |our     |    |our    |
              |    |function|   |subjects|   |daily |   |social  |    |future |
Identity       >   |as a    |   |        |   |life  |   |identity|    |as a   |
              |    |group   |   |        |   |      |   |        |    |group  |
              |     --   --       --  --      --  --     ---  ---      --   -- 
              |       \ /           \/          \/          \/            \/
             _  ______/ \___________/\__________/\__________/\____________/\___

Subjectvity ___   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   _   __
               \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ /
Ethical     ___/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/ \__ 

The fluxogram graphic helps a group to look at:

  1. how the power relations in that group are changing as a result of their work together;
  2. what different activities achieve in practice (as opposed to what facilitators intend them to achieve);
  3. how much participants feel that their way of looking at themselves and the world is being affected by the work.

It is based on the assumption that for new knowledge to really change our behaviour it has to have affected us deeply enough to change our sense of ourselves and of our place in the world. If we only understand new things intellectually, we tend to revert to previous understanding and act from that older understanding when under pressure.

The top row symbolises small group work in "commissions". We did not use commissions in the workshop, but they were used in the workshop in Belgium in which people first designed this graphic. Each commission takes one area of the work to pay attention to and reflect on - for example gender relations, power, cultural identity, facilitation, evaluation, process, content. The commissions meet outside workshop times to review what has been happening in the area they are focusing on, then report back to the wider workshop. Sometimes commissions just note things, sometimes they identify problems, raise these with the whole workshop and change the way people are working. (note to Nico and Anne - if you are using commisions do you put them into the diagram in the same way we did activities?)

The second row is a list of the activities in the workshop, and includes things like shared lunches or trips out - everything you do together as a group. The third row is a spiral symbolising the development of group identity. Each loop of the spiral containing a different aspect of that identity. To use the fluxogram to analyse particular activities, the group first draws lines from an activity to the different aspects of identity that that activity touched. For example in this workshop we felt that the power sculptures taught us something about our social identity, so we drew a line on the diagram that touched this loop of the spiral. If we had felt the sculptures had given as a really deep insight into social identity, we would have drawn the line reaching inside the loop.

To analyse further the group extends the lines they have drawn towards the bottom of the diagram, to the double helix of subjectivity and ethical reference. Subjectivity is your personal construction of reality, ethical reference is the framework of values and assumptions you use to make judgements about right and wrong, justice and injustice. The further down a line goes the greater the impact of an activity on either subjectivity or ethical reference, or both.

What we got out of the workshop

After reflecting on the management of power we looked at some key principles of a power sharing structure. These principles had been suggested in a book on action learning. We adapted them to summarise some of what we had learnt.

Key principles of a power sharing structure:

We also asked ourselves what we had got out of the workshop as a whole. This was a starting point for thinking about what we might get out of a European network. The answers were:

Other insights from participants:

I was very interested in how to make my power useful. I was struck that being a good ally meant to keep saying "you can" to the people I was supporting. It also meant being honest about what I wanted to get out of working together. I am often in a more powerful position and saw that I underestimate how much more powerful and how much I resist losing any of my control. This is true even though I can see that a real change in power relations can only come if the less powerful people take charge of the process.

When we draw or act out situations the exact way we do it is often significant. For example, size differences in a drawing may seem arbitrary when you first drew it, then turn out to say something about your real experience of power relations.

PippaI realised how important it was to make the power visible and not hide it out of fear of being attacked for having it. People do end up with power for all sorts of reasons and not necessarily for reasons that they have control over. Until the powerful people in the situation are prepared to say " I am different from you, I have my own point of view and my own perspective that is necessary to communicate and be heard" then it the situation remains in an oppressive fog.

Pointing out power and difference often leads to conflict or unease at the very least. There is a need to invest in the human connection - that we are all human and not stereotypical symbols of our identity group. Otherwise the group and the relationships can be destroyed. We need more strategies and more time to build the human dimension and more energy and commitment to do so.

This page originally found at http://www.elvwood.org/ReflectAction/Zerain02.html
Last updated: 3 April 2003

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